European festival operators are seeing strong demand for tickets, despite the lingering impact of the pandemic and the Ukraine War, and there is no shortage of new major events launching this year and existing ones being extended. Access investigates.

Despite a war raging, inflation soaring, varying levels of Covid-19 mitigation measures still being in place, and widespread supply chain strains, festival operators across Europe are seeing huge demand.

Among the many festivals to sell out swiftly was the giant EDM event series Tomorrowland in Belgium. The 14-stage festival, which was launched in 2005 by brothers Manu and Michiel Beers, usually takes place across two July weekends in Boom.

After a two-year hiatus, and losses of around £21 million following the cancellation of four festival weekend events due to the pandemic, Tomorrowland’s promoters We Are One World were given permission to operate a third weekend event this summer.

Having already shifted 400,000 tickets in minutes for the original two weekend events, the Antwerp-based operation saw the 200,000 tickets for the third Tomorrowland weekend sell out in just 17 minutes.

The festival will see around 700 acts perform across 14 stages, including headliners Diplo, Alesso, Sofi Tukker, Marshmello, Martin Garrix, DJ Diesel and Major Lazer.

“We got permission from the Province of Antwerp, the City of Boom and Rumst to organise, exceptionally and only in 2022, an extra festival weekend to compensate the losses of the last year,” says Tomorrowland’s Debby Wilmsen.

During the pandemic, Tomorrowland’s organisers staged digital versions of the event, including the live streamed Tomorrowland Around the World in July 2020 that had an audience of more than a million people, with weekend tickets priced €20 (£18.20). Wilmsem says that as a result of the digital event’s success, all Tomorrowland festivals going forward will be delivered as physical/digital hybrids.

The Tomorrowland team is currently preparing for its second winter edition, set to take place in the French Alps from 19-26 March in the village of Alpe d’Huez, where the festival’s first winter event was held for 30,000 in 2019. The line-up included Armin van Buuren, Afrojack, Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki and Nervo.

Wilmsen said it was great to see such a positive response to the on-sale from consumers, following such a difficult time during the pandemic: “The past two years were very challenging for us, our team and all our suppliers, partners and freelancers but we are very hopeful.”

Not content to stop at three summer festival weekends, and a winter festival, the Tomorrowland team is also busy running a Tomorrowland Restaurant in Antwerp and recently opened a DJ store in the centre of Antwerp.

It is also preparing for the launch of new 25,000-capacity festival CORE, which will take place at Osseghem Park in Brussels on 27-28 May this year.

Despite all the activity, Wilmsen says it was vitally important to get clearance for the third summer event. With many of the tickets for the first two weekends having been sold in 2020, it meant the promoters were able to sell tickets for the third event at a higher price, while also meeting strong demand from people who had not purchased them two years previously.

Naturally, We Are One World has not been immune from the impact of the pandemic.

“A lot of people across the event industry did find a new job but we have seen that experts, and people who are really passionate about the industry, are still there and they are starting up their business again.

“Indeed, costs and materials are more expensive, and we have some delays with materials but we never stopped working during the Covid crisis: we have been working in our “atelier” so that we were ready.”

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Exit signs

In Serbia, Exit was one of the first summer festivals to take place last year. The promoters opened the gates of the 17th-century fortress in Novi Sad on 8 July, welcoming more than 42,000 fans from over 70 countries to the 20th anniversary edition of the hugely popular event. Among the headliners for this year’s event on 7-10 July are Calvin Harriss, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

The festival was founded in 2000 in the University Park as a student movement, fighting for democracy and freedom in Serbia and the Balkans. After the downfall of the Milosevic regime, Exit was moved to the Petrovaradin Fortress in 2001.

Exit’s Sanjin Đukić says the event typically has a capacity of 56,000, but that was reduced a little for last year’s event. The majority of ticket buyers are usually Serbian but Đukić says that 2021 was only the second time that foreigners purchased more tickets than locals, with around 10,000 festivalgoers coming from the UK.

The average age of the event’s attendees is 25.The event consists of around 40 performance areas, including sponsored activations, with 18 stages. Production across the site is handled by Sky Music.

Đukić says Serbia has nothing like the festival and event season congestion issues faced by the UK industry this year: “Exit is by far the biggest festival in this part of the world. It is one of the few festivals in Serbia where you have huge international artists playing, and we don’t have as many big tours as in Western Europe, so it is one of the few opportunities to see these kind of acts in one place at a reasonable price.”

He says tickets sales have been strong, and the event has not been impacted by lingering pandemic concerns. “Across the media in Serbia the pandemic is not even the third biggest story these days. People here are hungry for these kind of events. The festival provides a real sense of freedom. It can be a bit wild, essentially it is controlled chaos. That is how we are here and that’s what we like.”

Separated from Ukraine by Romania, Đukić says preparation for the Exit festival has not been impacted by the war there, and he insists the Serbian chaos does not extend to the supply chain: “There are no supply chain issues at the moment. In Serbia and Croatia we are seeing inflation increase but nothing that will in any way jeopardise the running of our event.”

Prime mover

That positivity is evident at long established Italian promoters D’Alessandro e Galli (Di and Gi), which is working on the launch of new festival La Prima Estate in Tuscany.

Di and Gi was founded in 1987 by Mimmo D’Alessandro and Adolfo Galli and has since promoted shows by many of the world’s biggest touring acts including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Adele and Jennifer Lopez.

In 1998 it founded the Lucca Summer Festival, a series of shows in July at the 14,000-capacity Piazza Napoleone inside the Tuscan city’s walls. Among the artists to have played the event are Elton John, Ennio Morricone, Sting and New Order.

This year has seen Di and Gi promoter Enrico D’Alessandro launch a new festival, La Prima Estate, which will run from 21-26 June 2022 in Versilia, Tuscany, just a stone’s throw from the beach.

Among the acts confirmed to play the 10,000-capacity festival are The National, Duran Duran and Bonobo, but the event has far more to offer than live music. Extracurricular activity on offer will include dawn yoga sessions, bicycle excursions to the Versilia Hills guided by professional cyclists, SUP and Surf Lessons as well as panel sessions and interviews with artists on the beach.

“We started working on La Prima Estate before the pandemic hit but right now looks like an even more suitable time to launch the festival because of the appetite for live music.” – Enrico D’Alessandro

D’Alessandro (pictured) says the concept is aimed at a young adult audience aged primarily between 25 and 45, who have a healthy disposable income and are interested in a comfortable experience that couldn’t be more different from the muddy escapism of the UK’s rock festivals.

“The festival culture is very different in Italy,” he says. “Here the kind of festival with multiple stages and music that starts in the late morning and goes on all night never really works. People here prefer some kind of concert series, with less acts each night and a comfortable sleeping situation that doesn’t involve camping.”

While the concept of an outdoor festival may be different in Italy, the country’s live business appears to be mirroring the UK when it comes to event numbers this year.

D’Alessandro says barely a day goes by without two or three big event announcements: “I wonder how the market can sustain all these offers. It really is going to be a very crowded summer.”

Despite the huge number of shows on offer in Italy, D’Alessandro has no concerns about customer confidence. He says, “The appetite is huge, I think that concert and live music is one of the things that people missed the most in the last few years.

“The Omicron wave is waning now and the government announced the end of the state of emergency from 31 March. I’m really confident that summer 2022 will look a lot like summer 2019 and we will see a spike in sales starting from April.”

Face coverings remain mandatory in indoor venues in Italy and all event attendees must show a Super Green Pass proving they have been vaccinated three times against Covid-19. D’Alessandro says the rumour is that the pass will no longer be mandatory from June onwards. As in the UK, many in the Italian live events industry switched to other business areas during the pandemic, and D’Alessandro says the supply chain is not as robust as in 2019 due a shortage of staff including riggers and security personnel, but with the appetite for live music locally and Tuscany being a hugely attractive option for tourists, the promoter is confident his event will be a success.

“Lucca is only 20 kilometres away from Versilia, and for that we usually have around 20% of ticket buyers coming from overseas. Tuscany has become very popular in the past 20 years for vacations.

“We started working on La Prima Estate before the pandemic hit but right now looks like an even more suitable time to launch the festival because of the appetite for live music.”

“It is a huge risk but if there is no risk there’s no fun, and that’s what our industry is all about.” – Fruzsina Szép

Berlin-based concert and tour promoter Goodlive Artists, organises Germany festivals including the 85,000-capacity Lollapalooza Berlin, Melt! (20,000), Splash (30,000), Full Force (20,000) and Heroes (10,000).

To add yet more major events to its workload, Goodlive Artists is busy launching Superbloom – a new two-day festival in Munich’s Olympic Park with a daily capacity of 60,000. Originally planned for 2020, but postponed due to the pandemic, the festival is set to take place on 3-4 September.

Festival director Fruzsina Szép, (pictured) who developed the festival concept including its name, says that although the festival market in Germany is extremely competitive and congested, she is confident there is space for her new festival concept.

She says, “Germany has a very crowded festival market but in Munich, and Bavaria as a whole, there are not many and there are no festivals like Superbloom in the region.

“We are planning to have 50% music content and 50% experiences not connected to music – fine art, circus, sustainability initiatives, areas for design and lifestyle and fashion, for example. I wanted to create a festival that is really for all generations.

“Musically the line-up will be mixed, everything from EDM to singer-songwriters, and being in Bavaria we will also have local brass bands.

“Goodlive has existed for more than 20 years so as an event company we are very experienced but launching a new festival brand in Germany right now is a huge task. It’s a new brand and we started from scratch. It is a huge risk but if there is no risk there’s no fun, and that’s what our industry is all about.”

This article was published in the latest edition of Access All Areas magazine  – subscribe for free here