By Rosine Alleva, José Oliveira, Journalist/Photographers–Rock At Night France
Exhibition Park Colmar, France June 22nd 2017
CLAUDE LEBOURGEOIS is the artistic director of the Music and Wine Festival in Colmar where he began as a programmer 28 years ago. We had the opportunity to interview him at the dawn of the 70th edition! Although very busy organizing this big event, CLAUDE LEBOURGEOIS took time to answer our questions and he certainly had loads of exciting stories to tell us since 1989!
RAN– Can you tell us how everything began for you in your professional career?
CLB– At the very beginning I studied journalism. Then, was it bad or good luck? I had a very serious accident spending two years in a rolling chair at the rehab center of Mulhouse and I’ve been proposed to do further studies. The only possible ones in the area were technical studies, which led me to become a reinforced concrete technician. I found particularly interesting a training for stage installation. So I worked in the building trade as transport, logistic manager until the company asked me to implant a stage for a big festival at Le Bourget airport in Paris. I stayed six months, it was very complicated to combine bands concerts with airplanes taking off! I assisted to the festival, a disaster! But I learned what shouldn’t be done at a festival!
RAN– The way things turned seem to have finally been positive…!
CLB– Well, later in the year, someone from that festival contacted me with the idea to develop a show production business in Mulhouse as nothing existed by then. So we created Méga Music, we slowly gained recognition and produced shows all around like PHIL COLLINS, DIRE STRAITS, SCORPIONS, LENNY KRAVITZ etc…from 1984 to 1995. One of the two partners left and we closed the company. For many years Méga Music also programmed the Eurockéennes and the Wine Fair festival as external to the Colmar Expo company at the time. Then, I took over the direction of the Phoenix concert hall in Mulhouse, a beautiful venue for 3000 people and this until 1997. And I’ve been proposed at the end of 1997 to take the artistic direction of Parc Expo to program the Wine Fair Festival here in Colmar, as internal partner.This is a bit the historic and I’m here as a programmer since 1989.
RAN– The Colmar Music and Wine Festival has risen to the third place in the podium of the Fairs of France, just behind Paris and Marseille. It has a typically “popular” character. This must necessarily lead to a very different musical program than a simple Music Festival. So, somehow, you have to follow the hit parade!
CLB– No, not especially…we try to have an eclectic and popular program. We have to have top artists like RENAUD who is making his comeback or MATT POKORA who released an atypical album. They both represent the request of the public. We also need to program bands like PLACEBO, celebrating twenty years of a an album or the atypical PIXIES. We know these two won’t fill the venue but there is no interest to only focus on money. We need to fulfill the expectation of the public, to please everyone with all music styles, hard, electro, rap etc…And the basic principle is the quality.
RAN– What do you expect from this special 70th edition?
CLB– As for all the other editions, with a program touching all generations, all social and professional classes, all families, we want the concerts to be beautiful, the people to be happy and again the quality to be there! Sometimes we can be pleasantly surprised…you never know what an artist will give on stage.You may appreciate an album and be very disappointed with the artist performance on stage or completly fascinated. And this is wonderful in the profession. It’s this little extra, to feel that the audience is in osmosis with the artist from the very first minute. This is an inexplicable sensation, nearly like love, passion between two people.The best example is Beth Ditto from Gossip, she is so expressive, so extrovert, and she shares, something directly happened with the audience. She gave as much on stage than outside.These are really fantastic surprises.
RAN– What are the criteria for selecting supporting acts, are there specific requests from the headliner?
CLB– No, not at all. I receive approximately 400 CDs a year. I classify them by music style. Once I’m nearly done with programming, around February, I check the style of music corresponding to each headliner. For someone like Renaud I will choose french music with beautiful texts, certainly no hard rock. After sorting out by style I listen to CDs approaching Renaud music and choose three of them. I try be as exhaustive as possible, considering the musical criteria only, even without checking the artist name. Once chosen, I send the three CDs to RENAUD production and ask RENAUD to choose among those three. Usually the producers trust me and know that at least one of them will be good. And we wait for their feedback. It also depends on the band quality. Choosing a supporting act for rock or hard rock is much more difficult. It’s very different than for an artist like Renaud which supporting band will either be a female singer with guitar, a trio or more with accordion, drums and guitar. For hard rock or rock, there will be many good bands with almost the same musical and vocal qualities. It is really a big responsibility to have to choose three bands when you have thirty good ones.
RAN– In order to choose high quality artists for the festival here in Colmar, you also work with other festivals. How does this interactivity work?
CLB– I work more with foreign festivals like Rock Oz’ Arènes, le chant
du Gros in Switzerland, or Budapest. Or with french festivals like with Stéphane MÉTAYER in Nîmes, festivals in Ardèche or in Crozon or Landerneau in Brittany. We are not in competition, so it is easier to talk to make a joint offer for the same artist we are interested in. We then agree on a price. It’s the actual way to work and there is an existing Europe between festival programmers. That’s how the interactivity exists. But there is a real competition, becoming increasingly more difficult between french festivals. For an artist there is no price, contrary to other professions or retails…That’s why we only work on financial offers. That’s why the interactivity between festivals is important. If four festivals offer hundred thousand euros, it’s because it doesn’t worth four thousand hundred euros! Except that, with the increasing competition, some festivals request the exclusivity like the EUROCKEENNES . Ready to pay much more, it increases at exponential rate and the fees become hallucinating!
RAN– On what other criteria do you base your choice to program an artist?
CLB– The programming is based on many things. If I want to program the french band INDOCHINE in 2018 for example, I will take into account the release of the album. From the moment the band turns, I will focus on the current tour dates, the speed and the number of tickets sold, if there are other dates in the area, the news of the band, what is going to be the media exposure like television, magazines etc. Then how many dates they have in France, in Europe. All this will give a rough idea of the band exposure for 2018. It can therefore be a potential artist. Back to the interactivity between festivals, we discuss about the artist and his fee. After considering taxes, costs, capacity of the venues, the price ticket and the other criteria I mentioned, we decide or not to do it.
RAN– And what about social networks?
CLB– Yes, of course, Facebook is another important criteria playing a role, to know what the demand will be. As soon as the artist tour dates will be announced we will look on Facebook and we’ll know directly if, in the East, 200.000 people like it or not. Then, if an albumins released, there will first be a single and it will give us a certain number of views on YouTube, which is also very important. All these criteria didn’t exist 15 years ago and social networks are today essential for the choice of an artist.
RAN– You also rely on GERARD DROUOT Productions for the programming of certain dates…
CLB– No, not more than another. This year he is present on two dates, July 28 for URIAH HEEP and Status QUO and August 1 for LES INSUS. Next year for example, as he has artists who will have an actuality, it could be Lenny Kravitz as he will release a new album….but it’s since ten years we are told this…each year. So GERARD DROUOT might be more present in 2018.
RAN– He told us in his interview that many American artists now work a lot with American production companies based in France and elsewhere in Europe…
CLB– Actually we have to deal with big trusts, I’ll name but LIVE NATION, GERARD DROUOT, historically speaking, had always JUSTIN BIEBER since his youth and U2 since I think 1985. But this year he lost them both and it’s LIVE NATION who took over.
And the profession is now totally blocking. Many companies will have to adapt themselves. Many independent producers like NOUS PRODUCTIONS, INTERCONCERTS are now owned by LIVE NATION or LACHARRIERE or other big companies who were not in the production business.
RAN– Do you think this could happen with the Colmar Wine Fair?
CLB– I can’t see it cause it should be purchased in ist entirety, and with this Festival identity I don’t think it might really interest these big trusts. But of course when people have really a lot of money they are able do buy anything…I see disappear many small festivals from the private sphere to land in a big trust or even a bigger machine.
RAN– What do you think about this music industry evolution? How do you see it in five years?
CLB– There is a really bad evolution. When you think that the ZENITH has been created thirty years ago. To be able to have a Zenith label for a concert venue, the managers had to accept that all, any producers could produce concerts at the Zenith. So, even though the Zenith aren’t allowed to produce concerts, they have companies around, belonging to them which do produce concerts. There is this year a renewal of certain Zenith concessions and trusts will show up. There is a risk, in the middle term, that their productions will only come from producers they want, to become the only ones to produce. Which implies a big, big risk, a type of hegemony from big financial trusts, that it will again be finance to manage totally the music sector. It’s really sad and I’m not enthusiastic for the people who will come after me in a few years. The profession is changing and is heading for something completely financial.
RAN– For this 70th edition this year STING is «the» headliner. It took you almost three decades (27 years) to present it. Did the change of the traditional date in August towards the month of July contributed to this?
CLB– Yes, the first time I contacted Sting, it was twenty seven years ago. But Sting never has concerts in August, it’s a month devoted to his family. Same for Francis Cabrel, he is never available in August. I tried but it wasn’t possible, maybe next year. Many artists stop from the 20th of July, like many festivals. So this date change is for me extremely important as I ask it since…twenty nine years. This is why I could program Sting and I hope to be able one day to do the same with Cabrel and otherwise festival and the Wine Fair have to be artists. But the exhibitors must follow. We can’t just privilege the festival but it’s a choice and both Wine and Music Festival have to be in symbiosis. We will a statement of this first experience and keep the new dates or go back to the old ones.
RAN– What are your best memories?
CLB– I have four hundred best memories at the Fair. I like all the artists I met, but not in the same way. I have many different memories, they all bring you different things. The artists have many styles, not systematically musically linked between each other. I’m very open to any kind of music….not always easy at home if I listen to hard rock, in the morning, rap in the afternoon or classic in the evening ( laughs)… But it’s part of my musical culture and it’s quite difficult to choose when it isn’t in the same range.
RAN– Are there artists you keep in contact with?
CLB– Some few artists, yes. It’s like true friends, you can count them on the fingers of one hand. And as I’m not a fan in life, I will rarely bother an artist. There must have been a real contact between the artist and me, that something happens and then the contact is easier. I will send an email once a while, eventually a phone call, but this more if they call me. It’s not my role, I’m an artistic director, I have my position and they have theirs. But if anything more happens, it’s great. Just like I said before, some concerts can be marvelous with this little spark making all the difference. Like when Ben Harper, after talking a while with the public, sang an unknown song and everyone began to sing with him after 10 minutes…Just like a love story, it’s magic.
RAN– What about your bad experiences at the festival?
CLB– Well, it’s just like the good ones… I have many (laughs). The worst case is when an artist arrives just before entering the stage, with no sound check. The sound check is made either by a musician or someone with the kind of same voice. The artist arrives five minutes before the start at 8.55 pm to leave at 10.30pm, get in his car and leave. So, you didn’t even have time to shake hands, it’s quite frustrating. But there were evenings with bad experiences, I can name NTM, only Joey Starr came when they are two in the band! And he only played 45 minutes. Even though they tour again next year, I won’t like to program them. But it’s a profession selling human being …so it can happen that people are tired, sick or with family problems in which case the concert may not be at its best.
RAN– Do you find it normal that a band needs five Mercedez to lead five musicians to their Hotel, located four kilometers from the Festival venue? What are the fantasies of the current stars?
CLB– We receive a technical sheet being part of the contract. When we buy the artist we sign a financial contract and a technical sheet with everything what the artist wants. Either you accept it in ist entirety or only partly. Then you have specific requests for each artist. There are bands existing on the document but not in real life anymore for different reasons and they don’t want to travel together anymore. But the opposite also happens when the artist wants to travel with his five musicians and his five dancers, you will have to find a sixteen seats Berline. There is no bad or good example. To talk about eventual fantasies, we will try as much as possible to respond to the demand, as long as it is feasible, trying to use a bit of pedagogy and culture to provide some of our local products.
RAN– The sad events in Paris (Bataclan) and Manchester (O2) surely helped to increase the level of security in the Festivals. What’s new in Colmar, on this matter?
CLB– We receive a statement of work from the regional prefects. We have meetings with them and their technical service imposing us certain specifications to which we have to comply or we wouldn’t be allowed to open the sites. Let’s not forget we always had an overdose of security staff. And we have a closed concert hall easier to control, to have explosives search dogs for example, contrary to open space festivals. But this is not a generality, the site is big and it’s impossible to ensure no one will enter. No site in France or in the world can be totally secured. The advantage at the Fair is that we have quite a few pre-controls situated far from the concert hall, to dilute the maximum of the public entering. We try to let people enter the venue as soon as possible, but the last soundcheck ends half an hour before the concerts, there will always be more crowd waiting to get in. As long as Daesch won’t be eradicated, unfortunately it could take a generation before this phenomenon disappears.
RAN– How about dealing with producers? Is there some kind of dishonesty with financial transactions?
CLB– It’s thirty years I’m in the business and I had the chance to be both show and artists producer, local and national promoter, venue manager, artistic director. This means I know entertainment people at all levels. It creates another relation, I have a notion of what a producer can be, I know how it works. It gives a certain flexibility in terms of discussions and I created an important relational network. I know GERARD DROUOT for example since thirty years, I toured with him and worked for him. So the confidential and friendship relation we have won’t be the same with a young beginner in the profession. It’s the advantage of age; both professionally and relationally.
RAN– Do you sometimes have problems with the managers?
CLB– Yes, either the manager keeps his role or he takes himself for the artist. Then, it’s dangerous cause there is a copycat with the artist and it’s never good. It causes a disproportionate egocentrism and the manager will always ask more than the artist.
RAN– Do you sometimes have the feeling in your profession of living the life of an artist by proxy?
CLB– Not at all, as I mentioned before, you have to separate the role as artistic director and the artist. I try to bring a bit of humanity in my role as artistic director and would like to expect the same from the artist or the manager. But I think we are in a commercial context with human beings. Although it isn’t easy to manage, we need to have both but on different scales. But the artist can’t forget there is a price on him and we can consider him as «a product». He has to be compliant to the image he has to give on stage and in compensation I will be totally compliant to the artist relevant requests.
RAN– Is it possible to be honest and successful?
CLB– Of course! An artist like Sting represents the perfect artist, beautiful in the inside and the outside. He maintains a certain level of conduct. I never saw or heard any scandal with him. Artists with moral and intellectual values are quite rare. The fact an artist has become an artist, it’s either because he has a strong personality or human problems and is searching for contacts. We work with human beings, there is nothing worse but nothing more beautiful!
RAN– Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interesting discussion and looking forward to the Festival!
Soon Music and Wine Festival coverage on ROCK AT NIGHT!