Country Music’s ‘Giant Adventure’

Oliver Hoppe may very well be one of the first European promoters to display a genuine interest in bringing country music over to Germany. He got the idea from his godfather, who lives in Nashville of all places. 

“He was going on about how great of an idea it would be, and I followed his advice,” Hoppe, who manages Wizpro alongside his father, Ossy, told Pollstar. “I spoke to a lot of agents at the time, and started booking my first country acts in Germany about four years ago. Since then a lot has progressed.”

Hoppe recalls: “In the beginning, you sometimes got the impression you were at a costume ball. And I don’t mean that in a contemptuous way, on the contrary: it enabled me to say, no matter who I bring in from America, the core fans will be there.”

Then came Country 2 Country (which just celebrated its biggest edition yet) in 2013 and the entire movement, backed by CMA and ACM, opened up to Europe.

“I was lucky that most of the agents remembered me and said: wasn’t there this German guy who said he’d love to do it?” Since AEG and SJM occupied the country scene with a festival, Hoppe decided to focus on tours, benefiting from the fact that in March, most of the big names came to Europe for C2C.

According to Hoppe, the music has changed, and reaches a whole new audience. “Country itself isn’t really country anymore, it’s pop or rock most of the time.

Take Chris Stapleton for example: every Rolling Stone reader has to basically be a Chris Stapleton fan, whether they like country or not.” And while you may find a lot of the older generations attending country shows in Germany, you cannot really limit the audience to one demographic, Hoppe explains.

“They all come to concerts. From 60-plus people who don’t even speak English to young kids. A lot of Americans show up, of course, or people that have been influenced by the culture.”

Compared to Scandinavia, the UK, Holland and Belgium, Germany is not that important a market. Still, Wizpro sells around 30,000 tickets for country shows each year.

As yet, country tours in Germany are limited to about three shows. Chris Stapleton played Munich’s Technikum, Berlin’s Columbia Theater and Hamburg’s Mojo Club in March, which all hold between 700 and 800 guests.

Luke Bryan, who played his first two German shows last year, sold out the Kesselhaus in Munich and Huxleys Neue Welt in Berlin, both of which have a capacity of 2,000 people. “We usually sell out completely or at least 80 percent,” Hoppe explains. “To be able to succeed in Germany as an American country artist you have to have reached a level where you’re selling 5,000 to 6,000 tickets a night at home. It’s the only indicator I have. CD sales are more or less negligible in Germany. Some records are only available through import.”

One of the main reasons Hoppe loves working with country acts is that they are generally very laid-back characters, no airs and graces involved.

“They may send you a 40-page rider suited for the Seebühne in Bregenz or an open-air stadium. But once you tell them about the specs on site the reply is usually a very relaxed: ‘we’ll figure it out when we get there.’

“I once had a tour where the one important thing was that cold beer be available in the bus that picked the artist up from the airport. “It also happens that artists selling out stadiums in America will send you a rider with nothing but a stage block and two hot meals on it, because they think a club show won’t allow for anything else,” says Hoppe. “Some arrive supported by no one else but their tour manager, who’s also their sound manager, and sleep in their van. Others will do a three-date club tour with two busses and two trucks, simply because they can.

“They’re very pleasant people, I have to say. Very different from what you sometimes hear about the biggest pop stars in the game. I’ve come to know my country acts as polite and approachable. For them it’s a giant adventure.”

Hoppe doubts that country is ever going to be an exuberant mass market in Germany. But the artists and agents are definitely aware of it as a secondary market.

“They’re smart,” he says. “They set out to become the strongest genre in the States, and they’ve succeeded. Now’s the time to look into the rest of the world.”