Elenkov Re-Lights Burgas Flame

The perils of the Bulgarian festival business have once again been highlighted by what appeared to be the country’s top festival on the brink of bankruptcy.

Spirit Of Burgas only reached its fifth edition – which is ancient by Bulgarian standards – because former salsa and dance music promoter Stefan Elenkov stepped in to sort out debts of euro 400,000 ($497,000), Elenkov told Pollstar.

The first four editions of the festival promoted by Ivan Vulkov looked to go some way to establishing a Bulgarian festival culture, but the steadily increasing crowd sizes masked the fact that Spirit Of Burgas was losing money hand over fist.

“It was booking bands that it couldn’t afford in order to attract people, but it wasn’t attracting enough of them,” Elenkov told Pollstar. “It was spending more money than it was earning, which isn’t an economic situation that can be sustained for very long.”

In December Elenkov set up a new company to run Spirit Of Burgas and staved off the old company’s creditors by agreeing to terms to steadily pay off the festival’s debts.

He says he doesn’t know if this year’s Spirit Of Burgas, which attracted around 15,000 per day to the Black Sea coast Aug. 3-5, will do much to reduce the debt mountain. But he’s happy that he’ll wipe the slate clean before the end of the five-year site agreement he recently signed with the local authority.

Elenkov has also shaped the festival to his own tastes, shifting it from a rock and pop event to more a dance-oriented show. This year’s bill included The Prodigy, Ms. Dynamite, Tinie Tempah, Armin Van Buuren, Busta Rhymes, Chase & Status, Gentleman, and Richie Hawtin.

Last year’s lineup had Moby, Skunk Anansie, Deftones, Stamina MC, and Amplifier.

Bulgaria’s efforts toward establishing a festival culture have failed to get off the ground because it’s so far failed to establish a single festival.

Burgas has lasted longest, while the two-year-old Elevation Festival, which has already shifted from the southwestern ski resort of Bansko to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, appears to be suffering from sluggish, or nonexistent, growth.

Having set out to create a “true festival experience” and “lay the foundation of festival history in Bulgaria,” this year the second Elevation June 23-24 claims to have pulled 10,000 per day to its new site on the former military airbase at Dobroslavsti, about a dozen miles from the centre of Sofia.

The Bansko site held 40,000 but the first year’s crowd was reported to be anywhere between 7,000 and 10,000.
This year Elevation was also a more dance-oriented gathering than last year’s first staging of the festival, which was stopped after the first day because of stormy weather.

The problem appears to be that the potential Bulgarian festivalgoer, having witnessed so many failures, doesn’t put very much trust in the country’s outdoor market.

Acts that don’t show and even weather that doesn’t behave, which both damaged the inaugural Elevation, are enough to put a blot on a festival’s copybook.