In March 2020, with the arrival of the pandemic, Laurent Saulnier’s little world collapsed. Grand manitou of the Francos and the Jazz Festival, the music lover then found himself without a landmark, being forced a few weeks later to turn to digital for his events. Five months before the two festivals are scheduled to return to downtown Montreal, the programmer is realistic about their presentation this summer. “We know very well that in the month of June, we will not be able to hold a festival as we did in 2019,” he notes.
How did you experience the arrival of the pandemic last year and the cancellation of festivals as we knew them?
“In a very personal way, it has been a catastrophic year in which my life has been shattered. However, considering all the pitfalls we had during the year, I am still proud of my gang that we were able to make events even if they were only digital. We have people from all over the world who have watched, as in Morocco, Brazil and France. It was very heartwarming, that case. ”
“For me, the idea of doing a digital operation was a kind of balm on a wound that was very open. What we want is to do real events, with real people who sing, dance, have a beer, go out in a gang, go to parties. All that aspect, we did not have it. I have the impression that we are a gang to be in need. ”
“We also had the impression of a lot, a lot of working for nothing. When all this happened, in mid-March 2020, the indoor programming of the Francos was over and that of the Jazz was 95% finished. And for the outside, the Francos were 75% completed and the Jazz probably half. Can you imagine the number of phone calls and emails it took? Each time, you had to wonder if we were postponing to the 2021 edition, later in the year or if we were canceling completely. It was a nasty puzzle. ”
In a normal year, how many concerts do you see?
“The only answer I found to that is that I see more shows than there are days in a year!” (laughs) I also travel six or seven times a year for work. On January 17, it has been a year since I left the country. I’m not saying this to brag, but I can’t remember the last time I didn’t leave the country for a full year. ”
The situation for the next few months is still very uncertain with COVID-19. How do you manage to work on the Jazz and Francos programming at the moment?
“Our job right now is to try to be prepared for whatever happens. No one is able to say what the month of June will look like. Yes, there is a good chance that we will go digital again. But will we have the right to do shows with all the restrictions and the sanitary protocol? I do not know. Can we do outdoor and not indoor shows? And if we have the right to do it indoors, will we still be limited to 250 spectators? Or, because a certain part of the population will be vaccinated, will we be able to increase to 500? There are so many questions. At the moment, I just have questions and I have no answers. ”
How are the discussions with foreign artists going? Are they confident they will be able to come and play in Montreal this summer?
“Right now the officers we talk to are extremely fearful. There aren’t many people who want to formally commit to taking the plane to come to us in 2021. Everyone has the same reaction: we’re ready to go if we can … But it’s not. is not we who decide. This is the great disadvantage of all of this. We are at the mercy of all those answers that come from elsewhere. ”
What kind of festivals will we be entitled to this summer, do you think?
“My prediction is that there is a good chance that we will only do 100% Canadian festivals. However, I do not exclude the presence of international artists. There may be one or two who will want to “invest” in Canada and schedule a real Canadian tour for a month. In this case, it might be worthwhile to come for a 14-day quarantine beforehand. But the other thing is the profitability of it all. Doing shows to 250 spectators is not profitable for anyone. We only do it because we like it. ”
“We will eventually give ourselves a deadline to know if we can organize live shows or not, but we want to delay it as much as possible. We’re going to have to be on our toes and ready to act as quickly as possible. [Si le gouvernement donne le feu vert], we will perhaps not arrive with a complete program as extensive as usual with so many stages and people on the site. We’re just going to try to do as much as we can with the deadlines we’re going to have. ”
How do you feel to work so much in uncertainty?
“It’s super ‘challegeant’, both in the positive and in the negative. I learned a lot of things last year, like how much it takes to go digital. I am not a TV producer in life. But when you do a digital festival, you kind of become a TV producer somewhere. These are recordings that you record and broadcast. I learned a lot of things on this subject, such as rights issues and how to build programming in virtual rather than in real life. ”
“Among the ideas we made for digital last year, I watched concerts that had taken place on the big Bell stage of the Francos in the company of the artists who had given these shows, such as Klô Pelgag, Louis- Jean Cormier and Koriass. It was a great fun idea. If we hadn’t been forced to do digital Francos, this would never have happened. Internet users told us that this is the kind of business we should continue to do, even when we start doing shows again. ”
Knowing that nothing is less certain for in-person events this summer, why not immediately decide to go digital completely?
“It would be much easier! But it’s our DNA to do this [des événements en personne]. We do festivals for that. […] This year is likely to be a great work in progress. We still hope that there will be live shows, but of course we will not be able to do large-scale events. ”
Have you considered moving the festivals to the fall, given that the situation might be better with vaccines?
” No. From the moment the valves open, there will be crazy traffic, as we have never seen. Right now, if you want to put on a show in almost any venue in Montreal, in October or November, good luck. All dates in the fall are reserved almost everywhere. It doesn’t give us anything to put ourselves on top of that. If we can do shows in the fall, it will be extremely busy. ”
Some overseas event planners have floated the idea of requiring spectators to have been vaccinated, or that there be rapid tests, before they can attend concerts. Is Spectra considering this possibility for Francos and Jazz?
” No. In both cases, these are events that are free in the city center. You can’t try to control everyone. There are so many entry doors to the sites that it just becomes impossible. A site like Osheaga would be easier, because there is only one entry. But we are just too many.
The Jazz Festival has had a small component in Verdun since 2019. Could Jazz and Francos invest more in other areas of the city with small-scale events?
“We did something last year with the Urban Science Brass Band in three neighborhoods. But it was still complicated, because we could not announce the shows in advance [en raison des mesures sanitaires]. But it’s still on our drawing board for this summer. ”
In closing, a little over a year ago, you joined the Pierre Lapointe management team. Why did you add this string to your bow?
“Sometimes, life puts us behind the obvious. In 2019, Michel Séguin, the former manager of Pierre, told me that he would retire after the release of the album Pour thwart l’ennui. I called him back a few days later to tell him to put my name on the list of potentials [remplaçants]. […] I never wanted to do this before [gérer la carrière d’un artiste], because I had other interests elsewhere. But there, I saw a way to have more fun. ”
- Last name : Laurent Saulnier
- Age : 58 years old
- Profession: Vice-President of Programming, Team Spectra
- Impact: Every summer, the Spectra Team presents the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Francos. Hundreds of artists from Quebec and abroad participate. Laurent Saulnier has been at the head of the programming of these two popular events since November 1999.