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Rock For People on triumphing over the ‘headliner drought’

The Czech Republic festival reworked its booking strategy and was rewarded with record-breaking attendance

By Lisa Henderson on 24 Jun 2024

David Nguyễn, Rock For People

David Nguyễn, Rock For People

Rock For People booker David Nguyễn has told IQ how the festival triumphed over the ‘headliner drought’ to produce the record-breaking 2024 edition.

The Czech Republic festival returned to Hradec Králové’s Park 360 between 12–15 June, attracting over 40,000 visitors.

The 29th edition featured the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, The Offspring, Yungblud, The Prodigy, Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Palaye Royale, Parkway Drive, Pendulum, Enter Shikari and Dogstar Ft. Keanu Reeves.

“If we compare this year’s lineup with the previous year, the headliners are not [as big as] Muse or Slipknot but it worked very well as one package combining lots of bands our fans wanted to see,” says Nguyễn.

The availability of headline talent has been a major issue across the festival industry, with UTA’s Jules De Lattre surmising at ILMC 36: “Major artists have less of a financial incentive to play festivals since the headline touring business is more rewarding than ever.”

“[This year’s lineup] worked very well as one package combining lots of bands our fans wanted to see”

Nguyễn testifies to that, remembering: “Last September when I was at IFF, I already had some headliners pencilled in. Then everyone at the conference was talking about how difficult it was to find headliners and when I got back, mine started to cancel. It was quite tough to find the right bands that go together. In the end, we found a way to make it work.”

In fact, the headliner drought gave Rock For People the opportunity to boost some burgeoning acts up the bill and induct a new class of headliners.

“We had Bring Me the Horizon headline the Friday – who are a new-generation headliner,” says Nguyễn. “And on Saturday, Yungblud headlined, which I think was one of his first festival headline shows.”

Fans were initially critical of Rock For People booking Yungblud in the top spot above more mature acts like Pendulum, says Nguyễn, but the naysayers were won over in the end.

“After the show, we got so many messages from fans saying they’re sorry, they saw Yungblud’s show and said they actually quite liked it,” he says.

“It’s important for us to create new headliners,” he continues. “To be honest, I’m not a fan of these old dinosaur headliners who have played everywhere for the last 30 years.”

The balance of talent across the bill worked well across the festival’s main and second stages, which this year became the same size and alternate performances.

“It’s important for us to create new headliners”

However, Nguyễn hastens to add that packing the bill with tomorrow’s headliners doesn’t necessarily save the festival money on artist fees, especially with the fluctuation of the Czech Koruna.

“Sometimes, if you have to pay the invoice right now and the rate is not good, then we might pay more,” he explains. “I still remember a situation a few years ago when we signed the artists really early so the rate was quite different from what it was at the end of the festival. The deposit and the balance were quite different prices…”

Other challenges for this year’s edition include staffing – particularly in the security department – with the festival “still trying to find a solution for that”.

On the sustainability front, the festival is going from strength to strength. With a goal to be climate-neutral and energy-self-sufficient by 2030, the event employs alternative energy sources, including hydrogen and solar panels, and sorts waste into 18 categories.

The booking team also plays their part in the cause, making it a priority to find locally sourced replacements for items on artist riders, according to Nguyễn.

So with this year’s festival inked in the record books, the only question is how Rock For People is going to raise the bar once again for its 30th edition.

“That’s our question every year because since Covid the festival keeps growing,” laughs Nguyễn. “In 2022, our first year after Covid, we had Green Day and then we were like ‘Oh, what are we going to do next year?’. Then in 2023, we had Muse and Slipknot and the question again was, ‘What are we going to do next year?’. Even though we didn’t have the bigger names this year, in the end, it worked really well. So we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.”


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