Nordic test shows: Too little, too late?
After effectively ruling out the 2021 festival season, the governments in Denmark and Norway are now in the process of organising large-scale test events to determine how big gatherings can take place during the pandemic.
According to Denmark’s live association, Dansk Live, such experiments were proposed in December 2020 and also in March 2021 by the government-backed ‘Restart Team’.
Both proposals were “kicked to the corner by the authorities,” according to Dansk Live’s Esben Marcher, but it seems that Denmark’s minister of culture has had a late change of heart.
This week, minister Joy Mogensen asked the government’s Restart Team to assess the possibilities of conducting experiments with large events this summer.
The minister’s request comes three weeks after the government’s roadmap was published, which stated that a maximum of 2,000 participants will be permitted at festivals between 21 May and 1 August 2021.
The announcement was followed by a raft of cancellations from 15+ festivals including Roskilde (26 June to 3 July), Smukfest (4–8 August), Northside (3–5 June) and Tinderbox (24–26 June) – rendering the country’s 2021 festival season over.
“The hope was that knowledge could be created that could ensure better opportunities for this summer’s events”
While Dansk Live’s Marcher has welcomed the news of potential test concerts, he also expresses disappointment that large-scale pilots weren’t approved earlier in the year.
“Already at the end of 2020, we proposed to the minister of culture that experiments be carried out in events that bring many people together,” he says.
“The hope was that knowledge could be created that could ensure better opportunities for this summer’s events. Although it is positive that there now seems to be support for making trial arrangements, it is, of course, a pity that there has been no political will to launch trials in the past.”
The Norwegian government has also shown little political will to organise test concerts up to this point – though, after some uncertainty, this morning the cabinet finally approved a pilot series proposed by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
The institute is planning five test concerts in Bergen and Oslo with up to 5,000 people attending each one. As previously reported in IQ, 15,000 participants will be recruited for a control group and will not actually attend the concerts.
The series is expected to kick off in June and concerts will take place in a number of venues including Oslo Spektrum and Grieg Hall in Bergen.
The Nowegian government this morning approved a pilot series proposed by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health
The research project will investigate whether the risk of the spread of infection is reduced to such an extent that rapid testing can replace the distance requirement during events.
Bergen Live, Øya festival, Palmesus and other Norwegian concert organisers will be involved in the test events – many of which were forced to cancel festivals due to the government’s preliminary guidelines, which restrict festivals to 2,000 attendees until June, 5,000 attendees until August and 10,000 thereafter.
Live Nation-owned festivals Bergenfest and Tons of Rock, Superstruct-backed Øya Festival, Over Oslo, Picnic in the Park, Stavernfetsivalen, Seljord Festival and Country Festival among events have been cancelled since.
Compared with other countries in the northern hemisphere, Norway and Denmark have been slow off the mark with arranging test shows.
Germany began conducting test shows as far back as August 2020, with Restart-19, prompting other nations including Spain, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium and Luxembourg, to follow suit. See an extensive timeline of pilot projects here.
While the test shows haven’t necessarily guaranteed the security of the 2021 festival season – many of the aforementioned markets have already seen the summer season obliterated due to government restrictions – nations like the UK are surging towards a full reopening thanks to reassuring results from the government’s Events Research Programme.
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Bergen Live, Øya tasked with saving Norway’s summer
Live Nation-owned concert and festival promoter Bergen Live, and Superstruct-backed Øya Festival will be partially responsible for determining how the upcoming festival season can take place.
The two organisations will bring their live music expertise to the Norwegian government’s newly formed working group, which is completed by festival organisations spanning literature, sports, arts and agriculture.
With the input of Norway’s health authorities, the group has been tasked with the safe reopening of large outdoor events this summer, compliant with the infection rate at the time.
Minister of culture, Abid Raja, has entrusted the group with two tasks. The first is to look at alternative practical solutions that make it possible to carry out the events within the current infection control rules.
“The working group must solidify its understanding of what can be realistic when it comes to planning summer events within an optimistic scenario, an intermediate scenario and a pessimistic scenario,” the brief reads.
“The working group must solidify what can be realistic within optimistic, intermediate and pessimistic scenarios”
The second task is for the members of the group to provide professional input and suggestions for solutions that make it possible to open to a larger audience than previously allowed during the pandemic.
“The input must include plans for handling the public both to and from and during the events themselves with a view to reducing the risk of the spread of infection,” the brief outlines.
The working group will be required to submit their input on the three aforementioned scenarios by 5 March.
Norway’s government this month took an important step towards ensuring this year’s summer season can go ahead, with the announcement of a NOK 350m cancellation insurance fund for festivals.
While this week the government paid out another NOK 120m to compensate organisations including Live Nation, All Things Live and Tons of Rock for last year’s festival season wipeout.
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Live Nation acquires Norway’s Bergen Live
Live Nation Norway has acquired a majority stake in Bergen Live, the Bergen-based concert and festival promoter, as competition between the major live music businesses heats up the Norwegian market.
Bergen Live’s activities include promoting headline acts at outdoor venues such as the Bergenhus Fortress, organising club events with up-and-coming Norwegian artists, and staging leading music festival Bergenfest, whose 2020 edition takes place this June and features Lewis Capaldi, Robyn, Dave, Michael Kiwanuka and Belle and Sebastian.
“Today marks the next step in the journey of Bergen Live, which will further develop and strengthen the company’s position in the Norwegian market,” says Bergen Live CEO Frank Nes.
“We look forward to working with Rune [Lem, senior promoter, Live Nation Norway] and being a part of the team at Live Nation Norway, as well as the support and resources that come with this union.”
“It is both exciting and natural that they today become part of the Live Nation family”
“Bergen Live and Live Nation Norway have had a close relationship since 2005. It is both exciting and natural that they today become part of the Live Nation family,” adds Lem.
Live Nation’s acquisition of Bergen Live – its second of 2020, after Taiwan’s Tixcraft, and following a record 20 in 2019 – comes amid a flurry of activity in Norway. Live Nation-owned, Sweden-based Luger announced its expansion into the Norwegian market earlier this month, while Live Nation rival CTS Eventim/FKP Scorpio recently acquired leading promoter Nordic Live.
Elsewhere, private equity-backed All Things Live has been steadily building its Nordic business, with Sweden’s Big Slap festival the latest addition to its portfolio, which includes events in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.
Read IQ’s latest Norway market focus here:
A promoter’s nightmare
Over the last few years, there have been several tragic club fires with extremely high casualty rates, and even though the Ghost Ship in Oakland has been branded as an artist collective, it bears too many similarities to previous club fires for us to avoid discussing dangerous venues and sites. As I write, the death toll in Oakland has risen to 36 and the search for bodies has still not finished.
No official cause has been determined, but illegal residents, illegal parties, and too few and inadequate egress routes all contributed. These types of incidents are massive tragedies with no easy answers, and they are nightmarish scenarios for promoters, authorities and patrons alike.
In the UK, guidance specifically related to the important issue of fire prevention, was published after two serious incidents: the Summerland disaster in 1973, in which approximately 50 people died; and the Stardust in Dublin, where there were 48 fatalities, in 1981.
Unfortunately, not all other countries have followed suit.
It is just over a year since the tragic fire at the Colectiv club in Bucharest, Romania, where the illegal use of pyrotechnics led to the loss of 26 lives on-site and 38 others who later died in hospitals, making the total death toll 64. The incident sparked political demonstrations aptly named the Colectiv Revolution that eventually led to the resignation of the sitting government at the time.
The greatest risk for indoor venues is still that of fire and toxic smoke, and historically, the illegal or wrongful use of pyrotechnics. Locked exits or insufficient egress capacities and overcrowding are other common denominators for several of these high casualty incidents.
Fireworks started some of the deadliest nightclub fires in the world: in the US, The Station nightclub fire in Long Island (2003), killed 100 of the 462 people attending the show. Pyrotechnics set off by the band ignited sound insulation in the walls and ceiling around the stage, quickly engulfing the entire venue. At the República Cromañón in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 194 people died in 2004, following the use of a flare; and in Brazil, 242 people died of similar reasons in 2014. All of the above mentioned cases also had too many guests inside the venue at the time of the incidents (the worst example being in Argentina where they sold 3,500 tickets prior to the event, at a venue that was licensed for 1,041 people. It was estimated that an additional 1,000 people entered the premises before the incident occurred.)
“If you can’t get people out in time, don’t bother trying to get them in”
Looking at this from a pan-European perspective, we have even greater challenges, with different judiciary systems, different licensing laws, and in some countries, even a lack of licensing laws in terms of events. The kneejerk reaction of authorities in the wake of such events is to pass more, and often stricter regulations on venues and event organisers. Another problem is that said rules and regulations are very often made without any input from the industry or the industry practitioners, with the end result often being rules that are irrelevant or impossible to uphold.
So what can we as event organisers do?
Interact with authorities and give them input on rules and legislations.You are the industry experts, but if you do not speak up, no one will listen. Voice your opinions at official hearings, and engage in dialogue with the licensing authorities.
Don’t cut costs on safety
In this day and age, there is a lot of pressure when promoting and producing shows. There is a demand for profit and the events we put on are scrutinised and measured from an economical perspective. But, cutting costs on health and safety leaves us vulnerable to serious incidents, and at the end of the day, the industry will lose more in terms of both reputation and revenue when struck by tragedies.
Make sure your venues are fit for purpose
As one of my old lecturers said: “If you can’t get people out in time, don’t bother trying to get them in.” Can the room hold the intended capacity? Does the venue look safe? Are the venue’s personnel well trained?
Use your experience and trust your instincts
As readers of this publication you have probably been putting on events for a long time. That gives you invaluable experience and knowledge of the live event industry. If something seems ‘off’ to you, act on it. Your gut feeling is very often your experience subconsciously reacting to an anomaly or an incorrect procedure. When in doubt, ask someone, or bring in a qualified person to answer your questions. In my experience, you are most likely to be right in your assessment that something is wrong. Trust your instincts, you owe it to yourself, your colleagues, your employees, your patrons, and the artists they pay to see.