Russia gives green light to drive-in shows
Russian promoters SAV Entertainment and Talent Concert International (TCI) have joined forces to launch a series of drive-in concerts at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, bringing the show format to another market worldwide.
The Live & Drive series, which is to feature Russian rock, pop and rap artists including Mashina Vremeni, Diana Arbenina, The Hatters and Splean, kicked off on Saturday (18 July), with a 600-carpacity show by Russian rapper Basta.
Two types of tickets are sold for the events, with options for a two- or four-person car. Food and drink is available to order online to be delivered to the vehicle.
“The whole project is a big experience for us,” comments SAV Entertainment CEO Nadya Solovieva. “We are having to work in very limited time frames, and we didn’t have time to popularise this format.
“I’m sure that more and more people will appreciate this new form of entertainment in the near future”
“A lot of people still think that drive-in concerts are unable to replace “ordinary” ones in any way. But Basta’s show proves that drive-in concerts can be as successful and “live” as the ones that we’re used to.
“The atmosphere was fantastic, everyone really enjoyed it and I’m sure that more and more people will appreciate this new form of entertainment in the near future”.
Drive-in concerts have brought the live experience back to music-deprived fans across the world in recent months, with the format making its debut in Latin America earlier this month, in the form of a Move Concerts Puerto Rico-promoted show. A number of drive-in concerts are taking place Mexico in the coming weeks.
Drive-in shows have also offered fans some relief from lockdown in Germany, Denmark, the US, Lithuania and the Netherlands, among other markets.
Tickets for Live & Drive shows are available here.
Tales from Covid: Nadia Solovieva, SAV Entertainment
Tales from Covid, IQ’s series of Q&As with locked-down industry leaders, sees leading lights of the concert business explain how they are weathering the coronavirus crisis and offer their predictions for the months ahead.
Following the fifth interview, with AEG Presents UK co-CEO Steve Homer, IQ catches up with Nadia Solovieva, co-founder and CEO of Moscow-based SAV Entertainment, to talk about her government lobbying, the future for artist fees and the resilience of live entertainment.
IQ: What is the current situation for SAV Entertainment?
NS: Most of our shows are being rescheduled to next year. A very few are also moving to the fall, but we are not sure whether they will go ahead.
Have you had any help from the government in Russia?
Our government hasn’t done anything yet to help the industry as such. They have introduced measures to help small- and medium-sized businesses in general in industries that they consider the most affected, but those measures don’t help us at all.
We are in discussions with the government, trying to reach an agreement that maintains that all tickets for rescheduled concerts are valid for the new dates, meaning we don’t have to issue refunds.
For those that are cancelled, we currently have 30 days to issue refunds, which is very difficult as we are still under quarantine and will remain so until 12 May. We are working to prolong this period, but nothing has been decided yet. It is proving to be a very long and painful process.
We have also introduced the idea of offering a voucher or certificate for fans to exchange for another show if they want. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether this will be put into legislation. The president has heard us and advised the ministry of culture to work something out, so I hope this will materialise, otherwise it will be a complete disaster. Ticket sales completely stopped after 15 March, when it was declared that there were to be no live events at all. Since then, of all my 16 or 18 shows, we have sold maybe 10 tickets.
Nothing at all is selling at the moment. This goes not only for rescheduled events but even for shows that were initially planned for the autumn. People have just stopped buying as there is so much uncertainty and fear now. Live entertainment is not their priority.
“Nobody can predict such a situation and having a body representing the industry is necessary”
When do you expect shows to restart again and how are you preparing for the recovery process?
If the situation stabilises and is good in summer, then we will see shows in the autumn. I am pretty sure the summer will be dead. I hope that by late autumn, they will allow shows. If not, then in March, as there is generally no business here anyway in January and February.
Personally, I am preparing by having discussions with the government about new legislation. This takes up all my time.
Nobody can predict such a situation and having a body representing the industry is necessary, so everyone with the same business interests can work towards common goals.
In Russia, the live entertainment industry is divided into two parts – government-run theatres, and the rest of us. These theatres – there are about 400 in Moscow alone – survive on government budgets and they get help. The rest of us must stick together.
What obstacles will the live industry in Russia face when it starts to reopen?
The situation is very difficult. For example, in Moscow, the mayor is very reluctant to reopen business for now and live events will be the last to be allowed.
Probably, when events do reopen, they will be only up to a certain number of people. Either way, the open-air season is over by the end of September, so we will miss that. There will be a clash with sporting events too in the autumn, as all venues are used for sports too, so we will have clashing dates to contend with as well for next year.
“What I am sure of is that live entertainment will never die”
Do you foresee any long-term changes for the live business?
Not just in Russia, but in general across the live industry, the situation as we know it will change. Over the last few years, we have seen a tremendous increase in artist fees, expenses and ticket prices. Everyone will have to reconsider, as people will not have the money for this. Along with unemployment, a lot of small- and medium-sized enterprises will go bankrupt and that’s going to affect young people especially – our main clientele. Some people will also be afraid to go to mass events. No-one expects a pandemic to come along in their lifetime.
It is going to be really difficult financially, but we have to find ways to continue. I started SAV in 1987, under the Soviet Union. Since then, we have survived so many crises, but this is by far the most difficult and unusual, and we are still figuring it out.
Never before has live entertainment been banned. In the past, we’ve had economic and political crises to contend with, but this is a health issue and it concerns every person. The oil crisis is another blow to the financial situation at the moment too. Plus there’s this terrible fear and uncertainty.
What I am sure of is that live entertainment will never die. We will survive, that’s for sure – how many promoters will survive is a big question mark. Those with some savings can probably survive, but for how long, we don’t know.
The strongest will survive. That’s not what I wish, but it’s the reality of life. I don’t think going online will help a lot, as it’s a totally different consumption type, but demand for that type of thing will be bigger.
We haven’t done anything on the livestreaming side yet, as there’s been a lot to reschedule and agreements to reach. We will think of something, though – now is a perfect time to invent something new.
Rock in the USSR: SAV Entertainment at 30
Russia, to quote American writer Ralph Peters, has “long been a land of contradictions layered upon contradictions.” Straddling East and West, democracy and absolutism, collectivism and capitalism, the world’s largest country has always been a nation of stark contrasts – and never more so than in 1987.
Thirty years ago, as the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) celebrated the 70th anniversary of the October revolution, Russian society stood at a crossroads. A year earlier, general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev had used the 27th congress of the CPSU to introduce a range of reforms, including glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring) and demokratizatsiya (democratisation), paving the way for reduced state censorship, a degree of political liberalisation, and, ultimately, the fall of the Soviet Union and an independent Russia’s transition to a market economy.
Not, then, the kind of stable political environment in which most people would think to start a new company – especially one engaged in the inherently risky business of promoting live music – but then Nadia Solovieva, co-founder and CEO of Moscow-based SAV Entertainment, isn’t most people.
Solovieva, for four decades the matriarch of the Russian live music industry, tells IQ that SAV was initially conceived as a vehicle for promoting Russian artists in the West, capitalising on the USSR’s appeal to capitalist audiences amid the glasnost-era thaw in East–West relations. “The initial idea for SAV was the opposite of what it eventually became,” she explains. “Russia was hip at the time! But we gradually realised there wasn’t much of a business there, and started bringing foreign artists to Russia instead.”
Solovieva cut her promotion teeth at Gosconcert, the Soviet state concert monopoly, where she worked in the late 1970s and early 80s as a tour manager and translator. The first Western artist she worked with at Gosconcert was Elton John, who toured Russia with Harvey Goldsmith in 1979. Solovieva has promoted Sir Elton on numerous occasions since (he played the 7,500-cap. Crocus City Hall in Moscow with SAV on 14 December), but the British singer’s famous first visit to Russia – which set the stage for a lasting friendship between Solovieva and Goldsmith – was actually something of an accident, as the latter recalls.
“Elton went onstage [at Wembley] in 1977 and announced he was never going to tour again,” explains Goldsmith. “Later, we had lunch and he said, ‘I’ve got a new album coming out and I’ve promised to do a show in Paris for the record company – but I’m not touring.’
“Before then, there were no businesses except those owned by the state – even the word ‘business’ was new!”
“Over lunch, he kept saying, ‘I’m not touring, I’m not going to all those places I normally go,’ and that he wanted to play new places: Russia, Israel, Egypt… In the end, ‘not touring’ ended up being 18 months on the road!”
The genesis of SAV – originally Seabeko Alla Venture, after the company’s initial partners, Canadian investment firm Seabeco Group and singer Alla Pugacheva – came in 1987 when Gorbachev legalised private enterprise. Unlike their counterparts in Europe and North America, Russia’s fledgling promoters had little experience of the international live music industry – and, crucially, even less experience running a business, with private enterprise having been illegal since Stalin’s abolition of the New Economic Policy in 1928.
“We were, all of us together, learning how things worked,” Solovieva explains. “Before then, there were no businesses except those owned by the state – even the word ‘business’ was new, for God’s sake!
“Of course, now everything is here: the hotels, the transfers, the infrastructure… The only thing the promoter has to have is the ability to be music-orientated – and have money, of course. But when we started out, we had to learn everything from scratch.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 75: