The Crystal Palace Park Trust and its new chief exec, Bill LoSasso, faced their first crisis at the weekend, as controversy engulfed the Wireless Festival, a three-night rap event drawing crowds of 50,000 per day, where one star was arrested by police before they went on stage and there were reports of shots being fired at another rapper’s after-party.
But it was the disruption and traffic chaos that exercised Crystal Palace residents over the weekend – something that they may have to become accustomed to if the Trust is to be able to raise enough dosh from commercial ventures, such as music festivals, to fund the maintenance and upkeep of the park.
Wireless is owned and organised by festival producers Live Nation, and in the past has been staged variously at Hyde Park, Olympic Park and, for six years until 2019, Finsbury Park. This was its first time sarf of the river.
Described as a “three-day carnival of hip-hop, grime, drill and R&B”, it featured 50 different acts who reviewers say delivered sets which were an “explosively energetic, turbo-twerking, bootylicious banquet of raunchy rap bangers”.
The organisers worked to provide a covid-era safe festival, with stringent pre-arrival infection checks which led to queues of festival-goers forming along residential streets. Lack of toilet provision for the concert-goers quickly became an issue with residents, who were already under a version of a local lockdown, with 20 road closures in the area and the need to carry a utility bill as proof of residence for locals to get past the festival’s road blocks.
For many concert-goers, the festival marked a welcome return to some kind of normality after 18 months of the pandemic.
Many were surprised and delighted on Friday night when Drake made a surprise guest appearance. “I did not want my first show back to be anywhere else but Wireless festival,” the Canadian rap superstar told the screaming crowd.
But in the early hours of Saturday, gunshots were fired near a party at a central London hotel reportedly attended by Drake.
Police were called to the Rosewood Hotel in High Holborn shortly before 4am on Saturday. No one was hurt.
Andrew Cross, 38, of Station Way, Greenwich, was arrested on Sunday in connection with the incident, and was due to appear at a London magistrates court today.
Then, later on Saturday, A Boogie With Da Hoodie, another of the Wireless Festival’s star turns, was arrested just as he was about to go on stage to perform. The arrest was made by Metropolitan Police officers “at the request of Greater Manchester Police”, according to a Scotland Yard statement. The rapper was later released on bail.
A Boogie posted an apology to his fans on Sunday morning.
But it was the logistical problems, poor public consultation and the large crowds and traffic chaos that accompanied the Wireless Festival which prompted a far lengthier apology, issued by the Crystal Palace Park Trust on Sunday night.
The Trust had overseen the staging of a series of well-received free music events in the park through July and August, the South Facing Festival, including a youth music festival and a ticketed concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Wireless Festival was to attract 150,000 rap fans, many paying more than £70 each for a day ticket. “They haven’t crowds like that at Crystal Palace since Queen Victoria visited, and then we had two properly functioning railway stations,” one local observed.
The Festival which stretched the park’s neighbours’ boundaries of tolerance and prompted the Trust’s apology.
Addressed to “Dear neighbours”, the statement on the Trust’s website is thought to have been drafted by LoSasso, the American who took up the job as Trust chief executive in mid-July.
“As you likely know, the Crystal Palace Park Trust will be assuming management of Crystal Palace Park,” the notice says.
“In one of its first acts, the Trust is bringing musical events back to the park in response to community desire, including the ongoing Wireless Festival occurring from 10-12 September 2021. In addition to restoring the park’s long tradition of hosting events and supporting the return of the event industry, recent music festivals have helped thousands of neighbours come together to celebrate our culture, and our city, together.
“Events are an important part of the Trust’s business plan, and every penny that the Trust raises in the park stays in the park. Revenue generated from music events has already funded our free Summer of Play for young people, free community events in August, and the upcoming restoration of the Concert Bowl’s platform. None of this would have been possible without revenue from events.
“Now that the Trust has resources for the first time, we will continue to consult the community on how they can be used to implement future projects and programmes that will benefit the park and its users. That process will begin this autumn, and we hope that you will share your thoughts on how we can improve the park during this exciting time.
“We understand that these events have caused disruptions locally, and we are grateful for your patience and understanding. We are committed to minimising these disruptions, and anticipate that the compressed event schedule of this year due to covid will not be an issue in future years.
“While the vast majority of festival-goers have been positive and shown respect to our community, we do understand that there have been some unfortunate exceptions. The Trust does not tolerate behaviour that is inappropriate, illegal, or in opposition to the values of this community.
“We encourage you to report anything inappropriate at the Wireless Festival’s designated community hotline, and we will continue to share all reports and feedback with festival organisers to help ensure a successful and peaceful festival. Numerous lessons learned have been gathered already, and improvements have been made as a direct result, including better queueing plans and increased toilets. In addition, the park will be fully restored to its pre-festival condition following the conclusion of these events.”
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