The challenge of booking Foo Fighters for Abu Dhabi F1: 'They operate like a Swiss watch'

Flash Entertainment chief executive John Lickrish on putting together this year’s after-race concert line-up

When the image of Foo Fighters was beamed on Ain Dubai on Wednesday evening, announcing the rockers' Abu Dhabi F1 concert on December 12, the crowd cheered.

Flash Entertainment chief executive John Lickrish also breathed a sigh of relief.

Not only did the announcement finalise another impressive Yasalam After-Race Concert series line-up, featuring RnB star Khalid on December 9, grime rapper Stormzy on December 10 and British soul singer Lewis Capaldi on December 11, it also capped Lickrish’s most challenging year yet in terms of signing acts for the big race.

Contrary to popular belief, he says many major artists have been busy during the pandemic.

“It allowed them to focus on things they never really had time to do because of incessant touring,” Lickrish tells The National.

“Whether it’s working on everything from their sponsorship deals and fashion lines to television production companies – like Drake for example – and working on albums, they have been very active.”

Meticulous guitar heroes

Another reason acts are avoiding the stage, despite major territories such as the US and the UK reopening their live events sectors, is they are cooling their heels before a busy 2022 season.

“Next year is going to be really big because North America and Europe are starving when it comes to live music, as well as Asia, when that opens up," says Lickrish.

"So we had to work hard to convince artists it is worthwhile to make the trip to Abu Dhabi, which, for some acts, is just one show instead of part of a tour.

"Fortunately, the reputation the city has built over the years and the association with Abu Dhabi F1 made it easier."

When it comes to Foo Fighters, arguably the world’s biggest touring band at present, and recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Lickrish says negotiations had been ongoing for five months.

However, once the deal was signed, things progressed quickly.

“What I always find interesting is that it is always the rock groups that are the most hardcore when it comes to organisation," he says.

“When you are dealing with Foo Fighters, every single detail is organised. They are meticulous and check everything from the configuration of the stage and having the required gear to the loading to the venue.

“This is why their tours have always been massive and successful, because they operate like a Swiss watch."

From Beyonce to Khalid

Another source of satisfaction regarding this year’s concert line-up is that it stays true to the Abu Dhabi F1 ethos of offering something for everyone.

Seasoned concertgoers will spot a pattern stretching right back to the inaugural After-Race Concerts in 2009 at Etihad Park.

The first of its kind to take place in any Formula 1 race, the programme opened with then-burgeoning solo star Beyonce on the Thursday, with the next three nights featuring funk group Jamiroquai, indie music darlings Kings of Leon and rock titans Aerosmith, respectively.

Abu Dhabi - November 1, 2009: Aerosmith performs during the final day of the FORMULA 1™ ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX on Yas Island .( Philip Cheung / The National )


 *** Local Caption ***  PC00379-Aerosmith.jpg

The success of those shows not only led Singapore to adopt the model for its own races from 2010, but also formed the artist blueprint for subsequent Abu Dhabi F1 concerts.

"Those first concerts and the energy and excitement they had really set the tone going forward," says Lickrish, who started Flash Entertainment in 2008.

"That means that normally on Thursdays we try to do something for a younger audience. Then Friday we ramp up the energy even further, and on Saturday we try to add something more mellow and soulful.

"And when it comes to Sunday, it is all about that big emotional release and it’s an artist with a huge catalogue of anthems that really gets the crowd involved.”

Abu Dhabi - October 29, 2009: Beyonce performs at Ferrari World for the opening day of the FORMULA 1» ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX on Yas Island. ( Philip Cheung / The National )


 *** Local Caption ***  PC00216-Beyonce.jpg

The format has been a hit with crowds and the artists.

“The Thursday slot is designed for us to experience a future superstar,” Lickrish says.

“When Beyonce played on that day in 2009 in front of more than 40,000 people, it was the biggest show of her career and she was so pumped. At the end of the show her smile was so big and heartfelt.

“Khalid is a great choice for that because he is a star already and his potential to be bigger is huge.”

Abu Dhabi is back

The resumption of the Abu Dhabi F1 After-Race Concerts, which last year were cancelled as a Covid-19 safety measure, is particularly resonant for Lickrish: it will mark the first show to be held at Etihad Park since the booking of pop star Bruno Mars for a 2019 New Year’s Eve concert.

That sentimentality, however, is undercut by the realities of having had to refurbish the vast open-air venue.

“Concert spaces have to be continually used or they become rusty and we just completed a massive renovation of Etihad Park," he says.

"All the health and safety checks have been completed to reflect the realities of today, with sanitisation stations and appropriate signage."

And with authorities announcing all concerts can run at full capacity, Lickrish hopes they mark the resurgence of large concerts in the UAE capital.

“The show sends a message to the industry that Abu Dhabi is really back in business,” he says.

“And with such a big year ahead in 2022, with massive markets in Europe, North America and Australia opening up, we stand to benefit as we hopefully get some major acts on the way through.”

More information on all the Yasalam After-Race Concerts is available at yasmarinacircuit.com

Updated: November 18th 2021, 5:59 AM