‘Making Progress Without Forgetting Where We Come From’: Q’s With Pinkpop’s Niek Murray

Niek by Cynthia
Niek Murray. (Picture by Cynthia)

Pollstar reached out to festival manager Niek Murray to get the perspective of one of the Netherland’s most iconic festivals, Pinkpop. The conversation touched on the legacy left by Pinkpop founder Jan Smeets, the economic reality of working in the Dutch live biz in 2024, and much more.

See: All Of Pollstar’s Inaugural Dutch Focus

Pollstar: Taking everything into account that happened. lockdowns lifting, business returning, all the supply issues, staff shortages, a record 2022 For most people: what’s your state of mind?
Niek Murray: We had a great festival in 2022, with a great lineup, and very good sales, with a lot of people holding on to their tickets since 2020.

It was a very emotional edition, not just because we saw how much people had been craving to go out and to have fun after two years without the festival, but also because it was the first edition since Jan [Smeets] stepped back after 50 years [at the helm].

How did this year’s edition go?
Lot of bands were out there, still catching up on tours postponed since 2020. It was very busy, 15 concerts at Johan Cruijff Arena, Bruce Springsteen on our festival site in Landgraaf, people were spoilt for choice, so we sold a little less tickets. It was still a very good edition, with 62,500 visitors a day, [a lineup led by P!nk, Robbie Williams, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers], and suppliers and crew back to full strength.

It’s been more difficult to book huge acts in 2024, as a lot are taking a break from touring after two crazy years. We are very happy to have Måneskin, Calvin Harris, and Ed Sheeran headlining next year, but it’s been more difficult that the last couple of years.

How do you deal with the high costs across the board? Do you have from to raise either capacity or ticket price?
We’re talking with our local government to see if we can do something about the capacity, but it’s not something that will be done in the next few years. And, of course, more capacity cannot come at a loss of service for our visitors. The ticket price is discussed every year, we have to go up, but we want to keep the increase to a minimum. We want to be a festival for everyone.

Two years ago, we introduced our Wilhelmina Sky Deck ticket, which comes with a lot of perks, and is limited to 600. We introduced glamping two years ago, very late for a festival our size. People are willing to buy those premium tickets, which gives you more room to keep the normal tickets priced reasonably.

Jan Smeets founded the festival more than 50 years ago. How much of its spirit can survive the current economic realities?
We want to be able to celebrate the next 50 years, as well, so our festival has to be healthy. Of course, it was all started by hippies in a pure spirit of togetherness, and it’s very important for us to have that atmosphere at the festival. But, at the end of the day, our accountant wants to have everything paid for. It’s a difficult line to walk, when everything is getting more expensive.

See: ‘Mr. Pinkpop’ Jan Smeets Retires

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The audience on day one of Pinkpop 2023: ready to mosh! (Picture by Bart Heemskerk)

Are you optimistic about the future?
In July, I will have been working for Pinkpop for 20 years. Ever since I started, everything has been getting more expensive each year, and people have been discussing what to do about it at Eurosonic and ILMC. Since we are still here, I think that we will be doing that over the next 10 years, as well.

Because we have the name, and the biggest names on the lineup, we are in a good position to, to make it work and be successful. That doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly hard work to make a good program each year. But it’s the smaller festivals, and those with more or less the same kind of lineup, that may be struggling, because people will make a choice.

What’s your team’s vision for Pinkpop in the next 50 years?
While we’ll always be a headliner-driven festival, because that’s our identity, we also want to becoming at least a bit less dependent on the big acts. If we don’t book the Rolling Stones, we should still be able to sell 50,000 tickets per day. So, we’ve been working on the atmosphere, trying to tell the the story of Pinkpop more, so the people, who are visiting in one year for their dream headliner come back the next year because they had a really great time.

Do you have a business philosophy?
Everybody always knows best. I sometimes compare the way people react to the decisions we make to how people talk about the Dutch national football team. Everybody thinks they know how to play football, but there’s only one coach. Everybody has an opinion about Pinkpop festival. It’s when people stop worrying about the festival or sharing their opinion about Pinkpop that we have a problem. We’re talked about whether people like our program or not, and that’s why we’re still alive and well.

[The people’s feedback] is what keeps me and the team motivated to make the festival better each year. It’s still all about when the gates open and everybody’s having a great time. That’s probably not going to change in the next 50 years.

It’s about making progress without forgetting where we come from. It’s about playing with what we built up in the past 50 years, and what we have in store for the next 50 years. And I’m very proud to work for the festival alongside a team of young people doing great things still.

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