Switzerland’s Patent Ochsner Shows: A Model That Works With A Little Bit Of Faith (European Live Savers Issue)

Philippe Cornu
– Philippe Cornu

Let’s not kid ourselves. Going to a distanced show takes away a lot of what makes the live experience so special. Connecting with hundreds to thousands of likeminded individuals creates an energy that cannot be replicated. It therefore felt like a small wonder when Swiss promoter Gadget abc Entertainment Group AG, part of the CTS Eventim family, worked alongside Chili Productions, promoters of Seaside Festival, to realize a series of six concerts by Swiss icons Patent Ochsner, Sept. 8-14, at one of the most scenic locations in Switzerland: Blausee in the Kander Valley.
This project, which demonstrated how live events can be realized safely while still making a profit, was managed by Gadget’s Christof Huber, who also runs Openair St.Gallen, and Philippe Cornu, head of Events Gadget abc Entertainment Group, as well as Sacha Altermatt, Cornu’s partner in Seaside Festival. It also demonstrated, how important it is that the political decision makers show some faith in the promoter’s decade-long experience of hosting live concerts in a safe manner.  The team approached the local authorities with their event and safety concept: 1,000 people each night, hosted across four different sectors that were all equipped with their own food and beverage offerings as well as toilets. It limited the number of people per sector to 300 max. Depending on the ticket, visitors entering the premise were guided along different paths into their respective sectors.
Cornu remembers the responsible politician, Ariane Nottaris, taking a close look and saying something along the lines of: “I cannot believe that I’m saying this, but let’s do it. It’s outside, the safety concept holds water, it’ll work.” Unlike in many other cases, which initially got the go-ahead from the authorities, but got banned at the last minute – Exit Festival in Serbia, “Live Nation’s Give Live A Chance!” concert in Germany – the Blausee concerts were allowed to go ahead. 
Still, several big sponsors refused to get involved, fearing a potentially negative backlash in case something did go wrong. It was impossible to find a big presenting partner, Cornu recalled, however, lot’s of smaller companies immediately pledged their support, including a beer supplier. Three more things were vital in order to make the concerts viable. First, Patent Ochsner accepted what would usually be their club fee given the limited capacity of 1,000 per night. Second, it was a relatively low-key production, which wasn’t a problem given the magical setting. Third, tickets were priced well-above what Patent Ochner’s club show would usually be priced at. Regular tickets went for $105 instead of $60. The two VIP categories, which included a seated or standing dinner, went for $182 and $204, respectively. Cornu said, the price was never an issue. People were happy to pay. For many, it will be the only concert in 2020.
The profit could have been even higher, had the promoters not gone all-out with the hospitality offering, not just for the VIPs. Guests were encouraged to arrive early and have dinner on site. Cornu praised Paten Ochsner, in particular, for agreeing to the terms, as well as performing six nights in a row. “It brought the singer to his limits. You need bands that are up for this, because you cannot meet every technical demand, cost-intensive things like LED walls and visuals, with concepts like these. There needs to be a willingness to go back to the roots, and to make music together again. You don’t need the highest technical standards to realize that,” he explained.
While many promoters have been putting on events just to keep the spirit of live going while taking a loss, the Blausee concerts were more than just “nice to have,” according to Cornu, “It’s a model that allows you to pay the band a fair fee, pay all the staff, and even pay some into the bank.” Swiss television broadcast the event, which showed a lot of people that it can be done. Not with 10,000 or 20,000 people at an open-air festival, yet, but, as Cornu said, “there are ways. ways that bring joy and satisfaction, without restrictions that create a surreal atmosphere.”
It led to an evening that felt almost normal. “The negative vibes that currently resonate with a lot of people were just gone. The positivity of experiencing that it can be done will carry further into the daily lives of all the people who were present. They might decide to do a Christmas dinner after all, they’ll just have it outside, sat around a fire,” according to Cornu, who wants bands to come forward who are eager to go out on tour again, and are willing to partake in the Blausee concept, a mini-residency so to speak, for a club fee. And he said, “Passenger, for example, would be the kind of artist, who’s perfect for this concept. For certain bands, our stage simply isn’t big enough, accommodating their technical requirements would make the event economically unviable. But if the will is there, you can achieve a lot.”