Ahead of Muse’s headline performance in Rock In Rio Lisbon tonight, we talk to Vice President Roberta Medina for a history lesson
Cai Trefor
17:30 23rd June 2018

Buy Tickets To Rock in Rio 2019 in Rio de Janeiro

Like Glastonbury, Rock In Rio is a festival fortunate enough to have built a reputation as a destination in itself regardless of the line-up.

Not every festival can do this but the now nomadic Rock in Rio – Rio and Lisbon take turns hosting - has enough of a distinct identity to command a fanbase: It's a creative, technologically advanced rock theme park of sorts, with so much more than music happening. There's places for gaming, places to watch favourite YouTubers, an incredible food court with Michelin-star chefs, a zip line to scream your head off while dangling 100ft above the band playing. And this is to name just a few of the extraodinary things aside from music that make it worthwhile.

But I believe that what draws people to this event more than anything is the respect, and belief in its iconic status as a cultural event. Fans feel good in placing their hard earned dough here because of what it's achieved in the past.

When I was in Rio De Janeiro last year, it was the first time I'd witnessed people kiss the ground as they entered - and this is largely due to the galvanising impact to had on youth culture when it started in 1985.

Lisbon, on the other hand, is less of a longstanding base for the festival but nevertheless people partake in an event run by the same people and they pay tribute to its legacy in doing so.

In order to get to the root of what makes Rock In Rio - and in turn Rock In Rio Lisbon - so legendary I thought it would be good to talk to VP Roberta Medina who is the faughter of the founder Roberto Medina.

And in my desire to learn some of the most basic facts I discover a festival that’s had its fair share of challenges to overcome; and it's a festival that’s changed the social and corporate landscape in Brazil indefinitely. Here’s the conversation that led me to understand that Rock In Rio is so much more than a festival – and how its founders’ burly determination, fed by support from fans, kept it going against the odds:

Gigwise: The first Rock in Rio ( famed for being the first time big rock acts – apart from Queen, who played earlier - played in Brazil) is known to be really important cultural moment in Brazil's history. What was the political situation like in Brazil in 1985 at the time?

Roberta Medina: It was the first year we had a democratically elected president. Two Brazilian bands announced the result that he [Tancredo Neves] won on stage.

GW: Would the festival have been possible if it was not for this being a turning point between a military rule to a civilian government?

RM: Probably not… The problem was not just political; it was also religious. [Even with the democratic government set to take power] they didn’t want Rock in Rio to happen as they were afraid of the power of young people joining together.

Also, my father was very popular public figure, and the mayor at the time decided to destroy the City of Rock because he was afraid Roberto (RIR Founder) wanted to be a mayor or go for election – to the point where it almost didn’t go ahead at all.

The governor and the mayor prohibited the festival mid-construction, just three months before the festival was due to start. Then with a month to go they gave in. So he [Roberto] had to invest a lot more to make it possible.

The way they allowed the first Rock in Rio to happen was with Roberto signing an agreement saying that the next day after the festival was finished he would destroy the venue which he did and. We had a full City of Rock: a 200,000 square meter venue with shopping centre, food court – maybe with not as many activities as today’s version – but it there were a lot since the plan was to have Rock In Rio every year.

The City of Rock was built because my father’s motivation for Rock In Rio was not just music – music was the instrument to call these young people who were looking for freedom of expression for so long. Yet to pull this off for 1.3 million people and then take it down he lost a lot of money and got sick.

GW: When was the next festival after 1985 given this huge setback?

RM: 1991 at Macarana stadium. The 1991 edition was nine days with MTV was broadcasting for 55 million people. But it was not the Rock In Rio he wanted; it was more of a regular gig. People would go to watch many concerts and go home and not hang have the rock city to hang around in.

GW: So how did Roberto get permission to do it in 1991?

RM: He wasn’t planning to do the event at all. It was not possible to build the site. But In ‘91 Brazil was a very different country and the first Rock in Rio opened Brazil to international business and international tours. Essentially, Coca Cola wanted Rock in Rio to happen to stop Pepsi Music becoming strong. In the end he decided he didn't want to do anymore because it was not the Rock In Rio he dreamed of.

Pictured above: Our interviewee Roberta Medina

GW: When was the third?

RM: The third one came ten years after the second one. And throughout those ten years people were asking him to make it happen again. This was because the first edition was such a historical moment for the country. The people who go to the festival in Brazil are bringing their kids, grandkids etc for them to know what Rock in Rio is about. It was really important. It was a mark and a turning point for their lives, something more than a nice event.

GW: Is that why the people kiss the ground when they come inside the gates?

RM: Yes exactly.

GW: You touched the city of rock being much more than a concert – and anything less than that he wouldn’t be involved in. Now the festival in Lisbon and in Brazil is true to his initial dream. What was his motivation to build the festival in this way?

RM: If the invitation was to watch a concert they would watch a concert and then leave, so he created this whole atmosphere where people would arrive early, spend time together and then watch concerts. He placed such strong emphasis on the importance of the audience that my father became the first person to shine a spotlight on the crowd mid-performance. All the big bands – Ac/Dc , Iron Maiden, Queen – all said no when he asked. But he didn’t let that stop him: he placed a spotlight on the stage without anyone knowing and shone it out. It got such a great reaction that it works like this until today. The motivation is proving that it's possible for people of all races, all tastes to be with each other in peace and harmony in the same place – and, for him, music is what proves this. 

GW: Can you name one other thing Roberto instrumental in pioneering besides the way light shows at gigs are produced?

RM: In 2001 – and this was one of the other things that inspired him to bring Rock In Rio back all the years later – he started to use Rock In Rio as a platform to communicate social causes. Social business was not welcomed by brands back in 2000. He wanted to provoke the market and say a company that do more than pay tax and generate jobs. We also invested some of our revenue in a social cause to lead by example, so we could say the business keeps working and the consumer values your business more if you donate to social causes. We did a partnership with UNESCO and a local NGO to educate more than 300 kids who were going into trafficking so they would have more perspective for their lives. We invested in that with one million dollars so that.

GW: Was he the inventor of Corporate Social Responsibility?

RM: Not in the world but in Brazil he was. 

GW: I’ve noticed you’re a big supporter of environmental NGO’s and have pop ups throughout the festival site. What makes Rock In Rio a good platform to promote such causes?

RM: Music and entertainment are good for it. If you get to someone to talk about environment they may shut you off. We open this festival door with the shows and people are very open and having fun and with this door open we give them a little more. We talk to them about something they don’t want to discuss – it's about inspiration.

Gw: The festival famously switches between being held in Lisbon and in Rio. Do you have any plans to make it an annual event in Rio?

No. Every two years works. It makes it more interesting. Half the investment comes from ticket sales and the other half from brands. We're talking 200 million Reias of investment. It's a lot of money. The business model we have means we communicate with people for a year in Brazil. We have to deliver a lot of communications to build expectations. But if we go back to USA - we are still analysing if we go back there - it is probably going to be annual it's a different market. The market is powerful and strong in terms of offers that if you stop a year you lose and we still build the brand.

GW: With regards to the Brazilian edition esepcially, do you have anything in place that opens the gates to who are less well off financially?

RM: In Brazil we have a half-price ticket for students, for elderly people, for professor’s from the public schools and others. But we also give  tickets through public schools and partnerships. People who live in favela’s can also buy the ticket. Don't feel that people who live in favela don’t have purchase power. It's very popular to pay in installments over eight months. We also had 20,000 people working and if they don't come by buying a ticket they will come to work. We also had eight people working who used to be on the streets.

GW: This park used for Rock in Rio Brazil is under scrutiny for not being used after the Olympics. How are you helping alleviate this problem?

RM: Well Brazil is in the biggest economic crisis of its life. The Olympic village where they built 3500 apartments they didn't sell hardly anything. And they are the same guys who own this land. So the point is they don’t have the ability to build because of the crisis.They wanted to launch the first residence building next year but the economy isn't in the right moment. That's where we came in and did an agreement to uss the park for many editions. We have at least one or two more here. We developed the infrastructure and it is also now easier to bring other events to this park for more use.

Gw: Your role is beyond being a festival. It's very impressive Thanks for your time.

Photo: Press / Shutterstock