Lizzo to Keep $5 Million Deposit from Canceled Virgin Fest LA, Appellate Court Rules

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Lizzo performing at SXSW 2022. Photo Credit: Daniel Benavides

An appellate court has officially ruled that Lizzo can keep the $5 million deposit she received to play the shelved Virgin Fest Los Angeles 2020.

California’s Second District Court of Appeals only recently upheld a prior trial-court judgement in favor of the touring companies behind Lizzo as well as Ellie Goulding (who received and opted to keep a $600,000 pre-performance payment) and Kali Uchis ($400,000).

We first covered Virgin Fest’s complaint at the time of its submission way back in the summer of 2020, after COVID-19 lockdown measures prevented the event from taking place in June as originally planned. Needless to say, given the years-running legal battle that followed, the festival organizer sought the return of the $6 million in deposits.

Also naming WME (which negotiated the performance pacts) as a defendant, Virgin Fest managed to compel deposit returns from “each” of the agency’s other clients (save Lizzo, Goulding, and Uchis) who’d signed on to the festival, court documents show. WME itself successfully argued that the suit was essentially a contract dispute between the artists and the festival.

And in brief, said dispute hinged largely on the meaning of a clause, rewritten during pre-signing negotiations to ultimately specify that if an artist was “otherwise ready, willing, and able to perform,” he or she would keep “the full” deposit in the event of a force majeure cancellation. Exceptions included instances where the cancellation resulted from the artist’s illness or death.

Upholding the prior judgement, the appellate court determined that “the artists have the better interpretation,” explaining in more words the shortcomings with Virgin Fest’s argument regarding a perceived need for Lizzo and others to show that they were in fact prepared to perform.

“This begs the question,” the court wrote, “in the event of a force majeure that results in cancellation of the festival or the individual artists’ performances, how could the artists ever show they were able to perform notwithstanding the occurrence of an event that made their performances impossible, infeasible, or unsafe?”

Elsewhere in the multifaceted judgement, the court addressed all manner of parol evidence, besides refuting the plaintiff’s claim that it hadn’t received anything in exchange for the $6 million worth of deposits. Once again using more words, the judges pushed back against the latter idea by citing radius clauses in the agreements, which had barred the involved professionals from “performing or even publicly announcing any other competing performances.”