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French festivals reschedule as new lockdown looms

With Emmanuel Macron tipped to lock down France for a third time, festival operators say they urgently need clarity to plan for the summer

By IQ on 29 Jan 2021

Papillons de Nuit has postponed from May to 20–22 August

Papillons de Nuit has postponed from May to 20–22 August


image © Festival Papillons de Nuit

French president Emmanuel Macron is set to make a decision this weekend on whether to place France into a third national lockdown, in a move that could be a death knell for the country’s festival summer.

According to local media, Macron is leaning towards a so-called adapted lockdown (confinement adapté), rather than the strict stay-at-home measures seen in March in November, with recent polling suggesting a majority of French now oppose a third ‘hard’ lockdown. The last lockdown was eased just before the Christmas holidays as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital fell; under two months later, however, and hospitals are now again at a nearly “100% occupancy rate” in some regions, health minister Olivier Véran warned yesterday (28 January) .

While the confinement adapté would allow some businesses and organisations to stay open – particularly schools, reports Le Monde – the move towards more stringent rules dampens France’s prospects for a more normal summer, particularly when it comes to live entertainment.

Several French music festivals, particularly those catering to local acts, have already postponed to later this year – among them early summer event Festival Papillons de Nuit (20,000-cap.) in Saint-Laurent-de-Cuves, which has moved to the end of August, and the multi-venue Bordeux Rock, which optimistically rescheduled from January to April – and it is feared that further restrictions, particularly the extension of France’s health state of emergency, will put further pressure on the live music sector.

Several French music festivals have already postponed to later this year

The French Senate voted yesterday to extend the Health Emergency Law, which grants the government special powers, including restricting freedom of movement or assembly, until 3 May (revised from 1 June).

More concerning, however, is the bill’s provision to postpone the end of the state of emergency’s “exit regime” (régime de sortie) – a vaguely defined transitional period designed to be a halfway house between the emergency and relative normality – until 30 September: well after France’s major music festivals and summer shows would have taken place.

Just 15% of France’s music festivals took place as planned in 2020, according to Quentin Thomé, who runs French festival site Tous Les Festivals, meaning operators are more determined than ever to go ahead in some this summer.

Sharing the site’s latest research on the health of the French music festival sector with Les Echos, Thomé revealed 95% of festival operators are counting on staging an event in summer 2021, despite the slower-than-expected vaccine roll-out in France.

“Cultural businesses are still awaiting decisions from the authorities”

The Tous Les Festivals survey additionally reveals that even some of the country’s biggest open-air music events, including the 65,000-capacity Vieilles Charrues, are prepared to go seated-only, with social distancing, if it means they can go ahead – while others, including Printemps de Bourges, have already reduced their capacities.

“Cultural businesses are still awaiting the decisions of the authorities on the resumption of live shows, capacities, health measures, social distancing, masks… so many elements that have still not been [addressed],” said a spokesperson for Papillons de Nuit, announcing its postponement earlier this week. “By organising the festival in August, we at least have the possibility we can do it in good conditions.”

It is hoped France’s festival promoters will have more clarity on what will be possible this summer after a meeting today (29 January) with culture minister Roselyne Bachelot. Among those attending the meeting are representatives for Au Foin de la Rue (2–3 July) and Hellfest (18–20 June), the latter of which wrote to Bachelot earlier this month begging her to “put an end to this unbearable waiting situation”.

The 2021 festival season will come under the microscope at the ILMC panel Festival Focus: Reboot & Reset on 5 March. Tickets for ILMC 33 are available at the discounted winter rate of £119/£139 until 14 February.

 


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