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French industry reacts to new festival restrictions

France is the first major European market to deliver a framework for this summer’s festival season.

French festivals – both indoor and outdoor – are permitted to take place this summer but attendance will be restricted to 5,000 spectators, who must be seated and socially distanced.

The minister for culture, Roselyne Bachelot, announced the framework yesterday (18 February) along with a €30 million fund which will compensate organisers – both for losses incurred due to the implementation of alternative formats, and in the event that festivals are cancelled due to an increasing Covid-19 infection rate.

Bachelot has committed to a monthly consultation meeting with festivals to adapt the framework according to the development of France’s health situation but France’s live sector already has many questions that have gone unanswered.

“Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters”

AEG Presents France GM and VP, Arnaud Meerseeman, tells IQ:  “I feel it’s essentially an act of political communication to gain some time with the sector. The framework is very loose. There is no detail on the timeline of this decision: ie when does “summer” start and end, from what point does this apply? Does this cover festivals in August/September?

“There is also no detail on the protocol to welcome audiences and therefore the impossibility to cost the extra measures needed to welcome the audience. And finally, there is a big sore point of no food and beverage, which is quite problematic for an outdoor event!

“On top of that, all of this is submitted to a monthly revision in link with the evolution of the sanitary situation. All of these issues tend to point to another empty season. Most (if not all) large scale events will not be able to function within these parameters. Smaller events, or different aesthetics (ie jazz/classical) or other disciplines (cinema/theatre) might be able to go forward. The positive issue is the financial mechanisms to support events that cancel or that want to adapt has been maintained and boosted,” adds Meerseeman.

“A seated event bringing together 5,000 people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival”

France’s trade union, the SMA (Syndicat des Musiques Actuelles), echoes Meersseman’s concerns, saying: “At the present time and under the conditions announced by [Bachelot], we cannot say that festivals will be held this summer because, for a major part of our audiences, our artists and our teams, a seated event bringing together 5,000 maximum people, perhaps without access to the bar or the restaurant, cannot be called a festival.”

“We are particularly awaiting validation of the authorisation to serve drinks and meals to festival-goers, an essential condition for welcoming our audiences in good conditions. This answer is crucial both from an economic point of view and in terms of user-friendliness. The issue of non-distancing between festival-goers, essential in organisational projections, must also be clarified.”

SMA has also expressed concerns that the €30m financial package will “insufficient” to support 6,000 French festivals of all disciplines.

“[Hellfest] makes the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against our DNA”

French metal festival Hellfest Open Air (cap. 60,000) broke the news to IQ that this year’s event is cancelled due to the uncertainty around the health situation and the government regulations.

Hellfest organiser Ben Barbaud tells IQ: “Unlike other festivals, we make the hard choice not to accept these overly restrictive rules. It would go against the very DNA of the festival. We owe our festival-goers consistency in the project we want to offer them and for which they have agreed to pay a high price.

“Hellfest was born out of a desire to gather all the “extreme” music lovers together in communion and a spirit of celebration. Living with the virus shouldn’t be giving up what makes us happy. The future of Hellfest is compromised and once again it is your trust and solidarity that will get us through this storm.”

The 15th anniversary of Hellfest was due to take place across three days in June, in Clisson, Pays de la Loire, with performances from artists including Deftones, Faith No More and System of a Down. Barbaud says the festival will return in 2022.

While France may be the first major market in the northern hemisphere to make a decision on this summer’s festival season, it doesn’t necessarily mean other countries will follow its lead.

France’s vaccination rate is significantly lower than other markets inside and outside of Europe such as the UK, Denmark, Italy and other EU countries, and the government has been continuously criticised for slowing the pace.

 


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Industry heads predict return to normal by 2022

Yesterday’s news of Moderna’s 94.5% effective coronavirus vaccine provided yet another glimmer of hope for the live music industry and its return to normality.

Moderna’s announcement came a week after Pfizer reported that its vaccine, developed in collaboration with BioNTech, was more than 90% effective – causing share prices in industry giants such as Live Nation, CTS and DEAG to soar by double digits.

As the race for a Covid vaccine accelerates – with trials also being conducted in China, Russia, India and Australia – and optimism in the return of live music increases, IQ asks some of the industry’s big hitters for their thoughts.

Here, CTS Eventim’s Klaus-Peter Schulenberg (Germany), AEG Presents France’s Arnaud Meersseman, Isle of Wight Festival and Solo Agency’s John Giddings (UK) and Radar Concerti’s Fabrizio Pompeo (Italy) share post-vaccine predictions and preparations.

Crystal ball gazing
“Ever since the pandemic began, I have repeatedly emphasised that we need a vaccine or effective drugs to combat the disease before any concerts or events can be held to the familiar extent. It is very encouraging, therefore, that vaccine development is progressing at such a rapid pace. Leading experts are turning optimistic, now that there is obviously a very promising vaccine candidate,” says Klaus-Peter Schulenburg founder of CTS Eventim, the German entertainment conglomerate.

“This news also gives us hope, accordingly, that the very difficult situation our industry finds itself in will take a turn for the better in the foreseeable future and that people will once again be able to enjoy art and culture the way they did before the pandemic,” he adds.

Head of AEG Presents France, Arnaud Mersseman, echoes the sentiment saying: “The vaccine news has definitively given us a sense of a light at the end at the tunnel and some sort of horizon.”

More importantly for AEG Presents France, which has a slate of shows scheduled from as early as May next year, news of the vaccines provides a sense of security when it comes to planning ahead.

“The vaccine news has definitively given us a sense of a light at the end at the tunnel and some sort of horizon”

“I definitely think that’s what has been the hardest so far – no timeline, and therefore the feeling that this will go on forever. Now, that we know that distribution should start somewhere around early 2021, we can start actively preparing for a return to activity,” adds Meersseman.

Over in the UK, which is in lockdown until at least until 2 December, Isle of Wight Festival and Solo Agency’s John Giddings said he couldn’t speculate on when the industry might return to live but he is optimistic that news of a vaccine might speed things up.

“I’ve just got more hope, that’s all it boils down to. It just means hopefully, it will accelerate the chance of getting back to normal quicker – that’s what we’re praying for,” he says.

However, Radar Concerti’s Fabrizio Pompeo is more cautious and believes “it will be a slow process, even with vaccines”. “I do believe next summer we will start promoting some shows but nothing really big,” he says.

Festival season 2021
For festival organisers in the northern hemisphere, the need for an effective vaccine or test and trace system to be developed before the summer season could be crucial in order to host thousands of patrons and invite international artists to play.

As Meersseman says, festivals are “the big question”. “Will there be enough diffusion of the vaccine, completed by rapid testing measures to allow festivals to play out this summer? Will the acts be able to travel? It’s still 50/50 in my opinion,” says Arnaud.

Giddings, who owns the iconic Isle of Wight festival which has been rescheduled to June 2021, is more optimistic.

“I think [festival season] has got a good chance if this all comes according to plan,” he says. “I know that MPs are meeting and having a conversation about it.”

“I think [festival season] has got a good chance if this all comes according to plan”

Last month, a coalition of UK industry bodies published new guidance to help the festival sector mitigate risk and plan Covid-secure events ahead of next summer, which will be continually updated.

The working group also includes the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and Public Health England (PHE) who provided input on the development of the guidance.

Pompeo, who partners on festivals Cinzella and Flowers with Radar Concerti, believes that whether or not live has made a comeback, the summer will still hold promise for domestic promoters, events and artists.

“Being in the south of the EU, Italy may have some advantages considering the amount of summer venues opportunities and a very strong domestic artist offering,” he says.

The future of domestic/international touring
While news of the vaccines has inspired hope for a busier 2021, promoters and agents are still apprehensive about the recovery of international touring which, with or without a vaccine, could prove difficult with each country’s varying immunity, legislation and post-Covid regulations.

“My personal prediction is that international touring will take a bit longer than domestic: a tour is built on 15 to 20 different national legislations and sanitary policies, and for these to be harmonised will take some time,” says Meersseman.

“I suspect we can see some sort of semblance of normalcy by fall 21, with a return to normal by early 22. I would also predict an earlier return to normal for domestic touring, somewhere between late spring and early summer. It’s much easier to plan a routing from Bordeaux to Lyon than from Munich to Barcelona!” he adds.

“I suspect we can see some sort of semblance of normalcy by fall 21, with a return to normal by early 22”

Giddings, whose clients at Solo Agency includes Little Mix, Blondie and Iggy Pop, agrees, adding that the logistics of a tour could become fragmented.

“The problem is if you’ve got a European tour in April/May/June, all the different countries have got different rates of infection. To do a European tour, you have to do all of the dates, you can’t do half of them and take time off in between so that’s going to be more difficult to look at. Lots of people think that there won’t be proper shows until 2022. But it really depends on how quickly the vaccine and the testing comes out,” he says.

Pompeo reinforces this sentiment, adding that he thinks it’s unlikely international touring will happen before 2022. “I see shows to up to 3-4000 cap in wide open-air spaces possible as a return to live music. If we are lucky the first arena shows may happen in the fall.”

 


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