Around 6:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, Pablo Soler strained to get his golf cart up a long ramp to a backstage area at Primavera Sound. While Sylvan Esso’s upbeat synth-pop thumped on a nearby stage, the festival’s co-founder gunned the electric motor and laughed at its sluggishness. The cart crept along for a few hundred yards, but eventually it got to the peak.
This weekend, Soler is at the top of the world in the global festival circuit. With headliners like the Black Keys and Strokes, close to 200,000 total fans attending and an easygoing, near-flawless execution so far, Primavera has again lived up to its frequently touted reputation as Europe’s Coachella.
But this is the question that confronts him – and any other promoter with a growing and beloved festival. How does one keep advancing while maintaining what makes your current show so attractive?
Coachella did it by going to two weekends and upping its amenities and pop and classic-rock friendliness. How might Primavera move now that it’s in a similar situation?
“I don’t think we should grow here in terms of space,” Soler said of his fest’s site at the Parc del Forum waterfront. “Right now, it’s enough. If we want to grow, we’ll have to grow elsewhere, but if we did it in Madrid we wouldn’t want to cannibalize from Barcelona or Porto [Portugal, the site of Prima’s first expansion].”
It’s hard to imagine a festival more thoroughly integrated with its particular urban environment than Primavera. With no camping, no huge parking lots and a one-of-a-kind location on the Mediterranean waterfront, it has ties to Barcelona that wouldn’t be easily replicable. Porto, itself a lovely and ancient coastal city in the north of Portugal, was just far enough away but similar in feel to make sense for a slightly smaller version of the fest. But if Prima can’t grow bigger here, where could it?
The answer might be an even bigger move abroad – possibly the U.S. or South America. Soler said that Primavera has had conversations with promotion and financing partners in both regions, though nothing is moving forward just yet. Replicating its European coastal-cosmopolitan feel in a major American or South American city would be a massive undertaking, and would introduce a whole new element to Primavera’s growing international brand.
“It would be really risky, and financing is always difficult,” Soler admitted. But other popular Spanish fests like Sonar have tried it, and they might not have a choice if they want to keep growing. At 195 euros for a full-fest ticket, Prima is probably about to hit a ceiling of what their longtime Spanish indie-music fan base will want to pay for (“For Spain, this is already a relatively expensive festival,” Soler said). All the free local club shows in advance of the fest and music-business events at its panel series Primavera Pro won’t totally make up for that.
But with their skillful bookings, high regard among musicians and proven ability to attract internationally travelling fans, if they can find a site in Mexico or South America – or the U.S. - they stand as good a chance as any. Primavera may be inextricably tied to Barcelona, but music has a global audience today, and one that increasingly looks ready to book flights to find it.
“It was a radical proposition to be entirely about the music,” Soler said. “To have a lineup so focused on creative bands with something to say.”
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