On drawing crowds to the middle of nowhere, by Ptit Faystival’s Christophe Piette

Claude Lefort (1975), Stéphane Martin (1978), Christophe Piette (1977) and Philippe Delvosalle (1967) are the founders of the yearly Ptit Faystival in the Namur village of Petit Fays, whose 14th edition took place just last weekend. One of our essential stops for this summer’s busy agenda – and consequentally the cover boys for our most recent issue Rebels – we hope you made your way into the deep Belgian countryside this Saturday.

All photography by Thomas Ost (c).

I met Stéphane while we were both living in Louvain-la-Neuve. I was living and regularly hosting concerts at La Ferme du Biéreau, and we both had a fondness for pastoral folk music. We’d been cherishing the idea of hosting a festival in the Ardennes, near where Stéphane was born, but the thought got lost somewhere in the back of our minds. Until Kiila, a Finnish band I was very fond of, proposed a date early July about 14 years ago, to perform in Louvain-la-Neuve. The city being empty in summer, there was no possibility whatsoever to have them play there. That’s when the idea of a festival sprung back to life again, and as it so happened, Claude – a friend of Stéphane who was a native of Petit Fays – already had made the joke of hosting a Ptit Faystival more than a couple of times, which back then was nothing more than a quirky play on words. And that’s when the craziest of coincidences happened: 8th July, the date Kiila proposed to perform in Belgium, happened to also be the date of the yearly village carnival, which meant that all the infrastructure was already in place, except that between 15h and 22h, no activities were planned. So we pitched the band to the village committee and somehow it worked out really well. I guess people came because of our own network, for one. It’s also something that grew over the years.

For us it’s mostly about fun, and about continuing to organise everything ourselves, to function without sponsors of any kind.

People who came were so amazed by the festival, that the next year, they decided to bring their friends, and their friends told their friends, and so on. It’s gotten to a point where we don’t even propose real ‘headliners’ anymore, because we feel that people trust our judgement and our programme. For us it’s mostly about fun, and about continuing to organise everything ourselves, to function without sponsors of any kind. We’re at a steady 500 yearly visitors I believe, and we’re not fostering any ambitions to have 600 attendees next year, for example. If we’d make the festival bigger, it’d immediately be more organised, with more strategy behind it, more pursuit of profit, etc. The programme comes first, always. We never respond to any obligation other than to have artists we love perform for a relatively small crowd and for a small price, too. It’s part of the village carnival, it’s the village committee that pays for the bands, and they keep all the entry fees. We aren’t fostering any ambitions to do more. And here we are, 14 years and counting. We’ve also gotten quite a helping hand from the local DJ in terms of attracting crowds. He goes by the name of New Sensation and has been on DJ duties at the village ball for 35 years now – supposedly his father did the same, except he came with an orchestra instead of with crates of vinyl. Not really knowing what to expect the first year, he came up on stage while we were dismantling the bands’ gear, and he started with four Kraftwerk tracks – something he does every year, as we found out later. And once he feels that the party is really starting, he plays the hunting anthem of St-Hubert, a nearby village where he lives. And that’s precisely when locals literally fall to their knees and start screaming. People come from all over just to see it happen, and it’s helped a lot in terms of notoriety.