It’s all peachy at Catalonia’s summer festivals

Small and large events saw this year’s season off to improved attendance and over 80 per cent occupancy

Laura Serra
4 min
L’Otel·lo de Verdi, el hit del Festival de Peralada.

Regardless of size, Catalonia’s coastal summer festivals have seen the year off to positive figures: attendance was up and the occupancy rate exceeded 80 per cent. It is a rather surprising feat, considering the feeling of excessive music choice looming over the sector at the start of the summer season. The crisis that hung round the neck of live music events would appear to have gone off on a summer break, too.

Starting at the top of the chart, Barcelona’s Festival Cruïlla set the tone with 46,000 revellers. Festival de Cap Roig grew for the third consecutive year and saw a record 44,743 people pass through its gates, with an unprecedented 95.6 per cent occupancy rate. Festival Castell de Perelada hit the 25,000 spectator mark (up 8 per cent) and 90 per cent occupancy, hovering just above Festival de la Porta Ferrada, with 22,864 people and 85 per cent occupancy (tickets sales were up 50 per cent). Festival de Cambrils welcomed 20,000 spectators, twice as many as last year. Along similar events, only Canet Rock dropped from 25,000 tickets sold in 2014 to 19,700 this year. According to its organisers Tarragona’s ETC didn’t quite make it to 15,000 “because there was one event less at Tarraco Arena” than last year, when as many as 20,000 people attended.

In mid-table there is Festival de Torroella de Montgrí, which had nearly 10,000 visitors and 90 per cent occupancy. Specialising in classical music, this event garnered as much interest as pop music festivals such as Arts d’Estiu, in Pineda de Mar (8,900 spectators and 90 per cent occupancy).

Smaller events grew, too: Sons del Món, in Roses, was up 10 per cent from last year, with 6,634 revellers, and Festival Internacional de Cadaqués saw attendance soar again this year, to 4,735 participants (including related events).

The key behind the growth

Festival de Perelada’s director Oriol Aguilà believes that it is necessary “to strengthen your identity, boost your quality and character, as well as show some international ambition in your line-up”. Cap Roig is also seeking to “secure a spot among the top European festivals”, said Juli Guiu. While Aguilà feels that the key is to offer a singular dance and opera programme, Porta Ferrada’s artistic director argues that his festival’s success is down to its “eclecticism”, which allows it “to draw an audience from different places”, according to The Project’s Iñaki Martí. The chance to buy tickets in advance and the use of different sized venues to hold large and small audiences, like Perelada do, make it possible to match supply and demand, as well as find acts that provide character.

“During the recession years, festivals were more sparsely attended. But now the audience is back, there are many repeaters and newcomers”, says Aguilà. “Regular attenders, who travel depending on the festival, are a solid base that allows us to set high quality standards”. In addition, 42 per cent of the festival’s cost is covered by Grup Perelada, while 36 per cent comes from ticket sales.

“This is not a competition to get the largest audience. We do not wish to sell out, but to ensure that the festival makes sense and is coherent”, Martí argues, and he adds that he doesn’t feel that we can say that the crisis is over. “Under the festival’s umbrella you will find local fiestas and single-day events, which are not artistic projects. Yet it’s true that there are 60 summer festivals in Catalonia and you have to live with that”, he says. “The choice is substantial, but it’s up to the public to say whether it’s excessive”, Aguilà concludes. The figures say it’s not. Even ETC and Festival de Cambrils did well, despite being held next door to Port Aventura.

A way out for the smaller players

“In terms of media attention, the small events are overshadowed by the larger ones and interesting festivals that feature a range of both Catalan and emerging foreign artists get overlooked”, complains RGB’s Xavi Vilar, the programmer of Festival de Cadaqués.

He does think that the 360 festivals that are held every year in Catalonia --according to figures from the Catalan Ministry for Culture-- “are not sustainable”. In the summer months they tend to be held along the Catalan coast. “We notice this because the same artist may perform at four or five festivals within 60 km of one another”, he says, and it’s hard to fill the venues. The line-up, then, may depend on what a festival wants, on what the market has to offer, but also on who the other festivals choose not to bill. “If you bring to Cadaqués an act that will also perform in Perelada, you are signing your death warrant”, Vilar explains. That is why rising above the crowd is an absolute must.

A county-level festival such as Arts d’Estiu struggled last year with Catalan rock acts because of the negative influence of Canet Rock. This year they have learned the lesson and have broadened the scope: Serrat, Bustamante, Rosario, Joan Dausà and Blaumut, to name but a few. “Natural selection is at play. Rather than having many little festivals, it might be better to focus on a single event”, suggests Xevi Gómez, the artistic director of the Pineda de Mar festival. In five years, the event’s budget has grown from €32,000 to €320,000

“We have filled a gap between Sant Feliu de Guíxols and Barcelona city”, he explains. He is not reluctant to admit that “we lack the glamour and the budget, we are a smaller player”. But the smaller events manage to be competitive by charging lower prices and using volunteers. Arts d’Estiu makes a case for “closeness”; Cadaqués rides on the “magic” of its surroundings, says Vilar. And Calonge’s Interludi, with 1,355 spectators is “put together with lots of love”, claims Núria Botellé. And that gets you a crowd of loyal punters.