Organizers behind the Electric Zoo festival on Randalls Island in New York canceled the Friday (Sept. 1) opening day because Department of Parks & Recreation officials would not issue the permits needed to stage the city’s largest EDM festival, promoters behind the event have confirmed with Billboard.
On Friday, when event organizers with Brooklyn venue company and concert promoter Avant Gardner canceled the festival’s first day, they blamed “global supply chain disruptions” in a statement, saying, “These unexpected delays have prevented us from completing the construction of the main stage in time for Day 1.” Organizers did not provide further specifics. A rep for the festival told Billboard on Tuesday (Sept. 5) that the application for the permits had been made well in advance, adding that the permit issue was resolved when the festival finally opened on Saturday.
Touring industry sources, however, say it was due to organizers’ failure to pay vendors from last year’s festival that led to a shortage of experienced concert professionals willing to work at this year’s event. Specifically, the main festival stage caused the most issues early Friday during an inspection of the site hours before the event was scheduled to open. City officials demanded the festival staff fix several safety and security issues before the festival could open. It took organizers more than 24 hours to fix the issues, leading to the festival opening two hours late on Saturday.
The problems did not stop there, though. Making matters worse, many fans did not receive their festival wristbands and tickets in the mail as promised, forcing attendees to queue up for hours to retrieve their tickets. And then on Sunday, organizers were forced to shut down access to the festival after the site reached maximum capacity. Some fans who reached the festival site after the gates were closed decided to jump fences or run through security checkpoints as a group, joining other ticket-holding fans in mad dashes past security staff. Hoping to deter fans from boarding ferries to Randalls Island, festival organizers announced on X (formerly Twitter) that the event had reached maximum capacity for “unknown reasons” and promised “everyone denied entry today will be issued a refund.”
The problems experienced at Electric Zoo mirror ongoing issues at the Avante Gardner venue. Created by owner and creative director Jürgen “Billy” Bildstein in 2017, Avante Gardner is known as a favorite for fans and acts because of its size and flexible space. To state regulators however, the 6,000-capacity venue has been the subject of ongoing legal disputes and investigations by agencies like the New York State Liquor Authority over overcrowding and drug use since 2016, according to court records. On Aug. 22, liquor authority chair and commissioner Lily Fan testified that Avant Gardner “couldn’t care less what people do in their establishment so long as they made money.”
The price tag for this year’s chaotic festival — including refund costs to fans who didn’t make it in, as well as paying Friday night performers The Chainsmokers, Excision and Kx5 their full fees — could total $25 million, according to former insiders at SFX Entertainment, which owned the festival from 2013 to 2022.
Electric Zoo was originally launched in 2009 by founders Mike Bindra and Laura De Palma and grew to be the East Coast’s biggest electronic festival, always taking place over Labor Day weekend. In June 2022, Bildstein led the purchase of Electric Zoo from LiveStyle, a holding company created in the aftermath of SFX Entertainment’s bankruptcy in 2015. Bildstein agreed to pay $15 million for the festival property, Billboard reported at the time, paying about half the money in cash and while agreeing to a convertible debt note to cover the unpaid portion of the purchase.
Avant Gardner staged the 2022 festival and racked up debt with a number of talent agencies and vendors, sources tell Billboard, leading to delays building out the festival site in 2023 that were partially to blame for the permit delays.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams suggested the city will launch an investigation into Electric Zoo’s organizers for going beyond the festival’s approved capacity. The New York Police Department estimated event organizers oversold the festival’s 42,500-person capacity limit by 7,000 tickets on Sunday.
“It’s unfortunate that the organizers wanted to turn our city into a zoo, and we were not going to allow that to happen,” Adams said during an NYPD briefing on Tuesday. “And we will be dealing with them in the next few days based on their behavior and actions.”