The announced insolvency of Bonn’s Rockaue Music Festival is another blow to live music in the City. What went wrong? A free festival attracting 200,000 people became an inexpensive one finally attracting less than 10,000. A look at the short life of a festival with long traditions.
Rockaue fared better than many other Festivals weather-wise last Summer. Spectator-wise though there were clear signs of concern when organizers who had hoped for 15.000 people were claiming an attendance of 10,000 whilst police estimates were more in the 5,000 range. Despite that, the news this week that Rockaue had declared itself insolvent not long after last year’s Festival and that – at least for the foreseeable future – the one-day Festival will not take place is very sad.
Between 1983 and 2011 R(h)einKultur was one of the region’s biggest music festivals. It didn’t have really big names, but it had a ‘nose’ for popular bands that attracted an average visitor number of some 170,000. Oh, and probably it’s most popular aspect – It was a free event.
Oddly, and sadly typical of Bonn, even attendances of 200,000 weren’t enough to attract investment from the City. That may have been also partly at least down to the Festival’s reputation for drunkenness. I remember getting as far as Bonn Central Station once and meaning to get take the short tram ride down to Rhinepark. Surrounded by drunken teenagers even that distance away from the festival site I went home instead. My Festival ended as quickly as the notion to attend it had begun.
2015 saw a very different Festival rise from the Rheinkultur ashes. For a start it had a bonafide top headliner in Jennifer Rostock. But the bad news for many beer-guzzling teenies was an admission price of (gasp!) 12.50 Euros in advance. From R(h)einKultur’s 200,000 visitors in 2007 only one tenth that number were prepared to pay for live music. The show went on though.
2016 saw prices go up (14.90 Euros) and visitors go down (17,000) despite a top-drawer main act in Culcha Candela. Finally, 2017 and the figures that finally finished off Rockaue.
My hope is that this will be only a short break for the Festival. We already just lost the KunstGarten as a venue for emerging local bands to cut their open-air teeth and find a bigger audience. 2017’s Rockaue introduced me to the music of Danko Jones and Skinny Lister. It would be sad to think that Bonn was going to sit back and watch Rockaue go the way of R(h)einKultur, Kunstgarten, Bonn Sommer, Klangwelle… Where are the days when Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Van Morrison played here? The latter two will be playing only a short distance away in 2018 that’s true. But why Cologne? What’s going wrong Bonn? Music fans, please get out to live shows. Very simply – Use it or lose it!