Fans eager to see stars back in action at events across the country after the introduction of optimized COVID-19 measures
In 2011, Zeng Kai, from Linfen city, Shanxi province, attended one of the best outdoor rock festivals he had ever witnessed.
At the Midi Music Festival in Haidian Park, Beijing, he saw several of his favorite bands in action, including Miserable Faith, Escape Plan and Reflector. He also became a fan of groups he had never expected to like.
"I watched bands I'd never heard of, but they really rocked that day," said the 32-year-old, who works for a company in the mining industry in Taiyuan, the Shanxi provincial capital.
"I went to the music festival with my classmates in 2011, when we were studying at Taiyuan University of Technology. It was one of the best trips I'd ever had," Zeng said.
However, for the past three years, Zeng and many other fans had to contend with a lack of these events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced numerous performances, both indoors and outdoors, to be canceled.
Since China optimized its COVID-19 policies at the end of last year, a number of organizers have announced the return of outdoor music festivals, with lineups being booked, dates set, and tickets already selling out.
"I am already making plans to travel to some festivals, and I'm asking my friends if they want to join me. I cannot wait to see my favorite artists and be surprised by acts that are unfamiliar to me," Zeng said.
Several music festivals will be held nationwide in the second quarter of this year, the China Association of Performing Arts said. In addition to major holidays, the events will be staged during weekends to meet demand from fans.
Zeng plans to make an early start by attending the Midi Music Festival in Evergreen Park, Haikou, Hainan province, from March 17-19.
Featuring more than 40 artists and bands, the festival will include rock singer-songwriter Xu Wei, rock band Tang Dynasty and young groups who rose to fame in recent years, such as Jiulian Zhenren and Hyper Slash.
Shan Wei, the festival's director, said: "During the past three years, the Midi Music Festival, which is held annually at venues across the country, had to be repeatedly canceled and rescheduled due to COVID-19. Now, we are finally able to stage the event in Haikou, which is a beautiful city. We are also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Midi Music School.
"It will be the first Midi Music Festival of 2023, and we will tour from south to north, as the weather is already warm in the south."
Shan estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 people will attend the festival each day.
In 2000, the first Midi Music Festival was held at the Midi Music School in Beijing, China's first contemporary music school, which was founded in 1993. Although the bands appearing at the event were relatively unknown, their performances on the first two days of May 2000 attracted about 2,000 fans, who filled the 500-seat auditorium and spilled out into public areas outside.
The festival has since been staged more than 40 times. Venues include Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Jiangsu province, Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, and Shenzhen, Guangdong province. The event has propelled many bands to fame, and nearly all the country's rock stars have performed at it, including musician Cui Jian and Tang Dynasty, one of the nation's first heavy metal bands.
Shan said tickets sold fast after the Haikou festival was announced. The event will include a night devoted to Miserable Faith, one of China's most popular rock bands, whose members mostly graduated from the Midi Music School, including lead vocalist and songwriter Gao Hu, who graduated from the school in 1997 and founded the band two years later.
"At a Midi Music Festival, fans enjoy the diversity of music. We have helped rock stars establish themselves, and more important, we have introduced new bands," Shan added.
In 2021, Miserable Faith announced The Artists' Support Project, a plan to support independent musicians who took a financial hit from COVID-19. The band staged live performances during the pandemic, donating 50 percent of its earnings to support indie musicians, especially new bands.
On March 17, Miserable Faith and three bands from The Artists' Support Project will open the festival in Haikou.
Shan said more new bands from the Midi Music School will make their debuts at the festival in the following two days. "The festival acts as a graduation ceremony for these new bands — it's like a tradition for us," he added.
The festival venue, Evergreen Park, is also a big attraction for audiences, as it is one of the largest parks in Haikou, located in the city center.
"It's such a pleasant experience to go to an outdoor music festival with families and friends to enjoy music in the open air," Shan said. He added that in addition to Haikou, it is planned to stage the festival in more cities this year, including Beijing, Shanghai and Yantai, Shandong province.
Modern Sky, one of China's largest indie record companies, has announced the schedule for its 2023 Strawberry Music Festival, which will make its first stop in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, on March 25 and 26.
One of the nation's largest outdoor music events, the festival was launched by Modern Sky in Beijing in 2010. It will be staged in about 10 cities during the first half of this year. In addition to Wuhan, the event will visit Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi province, Chengdu, the Sichuan provincial capital, and Funing, Jiangsu province.
The acts will include pop singer-songwriters Li Ronghao and Su Yunying, who will make their debuts at the festival.
Rock band Second Hand Rose will also feature at the event. The group made its first appearance at an outdoor music event in Sanya, Hainan, on Jan 27, the fifth day of Spring Festival, before flying to Changzhi, Shanxi, to perform at another open-air festival the following day.
Liang Long, the band's lead singer and songwriter, said: "From the warmth of Sanya to freezing Changzhi, we had a hectic schedule at the start of this year. In Changzhi, my hands were too cold to play the guitar. My face was frozen and I felt as though I couldn't open my mouth, but I really enjoyed the shows."
Due to the pandemic, the band was unable to tour for the past three years, but it featured in movies and television reality shows, unexpectedly winning new fans.
On Dec 31, 2021, the group released a new album and announced a tour schedule for 2022, but all stops on the tour had to be canceled because of the pandemic. Many bands experienced the same problem, which was frustrating, Liang said.
"We will refocus on our music by performing at outdoor festivals, on tours and by working on new songs this year. Lots of exciting things will be happening at the same time," Liang said, adding that the band has a packed schedule for the first half of this year.
Attending outdoor music festivals is popular among numerous people in China, especially the younger generation. Such events are not just for rock fans — they also enable families and friends to have fun together.
The 2019 Tencent Entertainment White Paper, an annual report by Tencent Music Entertainment Group, stated that 257 outdoor music festivals were held nationwide that year. In both 2017 and 2018, more than 260 such events were staged across the country.
With event organizers increasingly bringing outdoor music festivals to more second- and third-tier cities, the events are key to promoting local tourism.
On April 8 and 9, the Nanjing Yangtze River Wave Music Festival, featuring more than 30 groups and musicians, is due to be staged at a large ecological park in the Jiangsu provincial capital.
Li Dongyu, the festival's founder and general manager, said it was launched in 2015, when a two-day event attracted 60,000 people. Second Hand Rose and rock singer-songwriters Zheng Jun and Xu Wei were among the performers.
"The location of the festival is a big draw for tourists, as it features an open view of the Yangtze River," Li said, adding that the pandemic meant the event had to be canceled in 2021 and last year.
Li said the festival is mainly attended by fans from Shanghai and cities in Zhejiang, Anhui and Shandong provinces.
"This year, China's performing arts market will be dominated by outdoor music festivals, which is a good sign for the music industry. We also look forward to the appearance of foreign artists," Li added.
In addition to outdoor music festivals, large-scale concerts will be staged nationwide this year, led by artists such as pop icon Jay Chou, pop-rock band Mayday, and pop stars Li Yuchun, Zhang Jie and Xue Zhiqian.
Last month, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced the resumption of approval for artists from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan applying to perform on the Chinese mainland.
More than 10 of these artists have announced plans to hold large-scale concerts on the mainland this year, the China Association of Performing Arts said.
Before the pandemic emerged, China's performing arts market attracted many artists from home and abroad. For example, Taiwan pop-rock band Mayday staged concerts at the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, in Beijing every summer, starting in 2012. These shows usually sold out within minutes of tickets becoming available.
After a long break due to the pandemic, the nation's performing arts market is recovering. Data from online platform Damai show that tickets for more than 1,000 live music performances are on sale.
Tickets for pop singer-songwriter Li Ronghao's concerts in Nanjing on March 25, Wuhan on April 1, and Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, on April 22, sold out within minutes.
"The tickets for these three stops, involving a total of 80,000 people, sold out," Li said on his Sina Weibo account on Feb 21, expressing gratitude to his fans.
Singer-songwriter Xiaojuan and her band Xiaojuan and Residents from the Valley are due to tour the country next month and in May, visiting 12 cities, including Chongqing, Changsha, capital of Hunan province, and Zhuhai, Guangdong.
Xiaojuan said: "We tried to connect with our fans by giving online performances when we couldn't tour due to the pandemic. Now, we are very happy to return to theaters to perform for our audiences."
On Feb 23, Jay Chou announced he would perform at three concerts in Haikou from June 30 to July 2. Although tickets have yet to go on sale, fans from around the country have started booking flights and hotels.
Data from travel portal Qunar show that from 6 pm on Feb 23 to noon on Feb 24, searches for flights to Haikou almost doubled on the platform, while those for hotel rooms in the city rose twofold.