Behind the Scenes: The Unsung Heroes of the Francofolies

In the control room of the stage in the clearing, technicians are preparing the stage setup for the concerts. (Photo: Sophie Wiessler)

At the 2024 edition of the Francofolies in Esch-sur-Alzette, we went behind the scenes to meet the people without whom the festival would not function.

On Friday, June 7th, at 4:30 pm, tension is palpable at Gaalgebierg Park in Esch-sur-Alzette. In just 30 minutes, the Francofolies will open their doors to the first festival-goers. Volunteers on either side of the site are busy ensuring that everything is in place before the grand opening. Dressed in orange, the “unsung heroes” of the festival number 500 this year, divided into several teams with well-defined roles.

Under the tent of the association village, Caroline stands out with her orange hat matching her t-shirt. A big smile on her face and a contagious good mood seem to be her trademark. “I have been part of the ‘grand rêveurs’ since 2020,” she explains. The “grand rêveurs” are volunteers who are involved in the cultural life of Esch.

At the Francofolies, Caroline came with her two children. A true “family adventure” for the little group. During the three days, she will act as a mediator. “I am here to talk to the volunteers and motivate them.” While waiting for the opening, the mother lends a hand to set up the final elements of the association stands.

Behind her, her daughter Juliette is driven by the same positive energy as her mother. Once the festival is open, she will help to apply biodegradable glitter to the festival-goers. “I want to talk to a lot of people!” And she will not hesitate to do so. Equipped with her brush and her small pots of glitter, the 14-year-old will take the opportunity to chat with the festival-goers passing by.

Just as her mother, Juliette is a volunteer. She applies glitter to the festival-goers. (Photo: Julien Garroy)

Everything in place for the opening

5:00 pm strikes. The first festival-goers, equipped with a fast pass or a VIP ticket, arrive. Half an hour later, they are joined by thousands of other people. To manage the arrival of all these people, a group of volunteers is responsible for welcoming the festival-goers. Positioned at the entrances of the festival, they are present to answer visitors’ questions and direct them to the right place. “This is the fast pass entrance, the normal entrance is on the other side!” can be heard as they guide the lost festival-goers.

When they enter the site, they have several options. They can go directly in front of the stages, or wander around to discover the different activities. Not far from the association village, they can buy merchandise. This is the second year that the Francofolies have offered it. And this year, the t-shirts and tote bags are screen printed on site. To make it easier, two volunteers are taking orders.

Alexandra is one of them. “This is the first festival I have ever worked at,” exclaims the young woman. Being a volunteer allows her to see various aspects of the Francofolies. On Saturday, she changes roles and is at the cashless station. It is her who festival-goers bring their cash to load their bracelets. “On Sunday, I will be here as a festival-goer, I am going to see David Guetta with my mother, it’s her Christmas present!”

Behind the bar

Once the bracelets are loaded, getting a drink at the bar is a must at a festival. At the clearing bar, 30 volunteers work there in good spirits. While hundreds of festival-goers pass by, some take the time to chat… While others spill their beers, not without amusement. “There’s a great atmosphere here,” laughs Cindie. This mom came with three of her friends. “We can enjoy the festival while working… all without the kids!”

But behind the good atmosphere of the bar lies a well-organized system. Some volunteers are responsible for filling the fridges, others for taking orders and cashing in, and still others for preparing the drinks. Cindie, on the other hand, is in direct contact with people. “During my shift from 5:00 pm to 10:45 pm, I probably see 600 people,” estimates the volunteer. A number that takes on a whole new dimension when multiplied by the number of bars and volunteers in charge of taking orders. The bar team is, in fact, the largest of all. “At the main stage bar, there are about fifty of them, at the VIP area bar about thirty like us… That’s a lot of people!”

When the glasses are empty and the stomachs full, the green team takes over with the dish returns. Sarah is stationed there. She is ready to collect the consigned dishes. And once again, people pass by in droves. “The role of the green team is to keep the festival clean,” explains the volunteer. Behind her, a truck is full of other helping hands. They are in charge of cleaning the plastic dishes. “We wash something like 6,000 cups per hour.”

At the heart of the control room

Alban, on the other hand, is not a volunteer. But he also works behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running of the festival. “I am the stage manager at the clearing stage.” His work started before the festival opened. He installed the sound and light controls. “Once everything is set up, I welcome the technicians of the artists during the festival.”

His work at the Francofolies is not without its challenges… Although the slope and the tree at the clearing stage are a “nightmare” for the technical teams, the real challenge lies in something else entirely: “The teams of the artists must have everything they need so that the intentions of mixing the recorded songs are reproduced live.”

And above all, without stage managers, there is no concert. They manage the sound so that it is neither too loud nor too soft and take care of the lighting effects and other scenographies. So, during the three days of the festival, Alban keeps an eye on the control panel, cables, and other equipment to “make it work.”