January 19, 2023 | Uncategorized |

Festivals are impossible without youth

Young people come to music festivals to have fun, but they get much more in return: unforgettable experiences and an opportunity to develop their style and personality. This creates a responsibility for festivals, explains YOUROPE General Secretary Holger Schmidt. 

By Holger Jan Schmidt, General Secretary of YOUROPE – The European festival Association and ambassador of Take A Stand

The story of FUSION began in 2019 when I attended a conference as an ambassador for “Take A Stand”, probably the most important social awareness initiative in the European live music and festival scene, initiated by YOUROPE – The European Festival Association. This conference was called “Regaining Europe – The Role of Youth Work in Supporting European Cohesion” and brought together young people, youth workers and experts from the field on the initiative of three national Erasmus+ agencies.

At first, I felt like an alien, but in the end it proved to be a perfect match. Our popular music festivals – regardless of whether they are major events or small grassroots happenings – reach millions of young people every year, who identify with what we do to a large extent and make a major contribution to the special magic of festivals. It doesn’t take much to realise how valuable festivals are as a platform for young people. They are places for international encounters, for self-fulfilment and the development of style and personality. Festivals are often where emerging artists create their reputation, where young volunteers and team members develop important skills, and where so many gain those valuable experiences that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. But this very special connection also means two things for us festival people:

Opportunity and responsibility.

Opportunity: When festivals see their young audiences as more than customers and consumers, namely as participants, co-creators and maybe even ambassadors, there is enormous potential for new, positive projects. When young people meet their peers on an equal footing and work for a better life as part of our events, what better thing could happen to us? They know best what moves their generation, how to start the conversation with one another, and where the journey should take them in the future. We should jump on their bandwagon, rather than have them jump on ours.

Holger Jan Schmidt (top row, left) at the Regaining Europe Conference, where the idea for FUSION was conceived. Photo by Mahmoud Dabdoub

Responsibility: Let’s assume that indeed thousands of young people are gathered in front of your stages and on your communication platforms. People who identify with your festival, its philosophy, align their lives with it and develop their personality there. Doesn’t that at the same time imply the obligation to value and promote this asset? Giving them more than the party program will not cost the festival much and will tie the young people even more closely to the festival, while giving something to society that will build and broaden the reputation of the festival itself.

Both points became obvious to me in the context of the conference and in the circle of young people. I made valuable contacts there and, to be honest, had an inspiring experience comparable to how many young people must feel at our festivals. Based on this, we developed the idea for FUSION and found that there are already brilliant examples showing how it can be done.

But then came the pandemic…

In the following two years, young people went through an incredibly difficult time with great deprivation. They were prevented from fulfilling essential needs like meeting new people, sharing spaces and spending time with their friends. To a certain extent, European festivals can relate to that as we had a forced two-year break with great challenges, too.

In 2022, the European festivals acknowledged and praised the youth for their loyalty, for two long years of sacrifice, distancing, and deprivation. It was brought to life in the initiative #ImpossibleWithoutYouth, a contribution to the European Year of Youth by more than 70 festivals and supporters from 25 European countries. It was important to the festival teams to show their gratitude and to reconnect with the youth again in 2022, providing their platform for international encounters, self-fulfilment and the development of your lifestyle and personality.

At the same time, we were able to finally work on tools helping facilitate good partnership and encourage young people to bring their innovations to the festivals as well as the festivals to benefit from them by being the best hosts possible. I am sure you will agree that the relevance of FUSION is undeniable. Because the future – just like our festivals – is impossible without youth.