A Diplomatic Incident

Belgian promoter Herman Schueremans looks to have escaped what could have become something of a diplomatic incident, despite breaking through the border and setting up a new festival on French soil.

Several of the country’s major promoters have voiced disapproval over the Live Nation Belgium chief and Flemish parliamentarian starting up Main Square Festival d’Arras and twinning it with his ILMC award-winning, 70,000-capacity Rock Werchter.

But Schueremans, the Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten (VLD) party MP for the Vlaams Brabant region since June 2004, looks to have pulled off the classic political strategy of splitting the opposition down the middle.

Salomon Hazot of Nous Productions, who referred to Schueremans as the wolf in the sheep pen, and other promoters including Jules Frutos of Alias have made it clear they’re not happy with Schueremans setting up a festival inside the French border.

Frutos, who is president of Prodiss, a 300-strong union working mainly in the French live entertainment business, says many French promoters feel bad about Arras but it’s Europe and nothing can be done about it.

Hazot previously told Pollstar Schueremans doesn’t know the market and will find it expensive to learn because he’s overpaying acts. He says the new festival won’t last three years, while Schueremans says that so far he’s content with the ticket sales for the 25,000-capacity event.

It may be a couple of months before there’s any indication of who’s right.

Pascal Bernadin of Encore Productions, who has promoted shows in the French-speaking parts of Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg, is the latest to join the ranks of those saying it’s not an issue worth bothering about.

Others including the organisers of Les Eurockeennes de Belfort and Solidays festivals, which both take place over the same July weekend as Arras and Werchter, haven’t said if they’re worried that Arras will affect their numbers.

"The competition between festivals has always existed and today it is getting stronger within Europe. There are 20 festivals competing for acts over the same weekend," said Eurockeennes director Jean-Paul Roland, apparently no more concerned about Arras than the others.

Bernadin says he’s more concerned about French promoters treating their local partners badly, often using them as major stakeholders rather than service providers, which can leave them bearing the brunt of a failure.

"As long as he’s being fair to France Leduc [Schueremans’ French partner in Main Square d’Arras], and I have no reason whatsoever to believe he isn’t, then I’m happy with that," he told Pollstar.

Alain Lahana of Le Rat des Villes and Christel Martinez of Corida, who said she doesn’t want to "discuss the pros and cons" of a Belgian setting up shop in northern France, are already among those who appear to have no objection to the new festival.

Main Square Festival d’Arras (July 4-6) has already announced Radiohead, The Chemical Brothers, Mika, Sigur Rós, Underworld, Justice, The Kooks and Digitalism, which are all playing Werchter (July 3-6) as well.