Marktrock Relies On Local Talent

Marktrock Festival in Belgium looks to have fallen on such hard times that it will be booking only national acts for the 2009 gathering.

The event was once considered one of Europe’s biggest and most-respected urban outdoors, and has brought such acts as Texas, Craig David, Human League, Beverly Knight and Lou Reed to the university town of Leuven. But this year it will be a free event and there will be only Belgian artists on the bill.

Marktrock has had problems for a number of years but the situation looks to have declined even further since it was taken over by Brussels-based The Entertainment Group.

Two years ago, the Marktrock VZW organization, which ran the festival since it began in 1982, announced that the event had come to its end. It cited the rising price of quality acts, the low capacity of the main stage on Leuven’s Oude Markt, the cost of dealing with new and expensive regulations each year and the financial risk of open-air festivals.

In 2004 the 22nd edition of Marktrock was hit by a storm and attracted only 35,000 paying customers, while other fans only visited the areas of the city where the entertainment was free. The festival had a main (paid) stage in the Oude Market and free stages at Vismarkt, M. De Layensplein and Hogeschoolplein.

Weather was better the following year and there were 50,000 payers, but the financial gain was wiped by a VAT bill going back several years. The festival was told it doesn’t have the charitable status the organisers thought it had.

Smaller Belgian nonprofit foundations working mainly in the art and culture sector don’t pay VAT, but pop festivals that pull huge crowds and carry their income as a cash “reserve” don’t qualify for the same protection.

When Marktrock VZW pulled out, The Entertainment Group stepped in. Last year, when daily tickets cost up to euro 30, only 28,000 paid to get in to the main Oude Market stage.

At least local mayor Louis Tobback, who was visiting the festival for the first time, appears to have enjoyed himself. He supports the idea of Marktrock having a Belgian lineup and has praised The Entertainment Group for seeing it the same way.

The Entertainment Group’s Pieter Maes, the company’s Marktrock project manager, isn’t commenting on the festival’s changing status, its financial woes and how they’re connected to the event going local.

Nor is it clear when the decision was made, but last summer festival booker Jill Duchateau told Pollstar she was looking for “artists who will be touring next August in Europe.”