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Festival Forum: Fan first?

Festival Forum: Fan first?

Chairs: Codruța Vulcu, ARTmania (RO)
& Dany Hassenstein, Paléo Festival (CH)

Guest speakers included:
Ari Bernstein, ICM Partners (US)
Jim King, AEG Presents (UK)
Sophie Lobl, C3 Presents (US)
Nara Pinto, Mad Cool Festival (ES)

As organisers clamour to claw back ever-escalating artist fees, festival and agency representatives discuss how to deliver fans the highest-quality festival experience

Chair Codruta Vulcu of Romania’s Artmania festival welcomed the session as co-chair Dany Hassenstein from Switzerland’s Paléo festival offered some facts and figures relating to the state of play.

“The good news is that most people still go to festivals for the music,” said Hassenstein, “but as ticket prices are rising, fans are beginning to voice their concerns.”

ICM Partners’ Ari Bernstein, the sole agent on the panel, stated that “the experience of the audience is first and foremost the most important thing,” in terms of retaining customer loyalty. The agent added he would like to see “fewer multi-genre festivals” to vary the types of artists appearing on festival line-ups.

Jim King of AEG Presents spoke of the highly developed UK festival scene, stating that there is now limited growth in terms of procuring bigger headliners. “It comes down to experience at this point,” said the All Points East and BST Hyde Park promoter. “We need to add as much value to the festival experience as is justifiable.”

Talk turned to catering festivals to different cultural markets, a topic of which C3 Presents’ Sophie Lobl has experience. “We definitely tailor Lollapalooza to the country it’s in, whilst keeping it to the level expected of our brand,” explained Lobl.


However, in Spain, said Nara Pinto of Mad Cool festival, fans value line-up over experience. “We’re struggling with the experience side of things,” she admitted. “We create that bond with the public through our line-ups.”

King described the key to enhancing any festival experience, saying that “the basics of any event are the critical part,” and stressing that finding, entering and navigating around a festival has to be simple for the fan. “If that fails, then everything else fails.”

Crisis management became the topic of conversation, as Pinto outlined the need for communication in times of difficulty, “people need to know what’s going on.”

The panel moved away from the focus on fans to explore the subject of artists, and how to contend with ever-rising fees. Block-booking an act for multiple events “helps to secure the bands but not to save money,” said Lobl, as panellists agreed that festivals remain line-up driven in essence.

“That’s never going to change,” said King. “Even the best experiential festivals have a lifespan.”