Using Barcelona’s vibrant scene as a background, Andrea Trinidad demonstrates how hyper-local events may be instrumental in revitalizing cities in post-vaccine times.

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Author: Andrea Trinidad

Photo Credit: Sergio Albert

Business or pleasure? Not too long ago, one might have answered “Music.”

Over the last decade, concerts and international music festivals sent thousands packing their bags for weekends away, ushering in a new breed of travel known as “music tourism”. It was a sign of the times: a globalized world fueled by low-cost airlines, shifting music tastes, and Millennials hungry to experience everything. Places with particularly vibrant nighttime economies—the likes of Amsterdam, Berlin, and London—became popular destinations for tourists eager to see their favorite artists in the flesh. In turn, this phenomenon became invaluable for cities.

Take Barcelona’s Primavera Sound, for example. As one of Europe’s largest festivals, Primavera Sound typically welcomes up to 220,000 attendees each year. Of this number, a study revealed that 56% of festival attendees flew in from overseas. For that weekend festival alone, Barcelona saw a significant spike in hotel stays, restaurant bookings, and museum visits.

Primavera Sound @ We are Europe
Prior to the pandemic, Primavera Sound would attract thousands of tourists to Barcelona every year. With the festival grounds just a short 20-minute ride from the city centre, concert-goers could drop by the festival after a day of pintxos and Gaudi (© Sergio Albert, Primavera Sound)

The scene today is a much different story. As the pandemic forced borders shut, international travel plummeted to 87%, scrapping the itineraries of artists and music lovers the world over. And while vaccines provide a glimmer of hope, experts predict that the flight-hopping we once knew is unlikely to return until 2024. 

But that doesn’t need to mean the end of music tourism as we know it. Instead, what if festivals could inspire a new kind of tourism? One that doesn’t require you to fly halfway across the world, but encourages you to explore your own backyard?

Isolation has made us collectively experience a renewed appreciation for and of our communities. Our weekend plans are now dedicated to staycations, domestic travel, and exploring local scenes once left in the background. Linda Poon put it best :

It’s easy to take your neighborhood for granted as our hunger for exploration lures us to far-flung places. But travel restrictions can force us to reconnect with our community, and in ways that we were “too busy” to before.” 

Museumplein @ We are Europe
Residents of Amsterdam enjoy an afternoon at an empty Museumplein, a square usually brimming with tourists. With travel restrictions barring entry for foreigners, locals feel that the city belongs to them once more. (© jbdodane.com, Flickr)

As we relate to our cities differently, post-pandemic festivals will make us experience them differently, too. Live music can breathe new life into places we’ve come to regard as stale and stagnant. If we stage smaller, hyper-localised events in unusual locations—forgotten heritage sites, interesting neighbourhoods, iconic landmarks, or stunning national parks—these could help create bigger experiences within our own communities. 

Barcelona’s Cruïlla Festival offers a glimpse at what something like this could look like. Last year, Cruïlla staged one of the only festivals to push through amidst the pandemic: a downsized version called Cruïlla XXS.

Rather than packing the event into a single weekend and location, organizers created a series of open-air concerts with the city as its stage. Each weekend in July, homegrown acts performed for crowds of no more than 400 at Barcelona’s most popular landmarks : the legendary football stadium Camp Nou ; the quintessential Design Museum of Barcelona ; and the modernist-era Sant Pau Art Nouveau, to name a few.

As melodies bounced off the walls of the architectural wonders, smiles plastered the faces of landlocked residents, who were eager to experience their first concert in months. 

Brunch in Barcelona @ We are Europe
Holding music festivals in interesting neighborhoods can allow residents to discover under-visited — yet no less beautiful — parts of the city (© Brunch-In Barcelona)

For cities whose cultural sectors rely heavily on tourists, hyper-local events like Cruïlla can pave one way to post-pandemic recovery. Support at a regional level will stimulate the businesses that surround the local tourism sector, and help buoy the livelihoods of those in our music communities. What’s more, this would give the stage to homegrown talent, who often play second fiddle to international headliners.

Roman theater @ We are Europe
A concert at a Roman theatre, anyone? By selecting unique venues, festival organizers could incentivize city-dwellers to travel to otherwise forgotten locations. (© Mickaël Fidjili, Cercle)

What’s needed, then, is to assert this value to the powers-that-be. Safety is still a top priority (and rightly so), but a level of understanding between the public and private sector is needed.

There are plenty of ways to coordinate an event safely,” said Shain Shapiro, founder and CEO of music consultancy Sound Diplomacy. “It’s about being smart, structured, honest, and working in partnership with one another. But you need to do things respectfully. Explain, in a fact-based way, why these events are important.

In a year without dance-floors and concerts, where singing with friends (and strangers) in foreign places remains a mirage of the hopeful, hyper-local music events can provide a much-needed dose of connection to the neighbors and the places that held us during this difficult time. Years from now, perhaps we’ll remember how we leaned on the power of music to make magic out of the ordinary. Hopefully by then, we won’t be standing six feet apart.

This article was conceived as a result of our first call for contributions that aimed to address the challenges and changes that festivals and cultural entities may face in the future. Thanks to the contributions we received, we were able to create the Future(s) of Festivals feature series, that this article is a part of. We’re open to new proposals for our next call for contributions, available here.

On the Author

Andrea Trinidad is a culture and lifestyle journalist whose work has appeared in various digital and print publications across Europe and The Philippines. She is currently the lead copywriter and creative strategist of Amplify, a creative studio that helps technology brands make waves. After living in Madrid and Barcelona, she founded The Classics of Now, where she writes about culture and creativity in Spain.

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