posted on August 10, 2008 19:00
The last few years saw an explosion in the number of summer music festivals big and small, not just in Ireland but across Europe.
However, the boom seems to have ended this season. Just last weekend we heard of the Dysart Festival in Kilkenny, which had to drastically re-cut its cloth. Then in Britain there was the now-infamous Zoo8, where the line-up was decimated when it emerged that acts were not guaranteed payment.
Mainland Europe, relatively unscathed by the credit crunch, hasn’t escaped the financial problems in the music industry. In France, one famous summer festival seems to be in serious trouble.
La Route du Rock is a three-day event that takes places every mid-August in Saint Malo, a quaint fortified town on the coast of Brittany. With a line-up that always features the season’s hippest alternative acts, it’s the traditional summer holiday for many French indie kids. This year’s event, the 18th edition, features Foals, The Dodos, Pivot, The Notwist, The Ting Tings, Menomena, Tindersticks, The Breeders, Sigur Ros and others.
As an independent event without corporate sponsors or mainstream marquee names, La Route du Rock needs 14,000 paying punters to break even. However, with the 2008 edition just a few days away, word on the boulevard is that only 8,000 tickets have been sold – a potentially catastrophic shortfall. Unless 6,000 extra indie kids miraculously manifest themselves in Saint Malo this weekend, the festival doesn't look likely to reappear in 2009.
La Route du Rock has been in a precarious position for some time. Since 2006 the festival has run a series of winter concerts in February, straining its flimsy finances even more. Last summer the organisers took a chance and booked a big-name act, the reformed Smashing Pumpkins. The gamble backfired. Only 10,000 fans came to Saint Malo – not enough to turn a profit - and the festival’s indie reputation took a bashing.
Even with generous public support from the local council and regional authorities, La Route du Rock is in difficulty. Festival director François Floret admitted to financial problems in an interview this week with regional paper Ouest France. “La Route du Rock is in danger,” he said. “We’re in a very delicate situation and we hope to attract at least 14,000 fans to get out of it.”
Since the start of this year, the festival website has featured a message from the organisers calling on donations from the public. In the open letter, entitled "Pop Is Not Dead?", the organisers blame their financial woes on increased competition, administrative costs and especially on the increased fees charged by acts seeking to recoup revenue lost with the fall in CD sales.
"Having examined more conventional methods of financial support," the letter reads, "we are today obliged to consider what seems to us to be the last resort: call on our loyal fans [...] A donation, a subscription, whatever the name or the amount. (Radiohead let us fix the price for their last album on the Internet; what price La Route du Rock...?)"
"Conventional" corporate backing would seem to be a non-runner. As the festival's identity depends on its independent ethos, commercial sponsorship would be the nuclear option.
At the time of writing, La Route du Rock 2008 is still due to begin this Thursday, 14 August. More ...