‘They Don’t Know That This Is An Industry’: Q’s With Andreas Mestka, Owner Of Safeevent

Andreas Mestka
– Andreas Mestka
Owner and CEO of Swiss crowd management firm safeevents

Pollstar spoke with Andreas Mestka, owner and CEO of Swiss crowd management consulting company safeevent, who works on various large-scale entertainment events, providing them with his expertise in event safety and security.

Like most in this business, Mestka has been experiencing emotions ranging from “devastation to hope to well, what you want to do about it?” during this crisis. 
Pollstar wanted to know what bothers him most about how the current crisis is handled by the decision makers, and what will be important in the coming months in order to handle this situation as well as possible.
On Feb. 28 the Swiss government decided to ban all live events with a capacity of more than 1,000 people. The country’s live entertainment professionals were given an hours notice on a Friday night in the middle of carnival season.
“While I understand the decision, I don’t understand the timing. To close everything within the hour. I don’t have to tell you that on a Friday night at 5 p.m. marquees, PA systems and lighting rigs have been already set up, bands have already traveled on site and so on. I don’t think our politicians had any idea what that meant,” Mestka explained.
“I have the feeling they don’t know that this is an industry, an economic sector that’s employing a lot of people. It felt like their attitude was, ‘let just cancel a couple of parties, what’s the worst that could happen?'”
Swiss authorities haven’t given any indication on how long they intend to keep the ban on public gatherings in place, neighbouring countries like Germany and Austria have imposed an Aug. 31 ban, the same holds true for other European countries.
“They’ve been saying that we’ll hear a decision next week, but they’ve been saying that for two weeks now. Our government is really doing a bad job at the moment, I have to say, I don’t know on what principles they’re working, but since two weeks all they’re saying is, ‘we’ll decide later’. The last press conference on Wednesday didn’t reveal anything, ,” said Mestka.
An official government ordinance is a requirement for promoters to be able to fall back on force majeure when failing to honor contracts with partners due to this crisis. From conversations with various promoters, Pollstar understands that most professionals, who are part of the industry’s value chain, understand that they’re all in the same boat, and have therefore agreed amongst each other to treat this as a force majeure situation with or without government ordinance in place.
This, however, isn’t always the case. “Certain suppliers and lawyers, it depends who you’re asking, made it clear that they wouldn’t see it as force majeure, if we cancel despite officially being allowed to do an event,” Mestka explained, although the events he’s involved in haven’t experienced any bullish behavior from any side. “Bands and artists have been very accommodating so far,” he said, “especially when talking about postponing and inviting them back next year.”
He would like to see decisions being made, like confirming that this virus is indeed so dangerous, events cannot take place all summer. “At the end of June, we can then look at September and October. I understand they cannot shut down the entire year as matters stand, but I don’t understand, why they couldn’t tell us weeks ago that this summer is over,” Mestka continued.
He admitted that he didn’t think anybody really expected anything but a cancellation of the entire Swiss festival season, at this point it’d be tough to realise an end-of-July event anyways. “Neither the promoters, nor the artists, nor the audience want to have a festival this month or next. But in autumn, I think, it would be possible again,” he said.
A few promoters of some of the country’s biggest festivals have cancelled despite no clear guidance from government. Some of the most prominent Covid-19 casualties include Paléo, one of the biggest and oldest events in the region, which counts more than 200,000 visitors across a week of concerts and a famed food and beverage offering. Montreux Jazz Festival cancelled for the first time in its rich 53-year history.
The festivals belonging to either one of the live entertainment giants Live Nation or CTS Eventim, which includes Openair Frauenfeld and OpenAir St.Gallen haven’t officially cancelled yet.. Joachim Bodmer, spokesman for Openair Frauenfeld, addressed fans via video message, Apr. 17, explaining how the authorities’ indecision led to the delay in communicating to fans what to expect. The obligations to suppliers, artists and their teams meant that only a government ordinance forcing promoters to cancel would place the festival on solid legal ground. OpenAir St.Gallen has told fans something similar via its socials.
“I can understand them,” said Mestka, adding, “as long as no official decision is made, although, let’s be honest, it’s just about when they’ll communicate it.” The security expert indicated that nobody really thought there would still be large live events in Switzerland this summer. “It’s not too much to ask for a decision, seeing that it also just took one decision to shut down the entire economy,” Mestka continued, “at least have the courtesy to go the full way and give promoters clarity.”
“The uncertainty is the worst,” he said, “and I think as a promoter you can expect these kinds of decisions. We have to pressure the government, ‘if you’re saying, a), you can’t promote any more, you also have to say, b), until when.’ You can’t be guiding us blindly through this crisis, but it seems that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
As security expert for many events, Mestka has played through countless scenarios and table top exercises simulating any crisis you could think of: food poisoning outbreaks on site, or even the outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in the region, which involved localised lockdowns that created logistical issues, but never a worldwide shutdown of virtually all public life. Mestka said, the scare of this virus was one scenario he never acted out in his many years of experience.
Running a festival in line with so-called safe distancing orders was impossible in Mestka’s view. “It’s better to not do it at all then,” he said, adding, however, that he hadn’t yet looked into it properly or tried to develop a concept for an event under such unusual circumstances. “Festivals depend on the close human contact, from togetherness, dancing and having fun. Together. Hugging strangers, I don’t know.”
Critics of the current quarantine measures have brought up the lack of physical human contact, the devastating economic impact, and the detrimental health effects of both. Mestka is torn, “it’s an ethical question, which I find extremely hard to answer. Which devastation is worse? I believe, too much is being done. Still. We went too far with certain measures, and still are. Why can I shop for groceries in the supermarket, but not enter a garden center under the same conditions: minimum distance, entry control. Why is that not possible? It makes no sense to me that these businesses were forced to shut down.
“I still don’t understand these measures. In Switzerland you’re asked to stay at home, but there’s no curfew. Yet, the police has started to cordon off areas to prevent people from going on excursions. Those things are no-gos, honestly. Freedom of movement is a personal right. Don’t say, I can go for a walk, but then, if I go for a walk in the wrong area, police will come and escort me,” Mestka explained. 
“And now I’m starting to hear about tracing apps, everybody’s talking about. That’s where I draw a line. I’ll never put an app on my phone that tracks my movement. That’s a bit extreme, I’d sooner get rid of my mobile phone,” said Mestka, who’s aware that Google may track your location as well. “You’re already an open data secret, but this is taking it too far,” he said.
Openair St.Gallen
– Openair St.Gallen
One of safeevent’s clients.

The Swiss federal council had suggested introducing such an app in exchange for loosening the human rights restrictions, but the country’s parliament put its foot down. “Not without a law, something like that is not possible even under emergency law, and it can’t be mandatory, only voluntary,” Mestka explained.

What Mestka wants to see from his country’s political leaders in the coming weeks are “clear decisions, a clear exit strategy, based on definite data, as soon as possible, of course, for the economy.”
As far as this industry is concerned, Mestka demands collaboration, solidarity when coming to arrangement on how to play these coming months. This includes, from a promoter’s standpoint, approaching the agents and coming to an understanding about postponing whatever business that has already been agreed to next year. It would help, he said, if the big players took this responsibility upon themselves.
That same solidarity had to be present among the ancillary industries equally devastated by the current political measures, across all of Europe, Mestka continued. He’s positive that this industry can achieve all of the above, “the only question is for how long. At the moment, everyone’s acting in concert. As long as we do a better job of it than the EU, which has completely failed in all of this crisis, we will be fine,” he concluded.
Mestka also confirmed that Switzerland’s promoters have started thinking about innovative event concepts that can be implemented once public spaces of small sizes start opening again, although, again, there’s no date yet for when that might happen.
This week, hardware stores in Switzerland were allowed to open again, alongside hairdressers, which just made Mestka question the government’s decisions even more. As somebody not just working in festivals, but in one of the most hands-on roles at any festival, the restrictions on people’s freedom of movement as well as their right to assemble freely is a lot to comply with.
For someone who’s job it is to tell people what to do in a crisis situation, where to go and how to act, the decreed inaction must be especially difficult to bear. “Yes,” says Mestka, “especially the inaction that results from ambiguity. If I know the festival’s not happening, I can start planning next year’s edition or do anything else. But if I’m forced to be on stand-by, being asked to continue planning the event without generating costs. That’s what affects me personally the most: not knowing where we stand.
“There are things no one can possibly know: how the visitors are going to behave next year, will they even want to come, and, generally, how the whole world is going to develop. But there are things you could know, if certain decisions were made by the decision makers.”