New festival formats: Who dares wins
This year, many greenfield festival organisers were faced with two choices: adapt or perish. With ever-changing legislation, capacity restrictions, lack of cancellation cover and low financial viability to contend with, many chose the former – pivoting to virtual events or pledging to return next year with a bigger and better event.
As this year’s festival season draws to a close, IQ looks at some greenfield festivals that dared to adapt their IRL events, taking the restrictions in their stride and seizing the opportunity to go back to the drawing board in order to deliver to their fanbase.
Electrisize in Erkelenz, Germany, is one such event. Rather than compromising its brand with a socially distanced spin-off (a concern expressed by many organisers during the Interactive Festival Forum), the festival decided to scrap its three-year-old model altogether.
The organisers chose instead to use coronavirus measures as a framework on which to build a brand-new event, rather than a set of limitations that would diminish the experience its fans had come to expect.
While outdoor events in Germany were restricted at the time of planning, campsites with attractions were permitted to open.
“At first we thought, that’s unfair,” says executive director Raphael Meyesieck. “But the longer we thought about it, the more we understood that we had found a loophole for the event industry.”
Thus Electricity was born and its “cake-shaped campsite” concept was conceived, planned and built within five weeks.
“Eeverything that was installed because of the corona regulations didn’t feel like a limitation or disruption”
The campsite, located on the grounds of Hohenbusch House, was divided into six camping sectors – or “cake pieces” – and featured a 360-degree stage at the centre which could be seen from each sector.
Each sector had several demarcated areas in front of the stage for up to ten people, in order to observe social distancing measures.
And the 100-capacity sectors were colour-coded, with corresponding wristbands to ensure festivalgoers stayed within their allocated sector.
Bars, food tents and “sanitary clusters” lined the border of each sector (thus serving two sectors at once), sewage collectors came to dispose of the waste and generators provided power. But Meyesieck says that the key to the corona-compliant campsite was simple: space.
However, it seems that flexibility was also an important trick Meyersieck kept up his sleeve. The director says the event hired spare staff for any unpredictable event and were prepared to adjust the capacity of sectors should coronavirus guidelines change.
Fortunately, the event went undisrupted for four weekends and only a few minor tweaks to the opening times of the amenities and the check-in welcome routine were necessary.
“All told, it was perfect. We had an inspection by the authorities during the first evening of the first weekend and they were overwhelmed at how good the concept worked,” says Meyersieck.
“We asked ourselves: how could we offer our audience a taste of Deer Shed whilst adhering to social distancing rules”
Meyersieck says the event was such a huge success because there were no comparable offers for festivalgoers at the time.
Deer Shed in the UK had similar ideas to Electricity, using camping as the focus of its socially distanced family camping weekender, Base Camp.
The “camping weekender” took place between 24–27 July at Deer Shed’s usual home of Baldersby Park in North Yorkshire.
The site comprised 320 15×15-metre pitches, each with its own portaloo and space to park a car. Families were contained within their own square, thereby maintaining social distancing, but could request to be allocated a pitch next to friends.
The festival provided some food and ice-cream vendors but families were encouraged to bring their own food and drink to minimise Covid risk and to make the festival more economically viable.
However, the masterstroke of Base Camp’s concept was broadcasting live music through an FM channel so families could listen on their own radio at their own pitch.
The programme included performances from artists including The Howl & The Hum, Shadowlark and Low Hummer, as well as spoken word, comedy, a Sunday paper review, bedtime stories, DJ sets and pre-recorded shows.
“The genius part of Electricity is that it’s the first and only concept that makes a virtue of necessity”
“We asked ourselves: how could we offer our audience a taste of Deer Shed whilst adhering to social distancing rules?” said Deer Shed director Kate Webster at the Interactive Festival Forum.
“The creative aspects, delivering the essence of Deer Shed, and managing expectations of our audience took a lot of thought.”
Initially, the festival put the feelers out to see if its regular festivalgoers would be interested in a socially distanced camping weekender and according to Webster, people were supportive from the off.
Like Electricity, Base Camp was unaffected by changing legislation around Coronavirus; however, Primavera Sound wasn’t so lucky with its project Nits del Fòrum.
In the absence of its flagship festival, the Spanish promoter organised a series of outdoor concerts throughout the summer specifically designed to comply with all social distancing regulations, capacity and hygiene rules.
The 70-show series was launched at the end of June, taking place from Tuesday to Sunday each week at Primavera’s Barcelona home of the Parc del Fòrum outdoor amphitheatre, and will close on 20 September.
The series has featured performances from the likes of Hinds, Mala Rodríguez and Dorian.
With all things considered, cancelling a small portion of a 70-show series takes little away from organisers’ triumph
Alongside programming from Primavera Sound, local promoters and organisers including Caníbal (Sala Apolo), Arte por Derecho, Somoslas and Churros con Chocolate, also helped with the billing and to make the event as diverse as possible.
All gigs are seated and guests are assigned a demarcated spot on the tiered amphitheatre, 1.5 metres from the next.
Similar to Electricity, the organisers accounted for a flexible capacity, designed to be adaptable to the changing health regulations of the local government.
However, a spike in infections in the region brought the series to a grinding halt between 18–31 July. The festival resumed on 1 August, with some shows rescheduled and others cancelled altogether. But, with all things considered, cancelling a small portion of a 70-show series takes little away from organisers’ triumph.
Deer Shed reported similar success with Base camp, with tickets selling out immediately. And though Webster says the turnover was only 8% of what they would’ve taken in an average year, she says it went some way to making up for the losses in 2020.
With Electricity 2020, however, Meyersieck and his team seem to have landed on a model they could build on post-pandemic.
The director reported that the festival was economically sustainable and the team is even thinking about adopting the new features for the Electrisize festival campsite when things are back to normal.
“The sectors, the cages and everything that was installed because of the corona regulations didn’t feel like a limitation or disruption – they were a feature.”
“The genius part of Electricity is that it’s the first and only concept that makes a virtue of necessity,” he says.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
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