Dealing with heat at festivals due to the ongoing effects of climate change, and managing generational change, were two of the key takeaways from the European Festival Conference this week.
The fifth edition of the bi-annual event took place at popular beach festival venue Noa Glamping Resort on Pag Island in Croatia. Representatives from more than 50 festivals and organisations across 16 markets included Live Nation, Superstruct and CTS Eventim alongside independent operators.
A discussion on weather included Mikołaj Ziółkowski from Poland’s Open’er who detailed the largest public evacuation in Poland in 30 years, when the 2022 festival had to close due to 100km per hour winds. And while 65,000 fans dispersed in 30 minutes, the Opener team spent four months dealing with the PR fallout from those who disagreed with the decision. “We went from a real storm to a shit storm,” he said.
Thomas Jensen detailed the decision to halt ingress to Wacken this year that saw 35,000 fans turned away due to extreme levels of rainfall in advance of the site opening. Jensen spoke about the solidarity that he’d witnessed from both ticket holders and the surrounding community – a call for tractors to help move cars saw over 70 arrive from surrounding farmers within hours.
But while rain and storms were a common topic, the conversation also covered extreme heat. Safety specialist Alexandra von Samson cautioned about the dangers to fans from heat including flooring panels in stadiums, and the cumulative heating effect of crowds in open-air venues during a sunny day.
“Is the European festival business ready to deal with extreme heat? I don’t think we are”
“Is the European festival business ready to deal with extreme heat? I don’t think we are,” said Yourope chair Christof Huber, which followed calls for information exchange between warmer festival markets such as Portugal and Spain, and their northern European counterparts. Artur Mendes from Boom offered to share solutions the event had developed over time.
The sentiment continued during a keynote about climate and weather by Professor Robert Lončariċ from the University of Zadar, who detailed a dramatic increase in extreme weather events across Europe between just 2010 and 2022.
“We’ll have normal summers in the future, but the probability of normal summers is decreasing. And continental areas of Europe are in the most danger of extreme hazard events,” Lončariċ said, advising organisers to “have a meteorologist on speed-dial”.
Other discussion points across the two-day event included a lively ticketing debate which included Die Toten Hosen agent Kiki Ressler. Chaired by IQ’s James Drury the session outlined schemes by several festivals to offer cheaper tickets to fans on low incomes. While the majority of organisers agreed they would like to increase ticket prices to cover rising production costs, most didn’t believe fans would pay much more.
Vlad Yaremchuk from Atlas Festival and his colleague Mariana Mokrynska updated delegates on the Music Saves UA campaign, which seeks to raise funds to help refugees displaced in the Ukraine war. The pair detailed how activity including guest list fees, merch sales and donations at festivals this summer had raised over €91,000 for the charity (74% of which came from Yourope members).
A discussion about festival marketing and AI led by Ola Krakowska from Alter Art highlighted how the new tech can be used as a tool. “It’s not about AI vs humans, it’s AI and humans,” said Prof. Aleksandra Przegalinska of Harvard University, who, unable to attend in person, trained an AI to deliver her presentation for her as an avatar.
“The festival business does not feel that secure right now, and there are clearly lots of changes in our industry”
Festivals including Germany’s Superbloom, Denmark’s Roskilde and others shared initiatives they’ve taken to be more inclusive, including accessibility and gender balance measures. And Isabel Roudsarabi from consultancy Höme – Für Festivals presented results from a company-wide awareness drive and reported that their published guide on the topic has now been adopted by 200 festivals in the German market.
The second day of EFR saw a keynote presentation from Slaven Marić from Youth Sports Games (Sportske Igre Mladih), the biggest amateur youth sports event in Europe. Marić spoke about tackling childhood obesity, teenage violence and promoting sustainability.
And the impact of generational change across the business was a topic that all organisations felt was important to them, though few had answers. With much of the senior leadership in key European events approaching retirement, there was a call for research into how best to approach it.
By keeping delegate numbers to a focussed group while inviting many of Europe’s leading festivals to engage, the dialogue at EFR was both candid and constructive. And between this sense of openness, Croatia’s notorious Bora wind keeping everyone inside, and power cuts across the island, there was a clear feeling of the European festival scene being ‘in it together’.
The EFR is organised by Yourope with support from the association’s 3F project, co-funded by the EU. In addition to the formal programme, social events included a visit to Zadar, a salt museum tour, and a festival pub quiz.
Wrapping up the conference, Huber described the conference as a “special” one. “It’s been a wild ride,” he said.
“We talked about everything from the love and passion of festivals to hate speech and there’s a lot to take away. The festival business does not feel that secure right now, and there are clearly lots of changes in our industry. It’s vital that forums like this exist to continue exchanging and sharing information.”
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