‘Vive la fête!’: Q’s With Jean-Paul Roland, Eurockéennes Festival Manager

France boasts more than 1,000 festivals. The provinces outside of Paris offer some of
the most scenic event locations imaginable. (Photo by Eurockéennes Festival France)

When it comes to live entertainment offerings of all kinds, France is bursting at the seams. Indoors, outdoors, large, boutique, concert, festival – there’s something on display for everyone.

In terms of festivals, the country is giving its neighbor, the Netherlands, a run for its money. Its hard to come up with a specific number, but the French professionals Pollstar spoke with for this week’s France Focus, estimate that it’s way over 1,000.

We reached out to Jean-Paul Roland, managing director of Les Eurockéennes de Belfort, to find out if the festival business is picking up as spectacularly fast as the concert and touring activity in France.

Jean-Paul Roland, managing director of Les Eurockéennes de Belfort, pictured during the festival’s 31st edition in 2019. (Photo by Lionel Vadam).

Pollstar: Taking into account everything the festival sector had to endure over the past three years, what’s your state of mind at the beginning of 2023?
Jean-Paul Roland: After a record start in ticket sales, I can feel the public’s great impatience to return to the Eurockéennes this summer and experience the flavor of large gatherings again.

While small capacities (less than 1,000) and the up-and-coming artists are currently experiencing a drop in attendance, it seems that the French public is still and mainly attracted by the big events. Could be a blockbuster effect as in the film industry, judging by the number of concerts offered in stadiums or in other large indoor capacities this summer.

Are you happy with how the festival’s 2022 edition went?
The festival had an eventful false start! At the opening of the doors, and as a brutal reminder of the fragility of our events, a storm, as violent as it was sudden, forced us to cancel the first two days – to repair the stage installations [and make sure it was safe].

The remaining two days took place under a radiant sun and were sold out. It is therefore a mixed feeling between disappointment and success, with 60,000 admissions on Saturday and Sunday, and a historic Muse concert closing out the festival.

What makes Les Eurockéennes de Belfort special in your eyes, what makes it stand out among the many festival offerings out there?
I would mention three particularities for Eurockéennes. The first is its geographical space: an enchanting peninsula between two lakes, on a beautiful wooded meadow, and including a sandy beach.

The second is linked to its history: since 1989 the festival has welcomed the big names in popular music, from Bowie to Daft Punk, from Dylan to Jay Z. The festival has also opened its doors to the stage debuts of artists who went on to become headliners or amass cult followings, from Coldpaly to Amy Winehouse, and from RATM to Calvin Harris. The Eurockéennes have always advocated a generalist, non-exclusive spirit, while remaining attentive to emerging artists and musical margins.

Finally, through our ‘Eurocks Solidaires’ label, our association champions civic values ​​around access to culture for all, with particular attention to environmental protection because the site is part of a protected natural area.

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Christopher Tony Wolstenholme of Muse during the 32nd Eurockéennes de Belfort in Sermamagny, eastern France, July 3, 2022. (Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Are you feeling remaining challenges – staff shortage, price increases, supply chain issues – and how do you overcome them? Did you have to raise ticket prices, or scale down production?
The challenges our event organizations face are multiple because of all the main parts that go into the building of what is essentially an ephemeral city. Transport, energy, labour, environment, raw materials, purchasing power – these are the next points of vigilance.

We have slightly increased the price of the ticket. The average price of the ticket is €50, which is still far from the prices practiced in the USA or the UK. Plus, reduced prices for young people are offered this year. The festival has established partnerships with regional universities to give special attention to students and visitors under 30. They form the heart of our public, and they are the ones most affected by the economic crisis. We are also opening our salaried summer jobs to minors from the age of 16.

The budget allocated to artistic programming has remained stable for several years. But for the first time our budget allocates a substantial forecast envelope to the risk of inflation that could occur, particularly an increase in the costs of technical service providers.

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Speaking about the urockéennes 2023 lineup, Roland said: “We’ve achieved a nice balance between headliners, French stars, and personal favorites.”

How dependent are you on international artists and undisrupted international touring? What’s the ratio between national and international artists on your lineup?
We cannot deny a somewhat limited access to international headliners. There’s tension in the booking process, because of the rise in costs, and competition due to the multiplication of festivals across the Atlantic.

In 2023, our festival presents a balanced program of national and international acts. The strong domestic market boasting many French headliners allows many French festivals to maintain a strong audience and ensure economic balance even if the we’re rapidly approaching the 90%-capacity mark in order to break even, which is worrying.

The reputation of the Eurockéennes with its geographical position close to Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, and with its dates shared with Roskilde, Rock Werchter, and Montreux Jazz festival, allow this festival to naturally be included on the agenda of most international tours and agencies.

Are you optimistic about the year 2023 from a promoter’s perspective?
We are professional optimists. This does not prevent us, just like any entrepreneur managing a €10 million event, from being vigilant and having our eyes glued to the rear-view mirrors, side windows, and of course the road ahead, while driving.

Festivals by virtue of their almost immutable nature remain one of the few remaining moments of joyful intergeneration and sociability for many visitors. Beyond the entertainment component, festivals still allow everyone powerful human adventures with often unforgettable episodes that remain temporal landmarks in the course of a life.

What would you like to highlight about the upcoming Eurockéennes edition in July?
This year we are offering a program enhanced by Eurocks Special, offering original artistic focuses; Unblock Project, a creation between contemporary dance and live music; Drague Me, a queer and drag musical evening; World Of Shatta, Biga*Ranx & Women Hifi, highlighting female artists with the Martinican voices of shatta and dancehall.

Indochine, a French group accustomed to selling out the Stade de France [in Paris] will close the festival. We’ve achieved a nice balance between headliners Skrillex, Foals, Gojira, Phoenix, Sigur Ros, and a few French rap stars, as well as our personal favorites, lik Special Interest, Freddie Gibbs, Shygirl, Drycleaning, Wet Leg, and more. It should make for an Eurockéennes edition of real reunions.

Thank you Jean-Paul. Is there anything you would like to add?
Vive la fête !!

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