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France to lift all restrictions on outdoor shows

There will be no capacity restrictions on open-air concerts and festivals in France from 30 June, in news that will be welcomed by the live music industry but which comes too late for many summer festivals.

Following sustained lobbying by industry associations and the success of the Ambition Live Again pilot concert, as of next Wednesday concert organisers will be able to do away with social distancing, and the current attendance cap of 5,000 people, for outdoor events. Indoor shows, meanwhile, remain limited to 75% of capacity.

All events of more than 1,000 people must ask for attendees’ pass sanitaire, the French health passport, certifying that they have had both vaccines or a negative Covid-19 test in the last 48 hours. Masks are advised but not compulsory.

Previously outdoor festivals in France were limited to 5,000 people, seated, with social distancing equivalent to a space of 4m² for each festivalgoer. “It was unrealistic; people can not sit in their own little square,” says Aurélie Hannedouche, head of the Union of Contemporary Music (SMA).

Hannedouche tells Le Dauphiné libéré she welcomes the news but notes that it comes too late for events like Hellfest and Rock en Seine. “The resumption of standing concerts is good news, but it will be hard to readjust for festivals planned around mid-July,” she adds.

“We haven’t had any standing shows for fifteen months. Now we will be able to restart”

Malika Seguineau, head of live music industry association Prodiss, also welcomes the resumption of standing concerts, but criticises the need for the pass sanitaire for bigger shows. “People do not understand it,” she says.

“I’ve had festivalgoers tell me that they cannot attend come because they did not have their two doses of the vaccine, but this is not a vaccination passport – all it takes is a recent test,” adds Jérôme Tréhorel, director of Les Vieilles Charrues, which is taking place in a smaller, socially distanced format, compliant with the previous regulations, from 8 to 18 July.

Additionally, the préfets which represent the French government in each region can also overrule the national guidelines in the event of a severe local health situation.

Regardless of of these reservations, the return of full-capacity live music to France after nearly year and a half is a cause for celebration, Seguineau tells Le Monde. “We haven’t had any standing shows for fifteen months. Now we will be able to restart, within these conditions.”

With this week’s announcement, France joins other European countries incluyding Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and the UK in having set a date this summer for the resumption of non-socially distanced shows.


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French festivals reschedule as new lockdown looms

French president Emmanuel Macron is set to make a decision this weekend on whether to place France into a third national lockdown, in a move that could be a death knell for the country’s festival summer.

According to local media, Macron is leaning towards a so-called adapted lockdown (confinement adapté), rather than the strict stay-at-home measures seen in March in November, with recent polling suggesting a majority of French now oppose a third ‘hard’ lockdown. The last lockdown was eased just before the Christmas holidays as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital fell; under two months later, however, and hospitals are now again at a nearly “100% occupancy rate” in some regions, health minister Olivier Véran warned yesterday (28 January) .

While the confinement adapté would allow some businesses and organisations to stay open – particularly schools, reports Le Monde – the move towards more stringent rules dampens France’s prospects for a more normal summer, particularly when it comes to live entertainment.

Several French music festivals, particularly those catering to local acts, have already postponed to later this year – among them early summer event Festival Papillons de Nuit (20,000-cap.) in Saint-Laurent-de-Cuves, which has moved to the end of August, and the multi-venue Bordeux Rock, which optimistically rescheduled from January to April – and it is feared that further restrictions, particularly the extension of France’s health state of emergency, will put further pressure on the live music sector.

Several French music festivals have already postponed to later this year

The French Senate voted yesterday to extend the Health Emergency Law, which grants the government special powers, including restricting freedom of movement or assembly, until 3 May (revised from 1 June).

More concerning, however, is the bill’s provision to postpone the end of the state of emergency’s “exit regime” (régime de sortie) – a vaguely defined transitional period designed to be a halfway house between the emergency and relative normality – until 30 September: well after France’s major music festivals and summer shows would have taken place.

Just 15% of France’s music festivals took place as planned in 2020, according to Quentin Thomé, who runs French festival site Tous Les Festivals, meaning operators are more determined than ever to go ahead in some this summer.

Sharing the site’s latest research on the health of the French music festival sector with Les Echos, Thomé revealed 95% of festival operators are counting on staging an event in summer 2021, despite the slower-than-expected vaccine roll-out in France.

“Cultural businesses are still awaiting decisions from the authorities”

The Tous Les Festivals survey additionally reveals that even some of the country’s biggest open-air music events, including the 65,000-capacity Vieilles Charrues, are prepared to go seated-only, with social distancing, if it means they can go ahead – while others, including Printemps de Bourges, have already reduced their capacities.

“Cultural businesses are still awaiting the decisions of the authorities on the resumption of live shows, capacities, health measures, social distancing, masks… so many elements that have still not been [addressed],” said a spokesperson for Papillons de Nuit, announcing its postponement earlier this week. “By organising the festival in August, we at least have the possibility we can do it in good conditions.”

It is hoped France’s festival promoters will have more clarity on what will be possible this summer after a meeting today (29 January) with culture minister Roselyne Bachelot. Among those attending the meeting are representatives for Au Foin de la Rue (2–3 July) and Hellfest (18–20 June), the latter of which wrote to Bachelot earlier this month begging her to “put an end to this unbearable waiting situation”.

The 2021 festival season will come under the microscope at the ILMC panel Festival Focus: Reboot & Reset on 5 March. Tickets for ILMC 33 are available at the discounted winter rate of £119/£139 until 14 February.


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European festivals, associations report 2019 slowdown

Mainland Europe’s music festivals are experiencing a similarly slow season to their counterparts in Britain, hurt by repetitive line-ups, rising ticket prices and – potentially – wider societal changes in entertainment consumption, according to festival associations and operators.

IQ revealed last month that many UK festivals are bracing for a quieter-than-normal summer, with sell-outs down amid economic uncertainty and difficulty in differentiating themselves from the competition.

That’s also the case on the continent, says Christof Huber, festival director of Switzerland’s OpenAir St Gallen and general secretary of Yourope, the European Festival Association. “It’s definitely slower than in previous festival seasons,” says Huber, who says he thinks there are fewer sell-outs compared to previous years.

“I am afraid this is a real trend,” says Jean-Paul Roland, festival director of Eurockéennes, one of the biggest rock festivals in France. Roland – who is also co-president of festival association De Concert! with Les Nuits Botanique’s Paul-Henri Wauters – explains that, in France, the success of metal festival Hellfest (which sold 55,000 tickets in two hours) is an exception, playing “the role of the tree that hides the forest”.

“Paleo in Switzerland and Vieilles Charrues in France are usually sold out very quickly always. Biarritz En Été [also in France] threw in the towel for lack of sufficient reservations. Indeed, the season seems more subdued than last year: later sales, more difficulties to reach a point of profitability…”

This was illustrated earlier this week by the surprise cancellation of the revived Doctor Music Festival, with promoter Doctor Music pulling the plug due to low ticket sales after the event was forced to move by Catalonia’s environment agency.

“The market has been quite saturated for a few years”

Doctor Music head Neo Sala described the cancellation as “the toughest decision of my promoter career”, but said the number of fans who had returned the tickets for refunds – coupled with slower-than-expected sales for its new location at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya racetrack – meant the headliner-heavy festival (the Strokes, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy and Christine and the Queens were all booked to perform) “won’t be able to offer the experience we were striving for”.

While independent, non-corporate events are believed to have been hardest hit by the slowdown – a senior exec at one of the multinationals tells IQ it has a “couple” of festivals underperforming, “but no more than usual” – Folkert Koopmans, CEO of European festival powerhouse FKP Scorpio, says, to his knowledge, “it’s the same everywhere. There are a few that are sold out, but it’s not like it used to be before.”

Roland says rising artist fees (what the AIF’s Paul Reed recently described as the headliner “arms race”) are making major international stars “more inaccessible” to many European events.

“The summer circuit in North and South America is becoming more structured and competitive, and that captures the international headliners in the summer, which results in less and less differentiated line-ups,” he explains. In France especially, this means “often the same Francophone artists are [headlining lots of] different festivals”, with festival ticket sales increasing “shifting to major theme parks”.

“My personal view is that the market has been quite saturated for a few years,” says Huber. “Also, the same headliners return too often and sometimes play multiple festival seasons.”

“We need to see what is happening, what people want, and adapt to those changes”

This, combined with more expensive tickets, has “led to the point that sales got slower”, he adds.

Koopmans suggests the soft summer is a symptom of wider demographic changes that will have an impact on the business for years to come. “It’s changing and we have to adapt,” he says. “When we were young, we were fans of music – we’d buy the records, spend hours looking at the sleeves – but young people now are more into gaming and other things. They’ll hear a song they like, then swap to another song – they’re not willing to spend so much money on music anymore.

“For example, they’ll go to an EDM festival because they can dance to the music, and they don’t mind going to smaller, one-day events that are €49. But not €200…”

The perception of a general slowdown isn’t being felt in other areas, with the world music genre faring better, suggests Patrick de Groote, the artistic director of the Sfinks Mixed arts festival in Boechout, Belgium, and secretary of the Forum of Worldwide Music Festivals (FWMW).

FWMW’s members, including Kriol Jazz Festival in Cape Verde, Gardens of Sounds in Poland and Barcelona’s Ciutat Flamenco, largely report improved or static sales, with only a few exceptions.

Roland agrees with Huber that the popular music market is saturated, saying De Concert!’s events are being negatively affected by increased competition, especially the “multiplication of small regional festivals, often at low prices or free, which offer more conviviality, more proximity and less security than the big festivals”.

“Small regional festivals, often at low prices or free, offer more conviviality, more proximity and less security…”

He adds that, in addition to competition from smaller festivals and theme parks, stadium events are taking away marketshare: the likes of Metallica, Muse and French-Canadian star Mylène Farmer all play stadium shows throughout this summer, which “makes festivals’ programmes less exceptional”.

Koopmans says festival operators are being forced to accept that traditional camping festivals – with a few honourable exceptions – “aren’t the hip thing anymore”, with people preferring to go to headline shows and one-day events.

“The festival market is still there, and it will continue to exist – Hurricane and Southside, for example, have great line-ups, and they’ll work this year – but in general it’s a challenge,” he explains. “Over the next few years we need to see what is happening, what people want, and adapt to those changes.

“Touring is stronger than ever before – people love to go to shows. But there’s been a change across the whole society, about what you do when you’re young and how you spend your money. We’re an entertainment company, and we need to entertain people in the way they want to be entertained.”

IQ’s own analysis of Europe’s festival market, the annual European Festival Report, will return in the end-of-year issue #87, providing an in-depth look at capacity and attendance, ticketing and pricing, VIP sales, challenges and concerns, new technology and more.

Read the 2018 European Festival Report here.


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French festival attendance reaches five-year high

The threat of terror and lingering economic woes failed to put a dent in music festival attendance in France in 2016, with the 30 most popular recording their highest attendance in at least five years, new data reveals.

In its annual analysis of the social media presences of France’s 30 biggest festivals, SocialBand found the top 30 (headed by Les Vieilles Charrues) attracted close to 3.47 million attendees in 2016 – an increase of 11% on 2015’s 3.52m. The average attendance was 119,909, compared to 117,425 the previous year.

As in 2015, Les Vieilles Charrues, in Carhaix, Britanny, saw an attendance in excess of 250,000, matched only by two-week jazz festival Jazz in Marciac, with Solidays, Jazz à Vienne and Festival de Carcassonne all attracting more than 200,000 festivalgoers. More than three quarters of the top 30 increased attendance, with seven seeing a decline.

The figures follow a report by IQ in July which found many believed the 2016 festival season to be one of the best in living memory – a sentiment echoed the following month by culture minister Audrey Azoulay, who praised that summer’s “exceptional” ticket sales.

A greater proportion of French people now feel attending concerts is important to combat the “atmosphere of crisis” that has prevailed since the Bataclan massacre

France’s biggest festivals have grown consistently since SocialBand’s first study in 2012, with year-on-year growth of 5% in 2015 (to 3.52m); 9% in 2014 (to 3.45m); and 7.3% in 2013 (to 3.18m).

Prodiss, the association of French promoters, festivals and venues, says although audiences at live shows (as opposed to festivals specifically) declined slightly in 2016 (-4%), a greater proportion of French people now feel attending concerts is important to combat the “atmosphere of crisis” that has prevailed since the Bataclan massacre in November 2015.

Presenting the findings of its Baromètre du Live 2016 survey at the MaMA Festival & Convention in October, Prodiss, represented by president Luc Gaurichon and general secretary Malika Séguineau, said that “even more so than last year, the French believe the entertainment industry helps to fight against the atmosphere of crisis in France. The public report they continue to go to shows to feel emotion and experience exceptional moments to share.”

A similar study by the Centre national de la chanson, des variétés et du jazz (CNV), Centre d’information et de ressources pour les musiques actuelles (Irma) and collection society Sacem, Barofest 2016, found the “attractiveness of festivals in France is stronger than ever”.


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