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UK festivals plot comebacks as optimism grows

A growing number of UK festival operators are confident their events should take place in some capacity this summer, bolstered by plans to allow full-capacity outdoor shows in England from June (as well as a viral tweet from Reading and Leeds Festivals).

British prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (22 February) that all lockdown measures should be lifted in England from 21 June, theoretically allowing large outdoor events such as festivals to take place with no restrictions. Industry response to the announcement was largely positive, though live music businesses and associations are seeking more clarity as to what will be possible.

Speaking after the announcement, Paul Reed, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals, said he is “optimistic that many of our member festivals may be able to go ahead in some capacity later on this year. There are still, however, some urgent points of clarity that need to be made around the exact requirements that festival organisers will need to meet, in particular around testing and Covid certification.”

Also optimistic about this summer is Festival Republic, which tweeted yesterday that, “following the government’s recent announcement”, its Reading (105,000-cap.) and Leeds Festivals (75,000-cap.) “can’t wait to [welcome] fans back to the fields” this summer:

The sister festivals are scheduled for Friday 27 to Sunday 29 August and boast a largely British line-up, though there are several international artists – including Americans Madison Beer, Fever 333, Ashnikko and, notably, headliner Post Malone – booked to perform.

“We cannot wait to open our gates and welcome both fans and artists”

Speaking to the NME last month, Festival Republic managing director Melvin Benn said that while the festival sector is relying on “the vaccine first and testing second”, his ‘Full-Capacity Plan’ would allow for major events to go ahead even before the UK achieves herd immunity to the virus. “It could be a mix of both,” he explained. “I feel that we can get away with shows purely on testing. It’s immensely hard work, but operationally doable and hopefully unnecessary. The Full Capacity Plan was always based on verification of being clear of Covid, or clear of being in danger of Covid.

“The vaccination, and verification that you’ve had it, would give you that safety of knowing that you’re not going to get super ill. It will work, providing that they can get the majority of the people in the country vaccinated, and as long as there are enough people at the event who have been vaccinated.”

Among the other UK festivals that have indicated they will take place this summer – all after the key date of 21 June – are pop-punk event Slam Dunk, Americana weekender Black Deer, drum’n’bass festival Hospitality Weekend in the Woods and a new one-day London event, Wide Awake.

Slam Dunk said on Tuesday (23 February) that both Slam Dunk North in Leeds and Slam Dunk South in Hatfield (both 22,000-cap.) would be pushed back to September from their original dates in May.

In a statement, the independent festival said it had already predicated that the original dates would not be feasible and had, “of course, been working hard on rescheduled dates”.

Slam Dunk has yet to announce its 2021 line-up although organisers say it should “remain very similar” to 2020’s cancelled event, which would have featured Sum 41, Don Broco, NOFX, Billy Talent, the Used and more.

“Following the government’s recent announcement, we can’t wait to get back to the fields this summer”

Black Deer, meanwhile, is taking place just a week after originally planned, returning to its 20,000-capacity Eridge Park site in Kent on 25–27 June.

The 2021 festival is headlined by Van Morrison, Wilco, the Waterboys and Robert Plant’s band Saving Grace, with other performers including Lucinda Williams, the Dead South, Imelda May and Drive-By Truckers.

Speaking to Access All Areas, Black Deer promoter Gill Tee said the festival is “planning for a full-capacity event” in June, and that “ticket sales are moving towards that number”.

Wide Awake, a new festival of “leftfield indie, post-punk, electronic, techno and jazz” which was originally due to debut in 2020, takes place on 3 September at Brockwell Park in south London (formerly home to Field Day) with artists including Black Midi, Songhoy Blues, Tinariwen, A Certain Ratio and Erol Alkan.

Organiser Marcus Weedon, who co-founded Field Day in 2007, comments: “We’re incredibly excited to finally be able to bring this very special show to London this September. It’s been a tough year for everyone, not least the festival and event industry, and we have been working very hard to ensure Wide Awake is brilliantly curated with the safety of everyone at the forefront.

“We cannot wait to open our gates and welcome both fans and artists in what is going to be an incredibly special event this year.”


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#FestivalsStandUnited: European festivals bullish on 2020

Some of Europe’s biggest independent music festivals have put out an open letter to fans and the business stating that they expect to go ahead with their events this summer, and that in doing so they will “be a crucial part of the survival of this industry”.

Under the heading ‘Festivals Stand United Across Europe’ (#FestivalsStandUnited), events including Roskilde Festival (27 June–4 July), Primavera Sound (3–7 June), Rock en Seine (29 August–1 September), Bilbao BBK Live (9–11 July), Bergenfest (10–13 June), Exit Festival (9–12 July), Melt Festival (17–19 July) and NorthSide (4–6 June), as well festival association Yourope, say they “expect to carry through our festivals this summer”, with all standing “united to make it a safe and sound experience for our participants and the outside world.

“It’s about taking responsibility for the events – and it’s about taking responsibility for the industry we’re part of.”

Many of the signatories’ host countries are currently in lockdown due to coronavirus – Denmark, for example, prohibits gatherings of more than 100 people, with similar restrictions in place in France – but the festivals are optimistic the outbreak will be contained and reversed by the start of the summer season.

The letter says that while the festivals will ultimately follow experts’ medical advice and obey the local authorities, they owe it to the industry’s smaller players and freelancers, who are among the hardest hit by the current downturn, to play their part in the live music food chain.

“By carrying through our festivals this summer, we can be a crucial part of the survival of this industry”

“It’s an industry in which we, as major festivals, are the final part of a food chain where the smaller players – the artists, the venues, sound and light production and many more – are already suffering from the serious situation we are in,” it continues. “They suffer so much that they may not be able to recover if they are not given the opportunity to be a part of festivals like ours.

“By carrying through our festivals this summer, we can be a crucial part of the survival of this industry.

“We owe it to the community, the music, the art and the culture to assume responsibility together.”

Glastonbury aside, Europe has yet to see any major 2020 festival cancellations or postponements, unlike in the US, where Coachella, Bonnaroo and BottleRock are off, and Latin America, where the various Lollapaloozas have been pushed back to later this year.

Read the festivals’ open letter in full here.


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