Organisers and local government are racing to save Tomorrowland after the municipality of Boom unilaterally announced the mega-festival's cancellation
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Two months out, the 2021 edition of Tomorrowland has finally been called off, after ministers failed to convince the local mayor to allow it to go ahead
By Jon Chapple on 24 Jun 2021
In a major blow to the Belgian festival season, there will be no Tomorrowland in 2021, organisers have confirmed.
Despite a last-minute plea from the prime minister of Flanders, the mayors of the towns of Boom and Rumst, where the 70,000-capacity festival has taken place since 2005, are unmoved in their decision not to grant Tomorrowland a permit to go ahead, citing concerns about the safety of local residents.
Although the Belgian government has cleared 75,000-capacity festivals from 13 August 2021, Tomorrowland – which was scheduled for 27–29 August and 3–5 September – confirmed earlier this week that mayors Jeroen Baert (Boom) and Jurgen Callaerts (Rumst) had decreed the event, the world’s largest dance music festival, would not be allowed to go ahead this summer.
A delegation of Flemish and Belgian government ministers headed by Flanders’ minister-president, Jan Jambon, met with Baert and Callaerts on Monday but the pair reiterated their previous decision. “It was a constructive conversation, but our position on the matter does not change,” they say in a joint statement.
According to local media, the ministers had attempted to convince the mayors to issue the permit by saying there would be fewer non-Belgians at Tomorrowland than usual, as well as offering help from the federal and Flemish governments to manage the flow of people and provide rapid Covid-19 testing of guests. But Baert and Callaerts stuck to their guns.
“We cannot reconsider our decision regarding the requested permit”
“After our announcement, we were contacted by Flemish minister of the interior and society Bart Somers, Flemish [minister-president and] minister of culture Jan Jambon and federal minister of the interior Annelies Verlinden to clarify our decision,” reads a press release issued by Baert. “Of course we were happy to discuss this in an open dialogue and it was a very constructive conversation with the three excellencies. We understand, of course, all the economic interests at stake and especially the eagerness with which everyone wants a festival summer back, but the responsibility to ensure public peace, safety and health rests with us as mayors. In view of the current circumstances known to us, we cannot reconsider our decision and our position regarding the requested permit.”
In light of the mayors’ decision, the festival has been forced to throw in the towel, leaving Pukkelpop (19–22 August) as the last remaining major music festival in Flanders in 2021.
“It is with a heavy heart our organisation must announce that the 16th edition of Tomorrowland Belgium cannot take place in 2021,” reads a statement from the Tomorrowland team, which warned earlier this week that a cancellation would have a huge impact on the festival’s thousands of employees, freelancers and suppliers.
“The entire team fought till the end and did everything in their powers to write a new chapter in the history of Tomorrowland. Our dream was to welcome the People of Tomorrow, who we’ve been missing for too long, to celebrate life to the fullest. But unfortunately, the local government has not given the permit to organise Tomorrowland.”
“The main stage was finished … 140 people were working full time to make the festival”
While Somers said this morning (24 June) that Tomorrowland would not have to pay back in full the €1.8 million aid it received from the Flemish government earlier this year, the cancellation still leaves the festival in financial trouble, according to a spokesperson.
“[It] is a lot of money and we are very happy with the support, but it is a drop in the ocean,” Debby Wilmsen tells the Brussels Times, adding that the festival has already cancelled orders worth €50m.
“We were starting up already,” she explains. “The main stage was finished, we had to pay the advances for ordering materials, the delivery of the wristbands had been ordered, 140 people were working full time to make the festival, artists were booked… Organising a festival like Tomorrowland costs a lot of money, and a lot of things have to be paid in advance.”
The second edition of Tomorrowland: Around the World, a virtual festival with Armin van Buuren, Nicky Romero, Charlotte de Witte and other international DJs, will take place on 16 and 17 July. Over 1m people bought tickets for last year’s Around the World event.
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