City Of Pirate Culture?

It was unfortunate timing that Vilnius unveiled its live music agenda for its European Capital City Of Culture celebrations in 2009 the same day the IFPI announced that the local CD manufacturer Baltic Optical Disc has to pay a coalition of record companies euro 500,000 for pirating their product.

The International Federation Of Phonographic Industries’ forensic experts traced illegal discs found in Vilnius and on the Czech-Polish border back to Baltic Optical Disc, the largest CD-replicating plant in the region.

Lithuania may be entitled to claim it has cleaned up its act, as the offenses date back to 2001 when police and customs seized 210,000 pirated CDs copied from releases on various labels, including Sony BMG, Warner, EMI, Mute and Universal.

However, a Lithuanian court still ruled that Baltic Optical should pay the maximum compensation – euro 494,000 plus euro 5,000 costs – to reflect the flagrancy of the infringements and the amount of pirated product.

Meanwhile, an August 24 press conference in Vilnius detailed how live music would figure into the cultural plans for 2009.

The main project is the development of the new B2gether Festival, although the nearest and most readily available site appears to be about 80 kilometres east of Vilnius at Norviliškes Castle, just short of the border with Belarus.

The first staging of the event, which is believed to have guaranteed funding through to 2009, started on the same afternoon as the press conference and attracted a little more than 2,000 paying punters.

The crowd was doubled by roughly the same number of dignitaries, guests and members of the national and international media.

Judging by the number of Belarusian flags flying above the crowd, at least one-fourth of the people must have come across the border to support the event.

Although the site has plenty of room for expansion and is set in a picturesque woodland background overlooked by Norviliškes Castle, which doubled as a backstage catering area, the main stumbling block to success is the poor road infrastructure surrounding it and the lack of any public transport network.

The problem was partly solved by shuttle buses bringing fans from Vilnius, although festival press officer Rytis Sabas said the roads are being upgraded for next year’s gathering.

Giedrius Klimkevicius, the main organizer of the festival, is determined it will become an annual event and plans to bring in some bigger international acts in 2008.

Daiva Parulskiene from Lithuania’s music export office, which used the event as a platform for a seminar on how national acts can best sell their talents throughout Europe and the rest of the world, said the most important goal was to create a festival that would appeal to fans.

"In the evenings you could really sense the inspiring atmosphere of the festival," she said, pointing out that her organisation’s Web site has already received a number of hits from fans saying they would bring all their friends next year.

Parulskiene said her music export office wanted to use the festival as a platform for the seminar and help internationalise the event by inviting such panelists as Eurosonic-Noorderslag festival director Peter Smidt, Juha Koivisto from Finland’s Provinssirock Festival, Sami Peura from the same country’s Sam Agency and Jan Reijnders, the former Agency Group booker who quit his native Holland to set up Eastern Talent Group in Estonia.

The plan is to make the local acts aware of the possibilities that can be opened by the European Talent Exchange Programme, which is staged at Eurosonic-Noorderslag, and to help them tune into the European network of events.

Inviting so many journalists is already paying dividends as major national papers including Lietuvos Rytas, Respublika and the Baltic Times have heralded B2gether a success, as did many Russian papers.

National and regional TV and radio stations throughout The Baltics, Belarus and Russia have also come out in support of it.

The acts helping B2gether get it together August 24-26 included Bloodhound Gang, Morcheeba, The Young Knives, Zion Train, Datarock, and Therapy? supported by some of the best acts from Lithuania and the neighbouring territories.