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Bulgaria’s FEST Team plans new concert series

Nothing But Thieves and Franz Ferdinand will perform their first-ever concerts in Bulgaria as part of a new series organised by FEST Team.

The two UK bands will be joined by Finnish-Bulgarian act Hayes & Y for the first concert in the Burgas Summer Live series, on 11 August.

The 11,000-capacity series will take place in the seaside city of Burgas, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, with more concerts to be announced.

The 11,000-capacity series will take place in the seaside city of Burgas, with more concerts to be announced

Fest Club members tomorrow (24 March) can purchase discounted tickets starting at BGN 88 (€45). The general sale starts on Monday (27), with tickets starting from BGN 99 (€51).

News of the new concert series comes a week after FEST Team, Bulgaria’s largest live music company, cancelled two of its marquee festivals for 2023.


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Bulgaria’s biggest rock festival cancelled for 2023

Bulgaria’s biggest rock festival will not take place in 2023 after organisers struggled to book “a quality music programme in the current economic climate”.

Hills of Rock (cap. 15,000) has been held since 2017 at the Rowing Base in Plovdiv, inviting 150 domestic and international rock and metal acts to perform each year.

Slipknot, Iron Maiden, Evanescence, Sabaton, Judas Priest and Disturbed are among the biggest names that have previously played at the three-day summer festival.

Promoter FEST Team announced the cancellation yesterday (15 March), weeks after it confirmed that the Sofia edition of Hills of Rock would not be held this year.

“It has proven to be a real challenge to provide a quality music programme in the current economic climate and we at the Fest Team are not prepared to sacrifice the quality of our festival,” reads a statement from the promoter.

“Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that it is best to focus our efforts on providing the necessary foundation for a stable continuity of the festival next year instead of offering you a compromise line-up this year.

“Over the last few years, together with our partners, we have dedicated all our efforts and resources to providing a first-class music festival with high-quality of programme and production and accompanying entertainment that our audiences deserve and look forward to.

“Fest Team are not prepared to sacrifice the quality of our festival”

“We have the ambition in 2024 to organise the strongest Hills of Rock Plovdiv to date. The bands that you wanted and for which we are already in negotiations are huge names – a dream of every devoted rock and metal fan, and we will share the dates with you as soon as possible.”

Hills of Rock ticketholders can request a refund or hold onto their passes for the 2024 instalment.

FEST Team have also cancelled Bulgaria’s only family music and art festival, ARTE Feastival. The three-day festival has been held since 2021 in Velingrad, welcoming 12,000 visitors each year.

“Unfortunately, despite numerous public discussions in the last two years and the support of the municipality of Velingrad and the hosts from the ARTE Hotel, the organisers do not find the necessary local and communal support for its holding. Although local businesses have direct economic and image benefits to support the long-term occurrence of such events in their territory,” reads a statement from FEST Team.

“The sharp increase in prices of hotel and other tourist services on the territory of Velingrad during the period of the festival does not help its holding, on the contrary, it makes it difficult for the audience of the festival.”

FEST Team says ticketholders should request a refund, and that it will announce a new location for the family festival soon.

In addition to Hills of Rock and ARTE Feastival, the Sofia-based full-service promoter organises Solar Summer and SPICE Music festival.


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FEST Team: ‘Bulgaria is full of new opportunities’

FEST Team founder and CEO Stefan Elenkov has spoken to IQ about how the company came out of the pandemic stronger than ever and why artists should include Bulgaria in their touring plans.

Founded in 2012, the Sofia-based full-service promoter organises festivals such as Hills of Rock, ARTE Feastival and SPICE Music Festival, and has worked with artists including Lenny Kravitz, Five Finger Death Punch, Sting, Papa Roach, Hollywood Undead, Bryan Adams and Tom Jones.

With a core team of around 100 employees, FEST Team is the largest live music company in Bulgaria and works with Live Nation, Charmenko and Cobra Agency.

During the pandemic, the company managed to launch a new festival, draw a sensational amount of sponsorship and find common ground with the competition. Now, Fest Team is on a mission to make Bulgaria an unmissable stop for tours…

Was it possible to hold events in Bulgaria during the pandemic?
I think we were the only company to pull off a festival in 2020 – Spice Music Festival. It was a very positive thing that happened that summer in Bulgaria and people were so enthusiastic and so happy that they could be together again, even though there were some restrictions. We managed to gather something like 8,000 people, which was amazing for that summer. Unfortunately, not enough people decided to come to the festivals. It was a very difficult year for us. In 2021, we did three festivals and including a new one called Arte Feastival, which was the first family festival in Bulgaria.

What kind of challenges did you have to overcome?
There were huge problems with the logistics and I believe all artists felt it. We almost lost two of our biggest concerts – Slipknot and Arctic Monkeys – due to logistic problems and transportation. Luckily, we solved it a couple of hours before the concerts and actually, the bands couldn’t believe it because the problems were out of our hands but we pushed really hard.

Those two cases were not isolated – flight delays and cancellations were happening across Europe. And because of the war, inflation increased a lot which pushed the bands to increase their prices. At the end of the day, we spent much more than we earned from ticket sales. We didn’t try to squeeze fans and push them to pay much higher prices.

We managed to get around BGN 2.5 million (€1.2m) from sponsorship which had never been done before in this country

How were you able to keep afloat financially?
From a sponsorship point of view, it was a hugely successful year. We managed to get around BGN 2.5 million (€1.2m) from sponsorship which had never been done before in this country and probably in most parts of the world. Because of our reputation, we collected all the money on the market for live events; all the budgets came to us. We’re the trusted partners for our sponsors and have been working with some beer companies and banks for more than 15 years. We just need to say when and what are we going to do.

And your loyalty programme has been hugely successful, right?
In the past few years, we managed to collect more than 60,000 music fans in the country. For us, it’s very easy to reach the target audience for a particular event – whether it’s a hard rock festival or an EDM event or music from the 90s. We have all the targeted audiences and it’s much easier to secure ticket sales and sponsorship.

Has the Bulgarian live music industry changed much since the pandemic?
During the pandemic, we started working with the other promoters in the country and decided that instead of competing, it’s much better to work together and benefit all together from the small market that we have instead of increasing and fighting for the price of the artist. It’s much easier to work together and coordinate between us and eventually benefit more from the events that we’re working on. I’ve been in the business for 20 years and have been working with most of these people in these companies since the very beginning.

Which of your 2023 events are selling well?
We have three big events at the beginning of this year: Eros Ramazzotti, Pantera and the family show Hot Wheels. All three of them are selling extremely well. People are definitely coming back to shows. The war is no longer on their radar and they’re not worrying about what will happen. Inflation has calmed down. So I believe people will have fun this summer.

Do you have any plans for expansion this year?
I don’t think that this is the year for expansion. We are still facing problems with booking artists for some of the events so our focus now for the next two or three months will be really to build the strongest lineups we can to satisfy the expectations of fans.

During the pandemic, we started working with the other promoters in the country…instead of competing

Tell us about the problems with booking artists in 2023.
We’re trying to be reasonable with artist fees. There are some that are three or four times higher than our offer. We simply don’t book them of course because we cannot afford it. And from the other side, we are increasing ticket prices by no more than 20% from the previous year which is still not enough for bands who are increasing the fee three or four times. We are always aiming for international artists because domestic artists are not that interesting – most of them are performing every week somewhere. Our lineups are 80–85% international acts. I prefer to cancel the festival if I cannot book international artists because fans have high expectations for our events and they want quality without compromise.

Where are you making cuts at the moment?
Right now the biggest cuts we’re making are in the marketing. We’re not spending that much on marketing from the production side of view. That very much depends on the artist requirements but in most cases, we’re trying to find the best possible solution in order to satisfy their needs and then at the same time to keep the production at reasonable levels.

With hotels and accommodation, we have really good deals all over the country and they understand the situation and give us good prices for four and five-star hotels. Human resources and security cost us a lot of money but at the same time, we cannot cut this expense because we see the higher cost of living right now. Inflation is reasonable. We are trying to keep the people who work for us happy.

FEST Team is attempting to expand into stadium shows, how’s that going?
We’re trying to resend a couple of offers this summer. Unfortunately, Live Nation couldn’t provide the artists, or the artists rejected the region for their tours. Right now, we’re negotiating for some stadium shows for 2024. I believe that we will manage to have a couple of them and it will be really nice for Bulgaria fans.

Why should international artists visit Bulgaria on tour?
This region is full of new opportunities and has the potential to deliver something strong for the artists and for the fans.


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Bulgaria gains first music showcase and conference

Bulgaria is set to gain its first music showcase and conference festival this spring.

Spike is scheduled to take place between 26-28 May in Plovdiv, one of Bulgaria’s most historic cities.

The event will welcome music business delegates from over 12 countries, including the US and Canada.

The content of the conference will cater to executives in artist booking and management, publishing, royalties, and sync licensing, digital technology workshops and equality and diversity in the music industry.

The event was founded by Boyan Robert Pinter of Bulgarian promoter Pan Harmony, who says: “The festival’s primary goal is to create learning and networking opportunities for Bulgarian artists and professionals and to introduce international delegates to Bulgaria’s music scene. This will be done in the spirit of diversity and inclusivity.

“The festival’s primary goal is to introduce international delegates to Bulgaria’s music scene”

“We are very happy that our event will finally go live. When we took our first steps, we received a lot of international support, which gave us the confidence to continue building this platform for local artists and music professionals. We are very grateful to the city of Plovdiv – EU Capital of Culture 2019 – for being our gracious host, providing us with the perfect backdrop to our activities.”

The Spike showcase will take place across several locations on Plovdiv’s main street, including the Temple Bar, Bezistenа, and Rock Bar Download. A special selection of artists will be chosen to perform at the city’s Roman Stadium, downtown, which was built in the 2nd century AD.

“There are many surprises in store for our international delegates, as we’d like to them to experience the wonderful architecture, delicious food, and the hip, laid-back vibe that Plovdiv can offer,” says Pinter.


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Bulgarian promoters organise hilltop festival Music Daze

Working around ongoing restrictions on live events, Bulgarian promoters PanHarmony and Blue Hills Events kicked off the summer with a 1,500-person concert and a three-day festival in the city of Plovdiv earlier this month.

On 5 June, at Plovdiv’s iconic ancient Roman theatre, over 1,500 people welcomed Portuguese-Cape Verdean songstress Sara Tavares (pictured below) to Bulgaria for the third time. Tavaras’ “energetic and heartfelt music proved an uplifting and life-affirming elixir after nearly a year without live shows,” say the promoters, reflecting the “emerging optimism and good summer vibes of a population that is steadily working its way out of the Covid crisis.”

Bulgaria has been on a downward trend with regards to coronavirus cases, averaging around 180 daily Covid-19 infections over the past month. Around 10% of the population of the country, which has a population of about seven million, are now fully vaccinated.

Sara Tavares performed in Plovdiv's Roman amphitheatre

The festival, Music Daze, took place from 11 to 13 June atop Bunardzhik Hill, overlooking Plovdiv. Booker Boyan Robert Pinter says it was a success, despite the stress of fluctuating international Covid-19 regulations, cancelled flights and other mishaps: “Music Daze was a difficult birth, but we desperately wanted to have international artists,” he explains. “Dealing with Covid protocols, PCR tests and quarantines in the artist’s home country proved to be quite a challenge, but one we were determined to take on.”

Artists flying into the country had to present a PCR test on arrival and immediately get a local PCR test in advance of their return flight. PCR tests were valid for up to 72 hours and organisers were able to send everyone back home with a test result in hand. “We partnered with a local lab that sent medical staff to the band’s hotels to extract the samples and deliver the negative results on time for departure,” continues Pinter. “We had it all worked out, but it was still a stressful situation.” One artist, meanwhile, drove to the festival, crossing European borders with his vaccination card in hand.

The festival line-up experienced a last-minute shake-up when 12 June headliners Asian Dub Foundation found themselves unable to make the trip to Bulgaria. Taking their place one week out from the show was Australian artist Dub FX, who travelled to Bulgaria on his birthday.

“We had it all worked out, but it was still a stressful situation”

Dub FX was meant to be accompanied by British saxophonist Mr Woodnote, but he was not allowed to board his plane despite showing negative PCR and antigen test results at London Stansted airport. “Another example of the unexpected predicaments artists and promoters face in this new reality,” comments Boyan.

The rest of the international line-up of Music Daze comprised French band Nouvelle Vague and Amsterdam-based DJ Burak Yeter, both performing on 11 June until the 11pm noise curfew.

Watch a drone video from day of Music Daze, featuring Dub FX, above.

The promoters have more shows planned at the Antique Theater later this year. Swedish band Katatonia will take the stage on 17 September, with Slovenian act Laibach performing with a full orchestra the following night, 18 September.

“These are the kind of unique experiences were are known for regionally and internationally, and we count ourselves lucky to be able to bring this level of entertainment back to local and regional fans,” says Stefan Popov of Blue Hills.


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Exit announces new festival in Bulgaria

Not content with Exit Festival being one of the only major festivals in Europe going ahead this summer, Serbia’s Exit will launch a new open-air event, Sunland, in Bulgaria next month.

Nina Kraviz-headlined Sunland will take place on Perla Beach, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, from 29 to 31 July. Sunland joins the a festival family which also includes Sea Dance (Montenegro), Sea Star (Croatia), No Sleep (Serbia), Revolution (Romania) and F84 (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

In addition to the new event, Novi Sad-based Exit has also announced plans for a new nightclub in Changsha, China, dubbed Exit Effinity, and a partnership with Space Miami in the US, which will host an Exit-themed party this summer.

Exit announced last month will offer the coronavirus vaccine to international guests who attend its flagship event on 8–11 July.

Newly announced for Exit Festival 2021 is Jonas Blue, who joins previously announced acts including David Guetta, DJ Snake, Meduza, Paul van Dyk, Nina Kraviz, Sabaton and Paul Kalkbrenner.


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Bulgarian promoters sell out two major live events

Bulgarian promoters Pan Harmony and Blue Hills successfully produced two major live events at the Plovdiv Antique Theater in Bulgaria last weekend (18 and 19 September).

German heavy metal artist Udo Dirkschneider delivered a two-hour show on 18 September, while a small orchestra – arranged by Tomislav Baynov and conducted by Yordan Kamdzhalov – performed the music of Bach and Mozart during the following evening.

The venue was permitted to operate at 50% of its 1,480 capacity and both events sold out at the maximum legal limit.

“Even though heavy metal passions run high and deep, the exhilarated audience was very respectful of the situation and kept their distance from the band and the crew,” says Boyan Robert Pinter of Pan Harmony.

“No intervention was necessary on behalf of security. We established a good perimeter between the audience and the stage but we didn’t even need barriers. Everybody was on their best and most responsible behaviour. It was certainly a historic event for us.”

“It was certainly a historic event for us”

Stefan Popov of Blue Hills says: “Besides being even better organised than usual, we’re very lucky to be able to work at all.

When it comes to international shows, Bulgarians are generally quite sceptical about whether the artists will show up, so when we posted a photo of Udo and the band from Sofia Airport, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and local ticket buyers were even more confident.

In the European Union’s poorest country, this just adds to a long list of factors that we have to consider.”

Though social distancing and mask-wearing are not mandated in outdoor venues, visitors were asked to wear masks and disinfect their hands upon entry.

Bulgaria went into lockdown in March and measures were eased from June. Bulgaria has a relatively low infection rate with 18,863 reported cases and 761 reported fatalities of Covid amongst a population of around seven million.


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One bad apple doesn’t spoil the barrel

In light of recent developments with Bulgarian promoters, now is the perfect time to widen the lens a bit and take a look at the Bulgarian live music industry beyond its recent highly publicised scandals.

The live music business in Bulgaria only really started in the 1990s. While Europe and the US were crafting the rules of the game and creating high-class music professionals during the post-war years, Eastern European markets had to wait for the fall of communism before a music industry could really take off.

The earliest western acts to come to Bulgaria came courtesy of adventurous local musicians who booked themselves as the support act, profit coming second to the glory of sharing the stage and a cold one with their musical heroes.

Despite these amateur beginnings, by the end of the nineties, Bulgaria had already received the blessing of a number of UK agents and production managers, bringing in stadium acts like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Sting and others. Before 1989, the idea of seeing any of these acts live was absolutely unthinkable. For Bulgarian music fans, these shows were an affirmation, a sign that Bulgaria was finally on the map.

By the 2000s, the Bulgarian live music sector had expanded exponentially. On the wings of a few lucky promoters (some heavily buttressed financially by western companies), a second generation of promoters arrived. These were not the passionate rockers of the 1990s, but a more opportunistic breed who saw the live music industry as a gateway to quick profits.

As the 2010s draw to a close, a new class of Bulgarian promoter is emerging

Unfortunately, these young bloods came to the scene having skipped the foundational level – music biz 101 – as it developed in the US and UK, growing out of social secretaries and campus events organisers. This new wave of promoters wanted only safe bets and sell-out shows.

While fast-moving markets have grown tired of shows consisting of classic rock albums played in their entirety by the few remaining members of a heritage band, Bulgarians, and Bulgarian promoters especially, are reluctant to move away from these established acts.

In effect, very few Bulgarian promoters had ever truly attempted to promote an act, preferring shows that sold themselves. The art of popularising and increasing the demand for an act, shining a spotlight on their talent, shaping public appetites and driving demand never really developed. Their only skill was in delivering shows; this being thanks more to the local production crew than the so-called promoter.

The loyalty between foreign agents and Bulgarian promoters is built on the back of the hard-working production crew. I’m proud to say that Bulgarian crews can, and do, work at every level.

“Show in foreign country went fine!” is not a good headline

Now, as the 2010s draw to a close, a new class of Bulgarian promoter is emerging. Our universities even offer degree programmes in music management. One can start saying “a music industry professional” in all senses of the term. The local scene has quite a few things to be proud of, from the success of large-scale productions like Roger Waters’s The Wall at the National Stadium and the development of the first-century AD ancient theatre in Plovdiv as a concert venue, to the emergence of well-equipped clubs like Joy Station, which has been heavily invested in. These all show a marked step forward.

The music industries in smaller countries rarely make the news with anything positive. Despite our best efforts to fight against these notions and do a better job than most, it’s just a drop in the ocean. This manifests itself clearly in situations where the outstanding work of a Bulgarian production team gets described as, “Not as bad as I expected.” I have witnessed this many times, and while it’s nice to be one of the exceptions, I’d much prefer to just change the perceptions.

It is important to remember that scandals only make the news because they are newsworthy. “Show in foreign country went fine!” is not a good headline.

For every scandal that makes the news, there are many successful shows put on by music-loving professionals and attended by passionate, grateful music fans.


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