‘This Business Deserves Better’: How To And How Not To Do A Festival In 2019

Ben Houdijk
– Lizzo
One of Herman Schueremans’ many highlights at Rock Werchter 2019
With all the hype surrounding live events and a worldwide industry that is, for the most part, reporting impressive numbers, one can easily forget that running a great live event is tough and requires utmost dedication and planning.
Last weekend, June 27-30, one festival in Belgium showed the world yet again how it’s done, while another one went down in history as Fyre Fest 2.0.
The former is Rock Werchter, which celebrated another stellar edition in its 44th year. “We hear that all over Europe and in America some festival’s are doing less well, but we did very well again. We were close to a sell-out,” promoter Herman Schueremans, CEO of Live Nation Belgium, told Pollstar.
“There was more demand for day-tickets, so we increased their number and lowered the combi tickets with the result that in the end we sold to 160,000 individuals. We’re happy with that,” he explained. 
A strong bill that featured Pink, Bastille, The Cure, Weezer, Tool, Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons, Muse, Greta Van Fleet, Rosalía, Janelle Monáe, Lizzo, Robyn, Macklemore, The Slow Readers Club and many more.
Schueremans compared he lineup to “a beautiful bouquet that men should regularly offer their lady.” His philosophy is to “treat our audience like kings and queens. We always try to give them more service and more space.”
The weather was brilliant, which always helps to put people in a good mood. On Saturday, June 29, temperatures reached 95 degrees. Schueremans’ team had created sun shelters in anticipation and offered sunscreen and free water to guests. Staff had communicated its heatwave plans to its guest well in advance of the event.
Rob Walbers
– Rosalía
Woman of the hour
“Rock Werchter is a state of the art production, not only on stage and backstage, but also on the site. And people love that. They want to be treated well, that’s what keeps us challenged and spirits high,” said Schueremans, who already set the date for next year’s 45th edition: July 2-5. He said that he was already in talks with “quite some strong acts” but that it was too early to make announcements.
Ben Houdijk
– Muse
Matt Bellamy showing off his godlike guitar skills
On the same weekend, some 60 kilometers north-east of Werchter, in Lommel,  another event failed miserably: Vestiville, which had announced itself as “the gateway to an Urban Oasis of Music, art and wonder,” with a lineup that featured A$AP Rocky,  Cardi B, Migos, Future, Jason Derulo and many more. 
Vestiville’s organizers announced on day one, June 28, that the mayor of Lommel had decided “to not let Vestiville start. After consultation with the security services and ASAP Rocky’s security officeur, it was decided that the safety of the artist and the public could not be guaranteed.”
At that point many ticket holders had already been queueing at the gates, many of them having travelled from far aboard. At one point, a throng stormed onto the main site, only to be chased back by police officers and their dogs. Media reports stated that there was an obvious security risk with not enough staff on site to handle the situation.
And while the campsites remained open to allow guests to depart in a calm manner, several guests tweeted that the camp sites hadn’t even been properly set up, bringing back memories from the recent festival disaster that was Fyre Fest. In that light, the organizers’ statement that “production and suppliers have given everything to make Vestiville possible,” is hard to believe.
A lot of hype, but little delivery
– A lot of hype, but little delivery
Vestiville has gone down in history as Fyre Fest 2.0
According to Digital Music News, two organizers of the VestiVille festival were detained after the festival’s last-minute cancellation. At least the ticket refund process via Festicket and Eventbrite seemed to have gone smoothly.
While there have been many recent cases, where politics and government officials have made life unnecessarily hard for festival promoters, this isn’t one of them.
According to Schueremans, it isn’t hard to meet the safety and security requirements in Belgium. “Of course, there is a lot of bureaucracy, and we all want less bureaucracy, but in the meantime festivals should meet today’s security standards. But for some cowboys and Indians this doesn’t seem to be evident, which is very bizarre.”
Pollstar understands that Vestiville had originally aimed to be staged in the Netherlands, but failed to secure a permit and thus moved just across the Belgian border to Lommel, where it had been consistently communicating to fans that it was good to go – until the very last minute. Schueremans said the Vestiville cancellation was to be expected. “When we first heard about Vestiville back in November, we saw it coming. But, of course, you stay quiet and polite, you should give people the benefit of the doubt.”
The veteran promoter said, “we all know the phenomenon of gold diggers. [Festivals are] the new El Dorado, and a lot of people jump on the bandwagon. You have those risk capitalists, I call them vulture capitalists, and you have a lot of cowboys, the best example obviously being Fyre Fest,” and he repeated what he said in a past interview with Pollstar: that festivals are “a bit like planting a tree. You should first find the right location for the short term and the long term, so you plant it in good soil. Then you water it well, then you tailor it well, and every year the tree will get bigger.
“That sort of logic should be applied to festival, instead of just saying: ‘we have a dream about finding some gold in El Dorado,’ or putting a lot of money by vulture capitalists into it and going: ‘hey ho, it will happen.’
“Well, the reality proves that doesn’t work. We’ve seen it in several places. Just take a look at Woodstock. It started 50 years ago, and even after 50 years and trying four or five times, they still don’t get their shit together.”
According to Schueremans, “This business deserves better. The artists, suppliers and the audience deserve better. Those things happening 50 years ago, that’s normal. But that it should happen again in today’s day and age is insane.
“Yes, it is a young business, yes it started with Cowboys and Indians, but slowly but steadily it became a grown business. So, seeing this happening again now is not a good development. It should be a very good lesson for the business, which, overall, is strong enough in Europe and America. There are more good examples than bad ones.”  
And he concluded: “Miracles happen in Lourdes, but not in our business. Build on reality, slowly but steadily. There’s nothing wrong with growing the natural way. You have to win and gain the trust of an audience. You do that slowly and steadily. Social media and marketing are important, but it’s an addition to a growing process.”