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Smukfest on the beauty of being a fan-owned festival

Smukfest’s Søren Eskildsen has spoken to IQ about the benefits of being owned and led by its fans.

Denmark’s second-largest festival (cap. 66,000) was borne from a non-profit association launched by five young men in 1980.

The Skanderborg Festival Club (named after the Danish town in which the festival takes place) has since gained over 20,000 members – three-quarters of which volunteer at Smukfest each summer.

For an annual fee of DKK 150 (€20), members have the right to vote on decisions related to the event and can even be elected to the board. Free tickets, discounted food and beverages, a pre-festival party, and management qualifications are also on offer to those who volunteer at the festival.

“I think it’s quite a unique Danish model to have a festival based on this and we’re very proud of that”

“I think it’s quite a unique Danish model to have a festival based on this and we’re very proud of that,” says Eskildsen. “We would do anything in our power to maintain this model.”

Volunteers and fans also get a say in which artists should perform at Smukfest by submitting their suggestions via the festival’s ‘audience wishlist’.

According to Eskildsen, the festival managed to book eight of the top 10 artists from the audience’s wishlists for this year’s edition. Gorillaz, Kraftwerk, Kygo, Limp Bizkit and Justin Bieber were among the 200 artists that performed at Smukfest between 31 July and 7 August.

“Booking Justin Bieber was a major achievement,” says Eskildsen. “Our booking department worked really hard on that and we’re proud that we managed to bring a star of that calibre to a Beech forest in Skanderborg.”

“Booking Justin Bieber was a major achievement”

In Eskildsen’s opinion, Bieber ranks among the top three headliners in the festival’s 43-year history, along with Prince and Rihanna. And while he deems this year’s Smukfest one of the biggest and best editions ever, it wasn’t without its challenges. Alongside predictable issues relating to the supply chain and inflation, the volunteers weren’t quite match-fit after a handful of years off.

“It has been hard to restart an old engine after three years,” he tells IQ. “The volunteers have been working really, really hard this year and it has been a struggle.”

“There has been a lot of co-operation abroad across the organisation to make it all work and solve various kinds of issues – both in the time before the festival and during the festival – just to make sure that the experience for the audience was top notch as it used to be.”

Customer experience is a top priority for Smukfest, whose average age is around 38, and it has been a major consideration when expanding the festival.

This year, Smukfest increased its attendance by 5,000 and boosted the capacity for the mainstage area from 30,000 to 40,000. The twin mainstages also got upgraded and can now hold 60 tonnes rather than the previous 12, enabling headliners to bring bigger productions.

“It has been hard to restart an old engine after three years”

The festival has the option to expand by a further 2,500 in 2023 but Eskildsen says the festival will have a “very close look” at whether the expansion will impact customer experience.

It’s thanks, in part, to those extra 5,000 tickets that the festival was able to make a “healthy profit”, as the vast majority of tickets were sold at 2019 prices.

“Nearly all of the seven-day tickets were transferred from 2019 to 2022,” explains Eskildsen. “Ninety-seven percent transferred from 2020 to 2021 and then 98% transferred again from 2021 to 2022. For the day tickets, the average transfer rate in both years was around 70%, meaning that we didn’t have a new sale for tickets for 2022.”

Challenges aside, Eskildsen says Smukfest is “back on track” after the Covid-19 pandemic, and volunteers and fans alike were thrilled to return to ‘Denmark’s most beautiful festival’.

“Lots of people had a major experience,” he says. “Both volunteers and guests really really needed that and we were happy to provide it once again.”


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