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HOWARD KING ON COACHELLA AND
FORCE MAJEURE

Interview by Phil Gallo

King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano represents the three acts selected to headline Coachella this year—Rage Against the Machine, Travis Scott and Frank Ocean. A day before the festival was rescheduled to October, Howard E. King broke down the legal issues facing the performers and Goldenvoice—which have obvious implications for other upcoming events.

“They’re deeply concerned,” King said of the three headlining acts. “They’re spending seven figures to create the type of performance that would stand out for their fans. We’re sort of on eggshells here about what’s going to happen.”

King discussed insurance, the SARS effect and, of course, force majeure. “It’s the second clause you learn about in law school,” he said. “It supersedes all contracts.”

With SXSW, we saw that the organizers waited for the city and the state to declare an emergency before they decided to cancel. How crucial is that kind of government action for getting force majeure to take effect?
If you’re worried about people getting sick, there’s no force majeure. Even assuming there is insurance in place, without the government closing it down, [a promoter] can’t make a claim on cancellation policies, and without force majeure, you can’t get out of the responsibility for paying the artists or vendors.

So there is no chance that Coachella or another festival would have some saying, “We don’t feel safe and won’t show up.” That wouldn’t happen.
Highly unlikely.

How far out can you go with a festival before you say “we’re in” or “we’re out”?
The facts are that the acts have already spent millions of dollars getting ready for Coachella, building their productions, hiring crew, renting highly overpriced houses to stay in. Those artists, presumably, will continue to spend money.

Presumably, Goldenvoice is going to continue to prepare the grounds, so if they cancel tomorrow or if they cancel a week before their performance, relative to the ginormous cost, it hardly matters. It’s bad PR if they cancel after people have already gotten on planes. If Coachella [cancels], the rumor is they’ll reschedule for October. So it’s gratification delayed rather than gratification denied.

The minute you go from no cases to one case, as Riverside County did over the weekend, how does that change the tone of the conversations or the urgency?
It really doesn’t matter that there’s one case in Riverside County. You have tens of thousands of people coming from around the world. What are the odds that some of those people don’t have the virus? Whether it spreads or, since it’s all young people, they just have mild symptoms, who knows? But you can’t deny that there is risk.

It’s a tough decision to make. And by the way, nobody really knows what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks. It really could have run its course, or it could be far more serious.

What has been your experience with other health scares?
We had cancellations overseas when SARS was around [in 2003]. In fact, after SARS, insurance companies started cutting back or creating exclusions in cancellation insurance. There’s really no cancellation insurance for a pandemic available for artists. There is for promoters, but not for artists. That’s just a result of SARS.

Artists are screwed on this.
The artists are naked. The policies are really limited almost to the point where the artist has to contract the virus at the venue. It’s really an impossible hoop to jump through to get coverage. It’s very, very limited coverage.

If somebody rolls into the venue feeling fine and contracts the virus during the day, they’re covered—if the policy was written before Jan. 20 of this year. After Jan. 20, they excluded Coronavirus altogether as a covered event. Insurance companies are not really in the business of paying claims.

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