Splendour in the Grass has been cancelled and it’s not as shocking as you think

Splendour in the Grass, which was scheduled to take place at North Byron Parklands from July 19th to July 21st, has been cancelled.

Yes, not postponed. Cancelled.

It’s been a wild few years for Australia’s most iconic multi-day festival, from pandemic delays to mudslides. Plus, there was a whopping 30% decline in attendance last year. For promoters Secret Sounds, things haven’t been easy.

Now it’s looking like the future of the festival is in question. Not only that, but this could change the way music festivals operate in Australia for the next few years. Or at least until the economy picks back up.

You see, it’s no stretch to assume the demographic for Splendour in the Grass mostly lives on rent. Punters are 18-40 and live with their mates or in sharehouses. Landlords are pushing up rental prices to insane levels. It makes sense that people just wouldn’t be willing to plan forward, financially, on entertainment anymore.

Some festivals have succeeded this year. WhatsLively is currently in the middle of a nice little run for R&B festivals Souled Out, and Knotfest saw great attendance. These are one day festivals, however, where the price of a ticket is expensive but manageable. Most punters don’t need to also think about flights, accommodation, and all the other expenses that come with doing Splendour in the Grass the right way.

Dark Mofo is taking a year off (and I hope it comes back). Groovin’ The Moo sadly cancelled due to insufficient ticket sales. It’s not looking good for Australia’s biggest festivals. These are best positioned as luxury products now, making the rise of event tourism a bit more complicated. Not everyone is Taylor Swift.

And it’s not just that. The biggest music festival in the world, Coachella, is experiencing the slowest ticket sales in 10 years.

Is it all due to the cost of living crisis? Most likely. But you also have other reasons. Line ups haven’t been that strong, across all festivals. Perhaps Gen-Z are perfectly content with listening to 20 seconds of a song and then swiping away (the impact TikTok has had on the way music is marketed, and what artists need to do in order to make a living, is insane and sad) so they don’t need a festival. Maybe Kylie is a bit too niche for a mass-market festival like Splendour?

Then you have costs to the promoter. Profits are becoming harder to dial in because everything else is so expensive. Labour costs are just the start of it. It’s harder for festivals to break even nowadays, so of course promoters will panic if the first few weeks aren’t strong in terms of ticket sales.

No one wants to commit to a festival with so much uncertainty in the air. We’re seeing it in the USA and now we’re seeing it in Australia. This goes for more than just music too, as you just need to do a quick Google search to see arts and literature events also drying up.

So what’s the way forward? More boutique festivals that are on a smaller format with strong, niche lineups? It’s worked for Listen Out. It worked for Souled Out. It worked for Juicy Fest. At least from a ticket sales perspective.

It’s a complicated issue, but it’s something worth deeper examination. Will Splendour return? Secret Sounds is hoping to bring it back next year, but will it be forced to downsize? Maybe return to being a two-day festival? Time will tell.

A few quick notes, however:

– Festivals haven’t gotten more expensive, cost of living is just through the roof.
– Costs to promoters have gotten more expensive, so margins are much tighter.
– Tighter margins means festivals need to sell a sufficient amount of tickets early in the cycle to justify going ahead with the festival.

Therein lies the problem. If you want to support festivals, you’d need to buy tickets early. But, for reasons listed above, that’s becoming less viable for more people.

A three-day GA ticket for Splendour is $399. People travelling in for the festival aren’t going to bother with just one-day tickets. VIP is $600 (worth it for the toilets, to be honest). Add on flights, accommodation, and all a few other expenses. For anyone not living in Byron, Splendour is a very expensive three days away with your mates. You’re likely looking at closer to (or even over) $1,000.

If we want punters – who live on rent – to pay around $1,000 to attend a three-day festival, perhaps we need stronger line-ups. But that means festivals are eating into their margins. It’s a hard topic.

Splendour in the Grass has now made an official statement via their Facebook page. Ticket holders will be refunded automatically by Moshtix.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.