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Holding the line: Jazzopen talks 2021 plans

Jazzopen Stuttgart is on track to welcome more than 30,000 fans to open-air venues across the city this September, for what will be one of the biggest events in Germany’s increasingly sparse 2021 festival calendar.

The long-running city festival was originally scheduled for July, but the team postponed that event – which included names such as Lenny Kravitz, Jamie Cullum and Corinna Bailey Rae – to 2022, instead booking an entirely new line-up for a replacement 2021 festival in September.

Sven Meyer, managing director of Jazzopen organiser Opus (Jürgen Schlensog, Jazzopen’s promoter, is Opus CEO) says Jazzopen was able to take advantage of its good relationships with agents, as well as direct lines to certain bands, to get together a line-up in a fraction of the time it would take normally. “We have very good contacts with UK and US agents, and so we are booking either direct with management or, in most cases, with agents in the UK,” he explains. “[These relationships] have developed over many years, so it was a really fast process of getting on the phone to a lot of people, and also being creative where have direct contacts: Parov Stelar, for example, has played the festival before, so it’s was just a quick check to see if he was keen to play.

“For obvious reasons we had quite a few ‘no’s, but also lots of ‘yes’es.”

“Either make it work, or we don’t do it”

In addition to Stelar, Jazzopen 2021 will welcome international stars such as Liam Gallagher, Ben Howard, Katie Melua, Lianne La Havas, Amy MacDonald and Laura Pergolizzi, as well as German band Element of Crime, Swiss singer-songwriter Sophie Hunger and Italian singer Mario Biondi. MacDonald tweeted in April that when she got the offer from Jazzopen, she “may have shed a little tear!”

It is hoped that the international artists will not have to quarantine on their arrival in Germany – Meyer says it is currently under discussion “and I think it will go through” – but the preference is for them to already be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Meyer praises the speed of the vaccine roll-out in Germany – at press time, 36.5 million Germans, or 44% of the population, have had at least one jab – and says he’s confident the festival should be able to go ahead in its revised format in September. Plus, “you can still play open-air in September” in Stuttgart, he adds. (By October, it’s too cold.)

While a seated event is nobody’s first preference, Meyer says Jazzopen is also prepared should the coronavirus situation in Germany deteriorate. “We have reduced the capacity of our main venue, which under normal circumstances is 7,000, to 5,800, to make sure that if the authorities expect us to have a seated venue only, we can still seat everybody,” he explains.

“All the big festivals in Germany have been cancelled, so it’s a fairly brave decision”

“The other thing is that we have a number of events, these big outdoor shows – it’s not like two days with 40,000 people a night,” he continues. “We have a maximum of 7,000 per night, and in the smaller concert venue it’s only 1,000. So we are in a special situation compared to something like Rock im Park, where you have two or three days and a massive audience every day. We are very lucky in that respect.”

“We are also in a very good position because we are not in the touring business,” Meyer adds. “Particularly in Germany, which is a federal country, you could be fine in one state and not in another, which is horrible. So being based in one city, with the shows spread out over a couple of days, is a much better situation.”

As expected, fans must be either fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or produce a negative test to gain entry to the festival.

Meyer estimates they are putting around 33,000 tickets on sale in total – and says they couldn’t have considered going any smaller.

“If we have a real downturn in the [coronavirus] situation and lockdowns and everything, we might come into situation where we’d have to call it off – but Jürgen and I already agreed that we would consider a even more reduced capacity,” he explains, “in the line with the actual government rules at time of the festival. So we either make it work or we don’t do it.”

“Our competitors are saying, ‘Go for it! Raise the flag for our business’”

Meyer says Jazzopen is proud to be able to go ahead in some capacity this year ahead of a return to normality next summer. “The reception we’ve got from the market and from customers is that people would love to see the festival, and artists would love to play there,” he comments, “and we are the first to stick out our necks and say, ‘Okay, we’ll do it.”

“All the big festivals in Germany have been cancelled, so it’s a fairly brave decision. Hopefully we will be rewarded for that.”

Meyer adds that other festivals in Germany are rooting for Jazzopen, having not been able to go ahead themselves.

“Some people are obliged to go for a certain date, or can’t change the nature of the event, and obviously that creates a degree of jealousy,” he says. “But even our competitors, they give us a ring and say, ‘Hey, go for it! Raise the flag for our business.’”

Jazzopen Stuttgart 2021 takes place from 10 to 19 September. The festival returns to its traditional dates next summer (7–17 July 2022).


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