French summer rock festivals in doubt over 5,000 limit

Paris (AFP) –


There was doubt Friday under what circumstances major summer rock festivals in France could go ahead after the government and a union agreed to limit participants to 5,000, all of whom must be seated.

The Union of Contemporary Music (SMA), which represents festivals, concert venues and producers, said late Thursday that the figure had been agreed at a meeting with Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot.

"We know a little more about the general framework, but there are still areas of uncertainty," Aurelie Hannedouche of the SMA told AFP.

"What is certain is that the 2021 festival season will not be like the others," she said.

The top French festivals, which in normal times can attract hundreds of thousands of people, were divided between those saying it was now pointless to go ahead and others welcoming the clear horizon.

The famous Hellfest concert focused on heavy metal, which had 180,000 people attend in 2019, would probably not go ahead in these circumstances for a second year running, its organisers said.

"A cancellation seems unavoidable," said festival director Ben Barbaud. "An audience of 5,000 for metal -- sitting down -- is not possible," he said, adding that a decision would be taken in the next days.

He said the situation was further complicated for his festival by a programme that was 90 percent international and lamented that "young people were again going to have a rubbish summer".

- 'Summer of meeting again' -

But others were more sanguine and applauded the government for at least making an attempt to give some visibility on what will be possible.

"There are plenty of artists who dream of playing in front of 5,000 people," said Gerard Pont, director of the Francofolies festival that focuses on French language music and is scheduled to take place in La Rochelle in July.

"Our programming is not international, so we can adapt, it can only be positive and the situation could perhaps improve in five months," he added.

And the Vieilles Charrues festival, which saw 270,000 people flock to Brittany in 2019 to hear a host of international stars, said it would adapt.

"It will be the summer of meeting again," its director Jerome Trehorel told AFP.

He also expressed hope that the limits, including on people being able to stand up, could be relaxed if the health crisis improves, with the culture ministry promising a monthly update.

The big Paris festival Solidays, which saw 228,000 people attend in 2019, had already announced last week that it would cancel its 2021 edition.