Cancelled, not cancelled: Rotondes festival still a hit

As the annual congés annulés festival winds down this weekend, it is clear that even in trying times live music remains very much an essential outlet.

The last few days of the congés annulés festival at Rotondes felt like the end of times. It has always been so, even in what we can probably now call normal circumstances. The final concert often leaves a gap of a few weeks to soak in the end of summer before live music shows start up again. But in covid times, the fact that the festival had to take place outdoors--and boy, were the organisers lucky with the weather--makes that wait for indoor shows in the autumn even more hollow.

Some teething troubles saw crowds shy away from the opening days of the festival because the set-up required them to continue wearing a mask inside the arena, and no drinks were allowed either.

“Creating gig conditions while still respecting confinement restrictions was a challenge,” says Marc Hauser who has been programming the congés annulés festival since its inception. “But the biggest challenge was getting a line-up.” Indeed, travel restrictions meant several international bands had to cancel their shows at the festival at the last minute and the programme relied heavily on local talent. Luckily there is a wealth of that in Luxembourg at the moment and artists like Sun Glitters, Francis of Delirium, Klein and Mutiny on the Bounty all flocked to perform on the makeshift stage in an open-air but enclosed auditorium outside the venue.

Even though the pre-booking requirement meant all shows were “sold out” (entrance was free), the frustration of seeing sparse audiences at the first few gigs meant the organisers reacted swiftly to rectify the situation. They arranged seating so that social distancing could be maintained, and mini-tables divided up the seats and allowed punters to bring in drinks. They could even go to a bar for service without leaving the performance area.

Bands, too, were happy reckons Hauser. “There was some interaction between the artists and the audience.” Autumn Sweater are regulars at congés annulés and were thrilled to be asked to perform at this year’s scaled down festival according to the band’s Christophe Demart. “We were really happy that something was happening and that they got the energy to do this,” says the drummer-singer and songwriter. The band’s show on 5 August--on a double bill with Bartelby Delicate--was actually a bittersweet moment. Their first live gig in several months was also a farewell to guitarist and singer Pierre Christen, though the band will carry on. “You can see that people really needed something like this,” Demart told Delano after the Francis of Delirium show on 20 August. “That gives me kind of hope.”

Hauser is taking a well-deserved break until the Rotondes hosts its first show of the autumn - Montreal-based punk-psych indie band Corridor are due to play on 1 October. “We’ve been working on getting a nice set-up inside the club,” he says. “Then we need to see which bands are touring. We had a few bands that had to postpone that are now coming between October and December. But autumn will be quite difficult.” Other highlights that are scheduled include fabulously experimental Baltimore quartet Horse Lords on 17 October and Dutch power-pop kids The Homesick, who played a thrillingly sweaty show at De Gudde Wëllen in October 2018.

There is also, says Hauser, the possibility of using the bigger seated venue in the other Rotondes for live shows. Whatever the final circumstances health and safety restrictions throw up, the experience of organising this congés annulés under such trying conditions will be valuable when it comes to making sure the shows later in the year are optimal for both artists and audience.