A second indie music festival has imploded and left consumers footing the bill. Just weeks after the Instagram-tastic collapse of Fyre Festival, a second destination event has gone full meltdown, with several major music players working to contain the damage.
Pemberton Music Festival is officially bust, leaving in its wake an uncertainty for independently-promoted festivals just as the summer season is getting underway. The crash of the British Columbia event, which takes place on a private ranch north of Whistler, was worsened by a last-minute decision by Pemberton owners to declare bankruptcy and refuse to immediately refund $6 million worth of tickets to 18,000 fans. The move sparked outrage at a major booking agency, with the company’s head of music calling for a criminal investigation.
“This is fraud, pure and simple,” WME partner Marc Geiger told me in an interview Friday for Billboard. “The only difference between Pemberton and Fyre is that Pemberton sold their event with trees instead of supermodels.”
The collapse was startling because unlike Fyre Festival, Pemberton was ticketed by a major ticketing company and promoted by Huka Entertainment, a well-known indie outfit in New Orleans. Sure the disastrous Fyre Festival was something to be laughed at — a tone-deaf and impossible-to-deliver concert organized by a washed-up rapper and a pathological liar — but for Pemberton, the companies involved (like Ticketfly) were well-known entities who had handled hundreds of music festivals.
Just two weeks after going on sale, the investors who controlled the festival — landowners Jeremy Turner and Amanda Girling along with and Canadian mining executives Jim Dales and Stephane Lescure — had millions in ticket sales advanced to them by Ticketfly. About a week later, the same festival owners quietly resigned from one of the two shell companies that owned the Pemberton festival. A week after that, a second shell company — Pemberton Music Festival LP — declared bankruptcy and instructed fans to apply for refunds for their $270-plus tickets as unsecured creditors with no guarantees they’d see a dollar (or in this case, a loonie).
According to Canadian filings, the festival’s owners structured the bankruptcy so that private companies they owned were first in line as secured creditors, with claims equaling $3.6 million, paid out before thousands of fans and potentially dozens of vendors would get a crack at any money left over.
Hoping to stem the damage to their reputation, festival promoters AJ Niland and Evan Harrison with Huka have tried to get out in front of the festival crash, arguing they had fought the bankruptcy plan and are actively pursuing options to get fans refunded. But to many people’s surprise, the men had slowly ceded control of the event over to the festival’s owners and quietly resigned from the Pemberton Festival LP in early April.
Geiger and executives with Ticketfly said they didn’t know that Niland and Harrison had exited the Pemberton LP until after Thursday’s bankruptcy. Hoping to contain the damage, Geiger and other interested parties are planning to challenge the festival’s four principal owners in court and are considering a sell-off of Huka’s assets, including the Tortuga Festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to recover the money if necessary. There’s also a plan to go after the 274-acre Sunstone Ranch, which has hosted the festival four times since 2008. The festival site is currently listed for sale with a price tag of $16.8 million.
The crash could not have come at a worse-time for Ticketfly, whose parent company Pandora is trying to entice SiriusXM into a potential purchase after a $150 million lifeline from private-equity firm KKR & Co. If that doesn’t happen, rumors swirl that Pandora might sell Ticketfly, less than two years after purchasing the company in a blockbuster $335-million deal.
Having a $6 million liability on its books is not a great look for Ticketfly CEO Andrew Dreskin, and the festival’s three missing owners seem to be worsening the situation by encouraging fans to chargeback tickets to their credit cards, potentially sticking Ticketfly with millions of dollars worth of disputed charges. One bankruptcy document on Ernst and Young’s website seems to endorse chargebacks, telling fans:
Refunds may be available to ticketholders if tickets were purchased using a credit card. As each bank and credit card issuer have their own specific policies, ticketholders are to contact their bank or credit card issuer directly to determine whether a refund can be obtained.
That type of behavior represents fraud, Geiger explained, warning the festival’s investors: “I’m coming after you.”
“This is just gross to me,” he said. “These guys are declaring bankruptcy, but none of them are actually bankrupt. Their shell company is bankrupt. And now they want fans to pay the price. That’s not bankruptcy. That’s fraud.”
Who Are These People?
According to Canadian records, the companies that own and control Pemberton Music Festival include the landowners as well as a Canadian mining executive and his French business partner. Much of what we know about the three is thanks to the reporting of Pemberton news writer Bob Mackin from thebreaker.news — we’ve piggybacked on some of the work he’s already done to paint a picture of these four individuals.
Amanda Girling, CEO of Janspec
Janspec owns the Sunstone Group, which owns the Sunstone Ranch where the festival is held. Janspec also owns the Oak Tree Manor assisted living home in Nanaimo, B.C. The Turner family owns Janspec and Girling previously served as Executive Director of the Turner Foundation, which provides water resources for the community of Mtito Andei in Kenya. Her background includes time at accounting firm Ersnt & Young, which is the overseeing the Pemberton bankruptcy.
Jeremy Turner, family owns Janspec and Sunstone Ranch Group
We don’t know much about the Turner family yet except that they operate several businesses in Pemberton. The Turners are also kicking around a plan to develop part of Sunstone Ranch into “a future community recreation site” that “has the potential to become an epicenter for learning, living and recreation.” A website advertising the site has been removed, but this generic banner ad is still floating around the web.
Jim Dales, Investor and Mining Company President
Dales is the founder and partner of the corporate-overlord sounding Procon, a multi-national mining company with subsidiaries in China. Procon is involved in large diamond and gold mining operations in Canada. According to Mackin, Procon “has a subcontract on the $9 billion Site C dam project to “manage the silica exposure control program, the mine rescue program, and underground safety program” for Peace River Hydro Partners.” He holds dual degrees in Civil and Mining Engineering and is responsible for the management “of all project contracts including all field operations and client management,” according to the Procon’s company website.
Stéphane Lescure, Partner at Proconseil
Proconseil is a consulting division of Procon based in France. Besides providing big-ticket business advice to European C-suite types, Lescure is also a well known investor who has funded startups like Sequoiasoft, a hotel and restaurant technology platform and Nice startup Travelae. He also likes to post entreprenuer videos like this one that roughly translates into titles like “The benefits of a stand-alone company.”