By now, we've all seen the drama surrounding Phil Anselmo's controversial incident last month where he shouted "white power." The incident is currently being used by the French government as an excuse to deny Hellfest a grant, with the argument that the fest is promoting hate crimes by not dropping Anselmo's band.
As someone who has a long history of working with the festival, here's an insider's perspective on what's going on. While I don't seek to represent Hellfest, I do volunteer for them and I've had the chance to run around the sumptuous backstage areas of the festival for a few years now.
Before you think that “the French government is withdrawing their funding because of Phil Anselmo” would have a negative impact on Hellfest, you might be well served with some publicly available (but largely French-only) information I've paid special attention to due to my relationship with the organization. These core details bring us to something we all need to understand before going forward:
The Pays-de-la-Loire region took away its 20,000 euro grant to the festival.
The Hellfest budget is 16 million euros!
The Pays-de-la-Loire region was barely funding a tenth of one percent of the festival. Considering the scale of this whole thing I hardly think that his is going to pose a problem to the organizers. Instead it is, as Mr. Barbaud so graciously pointed out in his letter, another example of conservative French people being paranoid about the festival, despite the fact that Hellfest provides a huge percentage of the region's annual income. Hellfest sees enough attendees every year that it actually one of the biggest cities in France for a few days. All of these people pay a ton of money to go and enjoy themselves. It's a massive tourist attraction too, with thousands attendees flying in from all over the world. What I'm trying to say is that Hellfest doesn't need the regions stinkin' money. Hellfest is so influential in Europe to the point that most bands not playing Hellfest won't even tour in France in June or July because of the vacuum it creates.
What I'm trying to say is that Hellfest doesn't need the regions stinkin' money.
I hope you noticed that I keep referring to the region and not the country. The nation of France has never supported Hellfest financially. In the words of a key Hellfest organizer, Yoann Le Nevé, "Hellfest is probably the least subsidized festival in France!" In light of recent events the festival has – as far as I can tell – cut off all ties to any sort of state-sponsored funding. This doesn't make a lot of sense for the nation of France. With 152,000 paying festival goers ever year it seems pretty obvious that this is a big deal financially for the region. I mean – as early as 2013 you can find interviews saying that hotels were regularly packed out at thirty kilometers from the festival!
The region was really just looking for an excuse to withdraw money from Hellfest. There have been many attacks on the festival, legal and otherwise. Last year, a Christian group vandalized the grounds and received minimal legal recourse and a few years before that a scathing television documentary was released that my conservative French grandparents still harass me about to this day. While European nations tend to be more supportive of heavy metal, France has never really seen that kind of support and has had a much harder time developing bands for the international stage. Of course, that's an article for a different day.
Ultimately, Phil fucked up. Hellfest remaining by his side is a strong gesture, take it as you will. Of my French friends, and really my European friends as a whole, I'm seeing an outpouring of solidarity for Mr. Anselmo, even in light of recent events. Why? Because in Europe people have to deal with neo-nazi's on a much more regular basis than here in the states. They have to face far right movements threatening to come in and take away years of social progress. They can identify malicious intent. In fact, Hellfest demonstrated this in previous editions of the festival where they kicked off Anal Cunt and Satanic Warmaster for some of their political affiliations. But that is neither here nor there. All I hope is that – given the frustrating lack of English-language info on current events I could be a help in understanding the situation at hand.