Primavera Sound debuts in L.A. amid shaky festival market

In June, Barcelona’s marquee music festival Primavera Sound returned after two years thwarted by a pandemic. Led by Dua Lipa, Lorde, Gorillaz and Tyler, the Creator, the fest drew 66,000 fans a day to enjoy two weeks of shows on the shores of the Mediterranean.

“Coming back to Barcelona was special,” said Alfonso Lanza, co-director of Primavera Sound. “The atmosphere was so excited, people were dying to celebrate. The joy was great.”

When Primavera Sound makes its long-awaited LA debut at the 25,000-seat Los Angeles State Historic Park in Chinatown September 16-18, it will enter a confusing setting for Southern California festivals. Primavera has a solid shot at success — it’s got offbeat yet mainstream headliners Lorde, Nine Inch Nails and Arctic Monkeys, a Live Nation production partnership, and an international reputation as one of the best-run and best-attended music gatherings on the planet.

But Primavera also ends up in a shaky market for festivals. Supply chain and staffing issues, an onslaught of post-COVID-19 competition, rising inflation and a fan base seared by previous cancellations (not to mention heat waves) have made this summer and fall’s festival circus as bumpy as the last’s live music year come back

“There’s a lot of chaos right now and it’s really unpredictable, especially when it comes to ticket sales,” said Dave Brooks, Billboard’s senior director of live music and touring. “People’s buying habits at the beginning of the year have changed by the middle of the year. People were more demanding as costs rose. There are many options, and everything is becoming increasingly difficult to predict. There is softness everywhere.”

“I’ve been told LA is a last-minute market for ticket buyers,” Lanza said. “We’re seeing that two weeks before the festival, but we’re really positive.” (Currently selling for less than $200 on StubHub for three-day tickets for $425.) “This is the first edition, there’s a lot to try. But the plan is to stay and grow.”

Primavera Sound’s flagship edition in Barcelona grew from a local event for a few thousand fans in the early 2000s to one of the most popular and influential festivals in Europe. Nestled in the charmingly brutalistic Parc del Fòrum, the festival mingles with Barcelona’s famously decadent nightlife for weeks of off-site shows and clubbing alongside the main event. In recent years the festival has expanded to Portugal, Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

Music fans at an outdoor festival in the evening

“There are many festivals in Europe and the US, and not all of them will survive in the years to come,” said Alfonso Lanza, co-director of Primavera Sound.

(Sergio Albert)

When Primavera first eyed a US edition in 2019, LA was a natural entry point as the country’s largest festival market, with a large following for Primavera’s offbeat Latin, hip-hop and indie sounds.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned all festival plans upside down for almost two years. But few anticipated the sheer oddness of the late 2022 festival market.

Though Coachella returned in full force this year, some celebratory events, like Goldenvoice’s hip-hop-centric Day N Vegas and alt-Latino Viva LA and ’90s alt-rock fest Flannel Nation in Long Beach, have been rumored to have due to low ticket sales, canceled immediately. Held in Brookside at the Rose Bowl and starring Kacey Musgraves and Willie Nelson, Goldenvoice’s Palomino Festival seemed far from a full house. Rosarito, Mexico’s Baja Beach Fest, a major emerging festival in the contemporary Latin scene, took place just as the area was paralyzed by cartel violence. (The festival continued even when the U.S. consulate in nearby Tijuana urged government officials to do so protection in place.) After fatal tragedies at last year’s Astroworld and Once Upon a Time in LA festivals, fans are also concerned about safety.

Joe Berchtold, President and Chief Financial Officer of Live Nation Entertainment, claimed that despite inflation, 2022 has been a stellar year for the festival market in SoCal and the US so far with attendance up 50% over 2019. Oops, it takes a few years to maintain and build up,” he said. “Absolutely, we’ve seen cost inflation, but we’ve been able to mitigate that better than others with growth in the sponsorship side, food and beverage and the high-end VIP market.”

Officials from AEG-owned company Goldenvoice declined to comment on the story.

Other promoters, debuting or returning to LA after a few years, admit the pandemic has been apocalyptic for live music and after the comeback, no one knows exactly what fans are willing to pay for.

“Yes, there are problems. Inflation and a possible recession are factors we’ve considered,” said Matt Zingler, co-founder of hip-hop festival Rolling Loud, which will move to Inglewood’s Hollywood Park in 2023.

“We’ve seen several copycat festivals canceled this year and I think you’ll see more of the same,” added co-founder Tariq Cherif. “The festivals that will weather this storm will be strong brands that already exist. It is a very difficult time to start a new festival.”

“We had to take a close look at our budget,” said Jason Miller, general manager of Eventim Live Asia, which is co-producing October’s new K-pop mega-event Kamp at the Rose Bowl. “Anytime you host a major event, it gets expensive. Post COVID-19 the cost is even higher than I expected and that is the biggest factor right now.”

Billboard’s Brooks said LA festival regulars have been spooked by years of event and artist cancellations and COVID-19 concerns. Inflation raised prices for promoters and made audiences less willing to pull the trigger for tickets.

“Goldenvoice and Live Nation have been really aggressively targeting festivals this year; it was almost a land grab for LA,” Brooks said. “Now people are waiting a lot longer to buy tickets because they know they can get better deals if they wait and having gotten through COVID-19, shaky promoters have not been upfront with refunds. Fans are thinking, ‘Will this event actually happen?’”

A woman plays acoustic guitar and sings on stage

Kacey Musgraves headlined Goldenvoice’s Palomino Festival in Brookside at the Rose Bowl in July.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Lanza said that although Primavera Sound in LA faces the usual issues that any concert promoter faces, “the process went normally. We had three years to prepare, so it was easier in that sense.” Primavera will replicate its city takeover model with shows from acts like Giveon, Darkside, Bad Gyal and Drain Gang at Live Nation venues across LA during the week of the fest .

There were some local festival success stories. Brooks cited Live Nation’s When We Were Young, the Las Vegas emo nostalgia fest that debuted in October, as a surprise hit that expanded to two weekends after an immediate sell-out.

Charlie Walker, co-founder of Live Nation-affiliated promoter C3 Presents, which produces Chicago’s Lollapalooza among many festivals, agreed that these genre- or epoch-driven festivals like When We Were Young and the R&B and hip-hop throwback Lovers & Friends will likely continue to grow. “A lot of streaming during the pandemic showed people returning to catalogs to look for snaps in a timely manner,” he said. “It seems to have staying power.”

But even Lanza admits that the festival market is currently in something of a stalemate. Fans want to see live music after two years, but not every debut will stick, and some long-running events won’t make it.

“There are many festivals in Europe and the US, and not all of them will survive in the coming years,” he said. “The most important thing is to have a story. It’s not just about building a lineup.” Primavera Sound debuts in L.A. amid shaky festival market

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