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Music Festival Economy Blossoms


Music Festival Economy Blossoms


Taiwan's annual "Spring Scream" music festival kicks off in Kenting on April 4. With a million visitors attending 20 such music festivals annually, an enormous spring-summer business op is blooming.



Music Festival Economy Blossoms

By Hsin-Ho Lu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 494 )

Spring is here and with it an exodus to Kenting – the tropical beach resort at the southernmost tip of Taiwan island – has begun. When exactly did that phenomenon become a matter of course?

Some sling a backpack over their shoulder, hop on a bus and go. Others arrive fully kitted out with camping gear, ready to brave the elements. Some don their hippest attire, preparing to strut their stuff on the sand. Still others practice for years, waiting for their chance to perform on one of the stages.

Taiwan's oldest music festival began 18 years ago when a group of musicians got together to throw a beach bash centered on their passion for music, glibly dubbing it "Spring Scream." All these years later, more than 500 bands signed up for performance consideration at this year's Scream, a number that was ultimately whittled down to 200 bands that will perform throughout that day from April 4th through the 8th on six stages.

Deserts Chang, Mayday, Cheer Chen… Many of today's top Taiwanese pop stars took some of their first steps toward a career in live music performance on the stages at Spring Scream. For bands and musicians, Spring Scream has taken on the significance of a sacred pilgrimage. For music lovers it can be a completely liberating spiritual journey.

"Music festivals have a kind of almost ritualistic function to them that removes people from their workaday lives and temporarily provides them with a feeling of collective togetherness," says Lee Ming-tsung, an associate professor of sociology at National Taiwan University.

Onstage, musicians perform feverishly for the gyrating crowds gathered below. The process of listening to the music and the interaction between band and audience is a form of communal experience.

"I'd never seen a live rock show before," says Mr. Wu, who attended his first Spring Scream in 2010 and has been coming back ever since. "Once I did I found it really was everything I had always hoped it would be."

"If you've never been to Spring Scream, you've never been young," seems to be a common sentiment. Pitching a tent in Kenting's Oluanpi Park, caring not about the rain or the mud, listening to the music and chasing the inner free spirit is like the Ang Lee movie Taking Woodstock come to life.

Springtime Festival Economy Takes Shape

The blossoming of life in springtime dovetails nicely with the overall rock-and-roll ethos. Toss in the sun, surf and sand, and you have the ingredients that quickly propelled Spring Scream from a music party involving a few hundred people into a full-blown event that attracts crowds in the tens of thousands.

A variety of other music performance events subsequently sprouted up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Walking the streets of Kenting, one will hear pop, rock, techno, reggae… Kenting in April is a major seasonal musical encampment, with the pent-up energy of a full year of various musical genres exploding onto the scene all at once.

Founded in 2006, the "Spring Wave" festival takes a different tack from the indie-minded Spring Scream, its progenitors, Friendly Dog Entertainment, aiming to temporarily create in Kenting a "stadium atmosphere" by inviting some of the hottest contemporary pop stars for a musical smorgasbord whose value exceeds the sum of its parts.

With "Spring Wave" pitching up at Hengchun Airport and "Spring Scream" at Oluanpi Park this year, along with various other music parties throughout the area, the streets of Kenting are sure to be madness.

The arrival of spring in Kenting brings with it a blossoming of musical events that local governments have trouble getting a grip on, falling back on simply referring to them all collectively as "Kenting Music Fest."

Concerns about Lack of Oversight

These events draw crowds, and the crowds bring business opportunity. An average of nearly 200,000 people flood into Kenting during the annual four- or five-day spring break, last year bringing with them more than NT$1 billion in business.

Beginning in early March, area hotel operators began to be overwhelmed by people phoning in with reservations. The Chateau in Kenting is even organizing its own music party, offering guests package deals that include all food, beverages, entertainment and activities.

Private citizens have been moving even faster, with people not only renting parking spaces and water hook-ups but also tidying up spare bedrooms in their homes to rent out by the day to earn a few extra bucks. Car rental agencies, lunchbox providers and street vendors all report that their business during the few days of the music fest is even more robust than during the Lunar New Year holiday period.

The increasing numbers of people coming and events being organized has brought increased media scrutiny and economic benefits, but the lack of an overall coordinated management effort has also led to the emergence of some negative developments.

Spring Scream co-founder Jimi Moe and plenty of other music scene types worry that a lot of companies are following a herd mentality and coming to Kenting to organize an event for a year or two before disappearing. Add to that the negative media reports commonly surrounding the festival weekend, which routinely fail to distinguish between the different events, and a lot of the negative press ultimately ends up on the doorstep of Spring Scream.

"A successful music festival must have a clear-cut appeal," says Pochang Wu, lead singer for indie-band Echo and founder of the indie-music website Indievox. "Without a clear direction and appeal, it's just chasing the scene or trying to make a quick buck. And it's difficult to form a positive cycle, so there's no way you'll last. What music festivals represent is a reflection of contemporary life, the pursuit of a love of music and a great lifestyle."

The biennial "Simple Life Festival" organized by President Group is another example. The festival has resonated with urban dwellers yearning to get back to nature and a return to simpler ways. This has led not only to an explosion in attendance, but also hot sales of "simple" merchandise, racking up tens of millions of Taiwan dollars in sales over two days.

Music Fests as Tourism Promotion

With the robust development of local music festivals, the government has begun to get in on the act too. The first Ho-Hai-Yan Music Festival in 2000 – which took place in Gongliao Township, in what was then Taipei County (now New Taipei City) – was a pioneering effort by a local government to establish a local cultural brand aimed at promoting tourism through music.

A common government approach has been to combine musical performances with special local products and outstanding natural scenery to create a lively, festive event.

Over the last two or three years Taiwan's music festivals have spread from south to north and from east to west, so that most every sizable town now has its own "music fest."

Eighteen years ago, a couple of young American expatriates named Jimi Moe and Wade Davis had an idea. They could never have imagined the magnitude of the impact their Spring Scream would one day have on Taiwan.

Spring Scream has been like a seed, one that is now sprouting all over Taiwan in the form of the seasonal springtime music festival economy.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy