What happens when a major concert gets canceled at the last minute?

April 28, 2014

In the last few weeks, Miley Cyrus canceled one concert because she had the flu, and then another because of an allergic reaction to medication. Finally, word came that she was postponing the rest of the U.S. dates on her tour until later this year.

Though “Bangerz” enthusiasts from Pennsylvania to New York to Tennessee were understandably disappointed that they would have to wait to see the pop star twerk and ride a giant hot dog on stage, there was a lot more at stake. In addition to upsetting fans, canceling or postponing a concert on the scale of a Miley Cyrus show (thousands of seats sold at giant arenas across the country) is, unsurprisingly, quite complicated. Not to mention expensive.

 

So, how does the artist – and venue, and concert promoter, etc. – handle it when a massive show gets scrapped? We talked to agents, tour promoters and venue managers about what goes on behind-the-scenes when a major concert is postponed at the last minute.

How often do shows of this size get canceled or postponed?

Though it might seem like cancellations happen often because of headlines that pop up when it involves certain big-name acts – Miley, Kanye West, Drake, Selena Gomez, etc. – it’s actually very uncommon. No matter what kind of high-maintenance antics are portrayed in the tabloids, at the end of the day, no one really wants a cancellation. It’s something that everyone involved takes very serious: “It’s definitely a big problem,” said Tom Windish, an agent at Chicago-based Windish Agency who represents musicians ranging from Lorde to Passion Pit to Diplo. “It’s not something that’s taken lightly on anyone’s side.”

In about 95 percent of those situations, the concert isn’t canceled – it’s  just postponed, says Susan Rosenbluth, senior vice president of Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of concert promoter AEG Live. “If you consider the number of concerts presented worldwide, it’s a truly rare occurrence,” Rosenbluth said.

Selena Gomez (Frank Rumpenhorst /EPA) Selena Gomez (Frank Rumpenhorst /EPA)

What are the most common reasons for last-minute cancellation?

Illness. Bad weather. Technical issues with the onstage equipment, such as Kanye’s elaborate concert set getting damaged on the road.

In some unusual cases, artists are denied visas while touring internationally, and when it gets down to the wire, they’re not able to get cleared in time. See: Selena Gomez reportedly getting denied a visa to Russia because of her support for LGBT rights.

What goes into rescheduling a show?

If something happens, you want to know the new date of a concert before it’s publicly rescheduled, explained Rosenbluth. Ideally, everyone involved behind-the-scenes signs off on a new plan in advance. That way, they can announce a new date to fans at the same time the artist cancels, so they know it’s not canceled forever.  Everyone scrambles to find a different day that works for the artist and the venue; they even take the time of year into effect. (Cash-strapped fans may be less eager to buy tickets around Christmas time or in colder weather.)

Rosenbluth recalled her most unusual cancellation, which took place at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. A reggae band was performing when a fire broke out nearby and the fire department insisted everyone evacuate the venue. Luckily, Rosenbluth quickly brainstormed with the organizer and confirmed the band could come back and play the next day.

“We went on stage and said, ‘Guess what, you know that smoke you’ve been seeing over there? The fire department asked us to evacuate because of that. We’re going to finish the concert tomorrow!’” Rosenbluth recalls. “To do that all in a matter of 15 minutes was terrific. Most postponements don’t work out that well or that easily.”

Miley canceled one show a half hour before it started in Charlotte because she was sick. Didn’t she recognize she wasn’t feeling well earlier?

Probably, but sometimes artists are so desperate to perform that they try to ignore signs until the last possible moment. In Rosenbluth’s experience, an artist canceling the same day as the show is obviously the last resort; typically it’s because of an illness that comes on suddenly like food poisoning, or a sinus infection or cold that they can’t kick. Rosenbluth tried to speculate (noting of course, she can’t really know what’s going through a singer’s mind): “Sometimes singers really think they’re going to make it through,” she said.  “And then the doctor says, ‘Heck no, you’re not doing anything.’”

Occasionally, as long as someone is still physically able to sing, they’ll do everything can to power through. In an interview with New York City country radio station NASH-FM, Taylor Swift talked about the panic that went on backstage when she was on the brink of losing her voice at the end of her tour last fall. “When you’re sick and you’re a singer and you’re about to do a show – it hasn’t happened to me a lot –  but having it happen on those important shows, I felt like a lab rat,” Swift said, adding that treatments included lots of cold medicine, steams, and even a visit from a vocal massage therapist.


Taylor Swift on the Red Tour. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images for TAS)

What happens backstage as soon as an artist realizes they’re not going to be able to perform?

It varies, but usually the artist calls the tour manager, who calls the manager, who calls the agent, who calls the promoter, and everything gets sorted out from there. If at all possible, people try to make the decision before the road crew gets to work, especially on a huge arena show when there’s a massive amount of equipment to set up.

How expensive is it to cancel a show last-minute?

In a word — very.

“Financially, the reverberations can be significant. From the artist’s side, their band and crew are out of work,” said Michael Jarowek, Birchmere music hall promoter and booking agent. Using Miley as an example, “[She’s] a big act with many, many on the road with her, literally hundreds can be affected, not to mention agents and managers, etc.,” he said. “From our side, the venue/promoter and their companies take a hit too.”

Drake performs during his "Would You Like A Tour" show. (The Canadian Press, Chris Young/AP) Drake performs during his “Would You Like A Tour” show. (The Canadian Press, Chris Young/AP)

If it’s a last-minute cancellation (such as Drake, who scrapped a Philadelphia show an hour after it was supposed to start), that means all the work has been done for the venue and promoter: Venue rented, advertising paid for, tickets sold, local vendors hired, ticket-takers and staffers and security already on site.

In that case, some say, the venue generally only charges the promoter the out-of-pocket costs they spent on the show. If a show is scrapped a couple days in advance, the promoter will still have to pay for the venue, but maybe not the staffing fee for all the workers.

Insurance can cover some of the costs, too. Meanwhile, the promoter and artist work out a financial arrangement that takes into account if the show will be rescheduled. If so, “the costs are built into make-up play,” Windish said. In other words, some of the money initially going toward the original show will help pay for the rescheduled show.

The singer loses out on a paycheck as well if they don’t perform – plus, they might get paid less for the rescheduled show, given that some of the costs spent on the first show will now be used toward covering the new date. (It may not sell out, since venues can offer the option of fans getting a refund on their tickets if they don’t want to use them toward the rescheduled concert.)

Who takes the biggest financial hit?

Most hesitated to say who has it worse. “Generally speaking, we’re all in this together,” Rosenbluth said.

Jarowek agrees that everyone involved (artist, venue, promoter) work together for the best possible outcome. “All parties usually try to work out a consideration of the loss with the act for future re-engagement,” he said. “As you might imagine, ‘usually’ becomes yet another set of negotiations.”

How does it affect the singer’s reputation?

Honestly not that much, especially if they’re not sidelined for a very long time. “From a career standpoint, it rarely hurts artist to cancel dates if their momentum is building and strong and they aren’t out of action for months,” Jarowek said.

As for their reputation among fans? If a singer is properly contrite, it shouldn’t have any long-term effect in terms of future shows. Most singers offer apologetic statements through their publicists, though many take to Twitter.

Miley tweeted up a storm: “can’t quit crying…i wanna go back on tour. im meant to be onstage performing for y’all….not laying in a hospital bed.”

 

When a storm grounded Keith Urban’s plane in New York last summer on the eve of a Cleveland show, he posted a YouTube video promising fans he would make it up a few days later and play even longer.

And then he did.

Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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