For 12 years and counting, this music festival has held free live music events in and around Lyon, often in spaces not normally open to the public. But post-pandemic audience numbers are falling - leaving the future of live music uncertain.
For 12 years and counting, the “Jazz à Cours & à Jardins” (“Jazz in courtyards and gardens”) festival has been a mainstay of summer life in Lyon, holding free live music events in and around the French city, often in spaces not normally open to the public.
But in 2020 when the pandemic hit, the festival, which is normally held in June, had to pivot. And against all odds they managed to re-open in September, as France emerged from lockdown.
“It lasted three days instead of six, we put on half the number of concerts - but even so we had many spectators,” says François Dumont d’Ayot.
Self-described as a “poly-instrumentalist”, Dumont d’Ayot is known for his prowess as a jazz musician and his skill on the saxophone, among many other wind instruments. He is also the director of “Jazz à Cours & à Jardins”. He spoke to Euronews Culture about the feeling of elation people felt when they could finally hold the festival in 2020.
“People were happy to finally be able to go out, to finally be able to meet up with each other, even with masks, even with hydroalcoholic gels,” said Dumont d’Ayot. “We were the only festival which maintained its programming - albeit with a reduced presence - in 2020 in Lyon.”
“For more than six months we were confined, we weren’t allowed to go out … and now for the first time we could gather together and celebrate. It was really very emotional, both for the spectators, and also for us who organised the festival.”
Fast forward two years though, and the picture isn’t looking as rosy.
The festival was held this year in June, but saw a huge drop in attendance - in the order of a 25 per cent fall in the first week, according to Dumont d’Ayot. When compared to other local festivals, there now seems to be a “desertification” trend among members of the public, he says.
“Is there a fear again of the spread of Covid? That may be the case,” he said. “Another explanation could be that people lost the habit of going out during Covid, and this now continues.”
Artists and cultural workers in Europe were hit hard during the pandemic. According to the European Parliament, the cultural and creative sectors were hit harder than tourism, with revenues down more than 30 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. The music sector lost 75 per cent of its turnover, and the performing arts sector even more with 90 per cent.
“We are in the tail of the comet”
The future of live music doesn’t fill Dumont d’Ayot with much hope. He likens where the live music scene is now as being “in the tail of the comet” - that is, trailing in the wake of a momentous event.
“The comet is Covid, and now we are in the tail of the comet, in the dust which descends - and in this dust many things drown, disappear; I fear that today many artists can no longer make a living from their art.”
The outlook is particularly worrying for younger artists who don’t have the same name recognition as more established musicians, says Dumont d’Ayot.
“You always have the big names like the Rolling Stones and so on who can continue to play,” he says. “But apart from these famous names, I think many young artists have a hard time making a name for themselves; finding concerts, finding gig venues and programming - that’s become very hard.”
Dumont d’Ayot thinks that people have formed the habit of watching events and concerts online during the various lockdowns, and this will be a hard habit to break.
“Today, the public doesn’t want to go to concerts, they want to go to concerts at home, on the internet, on YouTube or similar platforms. That’s what we’ve unfortunately seen during Covid,” says the musician.
In order for people to return to live venues there needs to be a “renewal of confidence”, he says, adding that it would be necessary for “the spectre, the phantom of Covid” to disappear.
“Honestly I don’t know. The future is full of questions, and to tell you the truth, I’m not fundamentally optimistic. Yes I’m a bit scared.”
Dumont d’Ayot leads the jazz quartet ]FD’A[4tet. His group is next set to perform on Saturday 23 July as part of Lyon’s “Tout L’Monde Dehors” cultural festival.