Sorting through the Celine Dion mess

still talking about celineSo just when I think all is done and I can move on from this rather unfortunate “Celine” beat that I’ve been forced to go on, this morning’s Chronicle Herald provides some more fodder for smashing my head against the wall. It seems that for all my ranting about who should be blamed for this whole sordid mess, it turns out that it was me all along. Well, and these guys. And these guys. At least, according to Celine’s husband:

Celine Dion’s husband says the Dion camp pulled the plug on next summer’s concert on the Commons because Halifax didn’t lay out the welcome mat.

“Even before the sale of 20,000 tickets, journalists have to write that it was a place for the Rolling Stones to rock, not Celine Dion,” Rene Angelil told a French-language online newspaper Sunday. “So if we are not welcome in Halifax, we won’t come.”

This, combined with a statement in the Daily News that Celine “has never encountered such a negative reaction to a proposed concert,” just proves how much of a Celine-bubble that Rene and Celine’s team must live in. Do they not have a single ear to the ground? Do they not realize that they’ve created one of the most divisive pop icons of the past two decades, loved and reviled in equal measure? Did they think all the snide comments and jokes made about her by her detractors over the years were laughing with her instead of at her?

Grow up.

As fascinating as that is, it’s the comments from Fred MacGillvray, CEO of Trade Centre Ltd. that really make my head spin. Check out the bizarre doublespeak he’s playing around with here:

If tickets for the concert had gone on sale this week as planned, Mr. MacGillivray said, there would have been “upwards of 50,000” sold.

“For all the right reasons, the concert came together and it was announced and for some reason the community said vocally, ‘Gee, we really don’t want that concert.’”

Make up your mind, Fred. Either this was a viable concert that was sabotaged by a vocal minority, or it was rejected by the community and was thus an ill-fated venture. You can’t have it both ways.

So what really went wrong here? Why did journalists, messages boards and music fans all unite together to start an outcry that led a reactionary Dion team to cancel the show?

In his Daily News column today, David Rodenhiser gets things half right. He’s correct that the Halifax Common has become politicized as a concert venue, to the point where everybody thinks they should have a say in who performs there. With the Stones’ gig, followed by this year’s failure to land a show, the idea of a “Commons megaconcert” has become a big deal, something that all citizens feel personally invested in (look no further than this blog for evidence of that).

But Rodenhiser is wrong on one point and selective with another. For one, this has next-to-nothing nothing to do with a rivalry with Moncton on the part of the public – after years of neglect, people just want to see some world-famous artists in our city. More importantly, though, Rodenhiser’s attempt to disassociate himself from the problem is disingenuous: as the lead reporter on the Commons concert beat here in town, he’s been responsible for much of the rumour, conjecture and speculation that has been getting the city excited about bringing a huge name act to town.

But can you really blame the journalists for pushing this on the public? The idea of bringing global touring acts to Halifax is exciting, so it’s no wonder that both journalists and the general public went a bit overboard on the hype train, which in turn led them to react strongly against the Celine show. Given that, I think the real failure here lies at the feet of Events Halifax, who really didn’t seem to appreciate the nature of the communications environment they faced.

The concert announcement paid, at most, lip service to this grassroots thirst for a huge name at to grace the Commons. The way it was handled, and the interviews granted in the wake of the show’s cancellation, gave me the distinct impression that the backlash took Events Halifax completely by surprise, that they presumed that a Celine concert would be greeted with open arms by a welcoming public. But when journalists and rumour mills have led people to expect U2, Elton John or the Eagles and you give them Celine Dion, what did you expect would happen?

So what could have been done? Ideally, Celine’s show would not have been the first Commons concert announcement, but these things can’t be helped. What Events Halifax should have done is leaked rumours to the press about a Celine show prior to the official announcement. Instead of dropping a huge announcement on a public expecting something totally different, it would have given people the chance to get used to the idea first. In my opinion, it could have mediated a significant portion of the backlash.

The other thing Events Halifax should have done is really pushed to frame the show not as a huge event for its own sake, but as the start of a jam-packed 2008 summer concert lineup. Yes, Events Halifax and the city did communicate that other concerts are in the works, but if they considered it one of their key messages, it sure didn’t look like it when you read the news stories. It looked to many like Celine Dion was going to serve as this year’s one, giant Rolling Stones-like Commons concert. No wonder people were disappointed.

In short, this was not an announcement that was as simple as sending out a press release and doing some interviews. In fact, concert organizers were facing a rather volatile communications environment, and while I have no insight into what took place behind the scenes, what took place out in the open was not nearly sufficient to manage it. As such, we bid adieu to Ms. Dion. C’est la vie.

Update: Looks like I’m off the hook – in interviews today, Rene singles out Rodenhiser’s column he wrote upon the concert announcement and, in particular, the reader comments that followed on the online edition as the motivation to cancel the concert. Interestingly, this new Daily News story does not have comments enabled at present (comments are now enabled).

Man, can you imagine if every entertainer made their creative and business decisions based on the rantings of a small, self-selected group of grammatically-impaired Internet posts? “Well, if snakesonalolcat316 thinks that my new album is “TEH SUXXXX!!!1,” I’m not even going to bother releasing it!”

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4 responses to “Sorting through the Celine Dion mess

  1. Pingback: …in which McNutt highlights the ridiculous summer concert season ahead « McNutt Against the Music·

  2. Pingback: …in which McNutt gives some sober thought to the Halifax concert scandal hangover « McNutt Against the Music·

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