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Festivals axed after UK lockdown easing delay

As predicted, a number of UK festivals, among them Black Deer in Kent, have been forced call off their 2021 events at the last minute after yesterday’s government U-turn on lifting remaining coronavirus restrictions on 21 June.

Black Deer, which has a daily capacity of 10,000, was scheduled for 25–27 June, having already postponed by a week to be after the 21st, the final date for lifting all restrictions in England under the UK government’s now-abandoned roadmap. The Americana event, which debuted in 2018, would have featured a line-up that included Van Morrison, Robert Plan’s Saving Grace, Jake Bugg, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Imelda May, Band of Skulls and Foy Vance.

Trade body LIVE had warned that any delay to the 21 June reopening date would wipe an estimated 5,000 concerts, festivals and events from the calendar and cost the live music industry hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenues.

“We can’t quite put into words how we are feeling right now,” say Black Deer organisers on social media. “The delay by the government on the easing of restrictions means we’re unable to bring you Black Deer Festival 2021. It’s devastating news for all connected with Black Deer. But we’ll be back in 2022.”

Elsewhere, several other smaller events have also thrown in the towel, with Glastonferry (5,000-cap.) in Warrington, Bingley Weekender (5,000-cap.) in West Yorkshire and Noisily (2,000-cap.) in Leicestershire among other festivals saying the four-week delay makes their 2021 events untenable.

A statement from Noisily, scheduled for 8–12 July, says: “It is with heavy heavy hearts that we write this message. Today’s announcement was the one that we dreaded – a delay to the release from Covid restrictions. The woods and fields in which Noisily takes place are a part of a working farm, meaning that there is no scope to delay until later in the summer, which means that Noisily 2021 cannot go ahead.”

“We can’t quite put into words how we are feeling right now”

“We know how gutting this is for you all,” organisers continue. “We needed that soul food of meeting in the woods once again, and after pouring our heart and soul into the event on a wing and a prayer, hoping against hope – to have all of that dashed again is beyond devastating.”

Other festivals under threat include popular Sheffield event Tramlines (30,000-cap.), which begins on 24 July, just five days after the new ‘freedom day’.

As the Sheffield Star reports, “that means it could legally still go ahead if the government sticks to the new date”; however, “any further postponement of lockdown easing would force its cancellation, with the existing limit on capacity for outdoor events standing at 4,000, leaving little time to react should that happen.”

Latitude (35,000-cap.), meanwhile, is still on at the time of writing, according to Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn.

In an update posted to the Latitude Twitter account, Benn asks ticketholders to give the company “a little more time” to digest yesterday’s announcement, saying that a decision on the festival should be made by the end of the week. However, the delay doesn’t mean “the end of our hopes for Latitude this year”, says Benn.

Latitude 2021, headlined by Wolf Alice, the Chemical Brothers and Bastille, takes place from 22 to 25 July.

 


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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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Wireless cancels as more UK fests call time on 2020

Festival Republic’s Wireless Festival and an open-air the 1975 show are the latest losses to the UK’s 2020 summer calendar, in a week that also saw Oxfordshire’s Cornbury Music Festival and metal event Bloodstock move to 2021.

The UK’s summer festival season is looking increasingly uncertain, as organisers wait for the government to reveal details of its exit plan. The country has been in lockdown since 23 March.

“Wireless Festival will no longer be taking place this year,” reads a statement from organisers. “As you know we’ve been closely monitoring this unprecedented situation, and it’s become clear that cancelling is unavoidable.

“Subject to contract, Wireless Festival will be back next year on 2 to 4 July 2021 and will be worth the wait,” continue organisers, urging fans to “keep your eyes peeled” for news on the virtual edition of the festivals.

The urban music event, which had booked ASAP Rocky, D-Block Europe and Lil Uzi Thug for this year, has encountered licensing restrictions imposed by the local council around its home in Finsbury Park.

The promoter has also announced the cancellation of an eco-friendly show by the 1975 at Finsbury Park, scheduled for 11 July. The show, which was also to feature Charli XCX, Clairo and Pale Waves, was set to be the Manchester band’s biggest show ever.

“We’ve been closely monitoring this unprecedented situation, and it’s become clear that cancelling is unavoidable”

Festival Republic had previously called off the 2020 outings of Download Festival, set to feature Kiss, Iron Maiden and System of a Down, and Latitude, which had a line-up including Liam Gallagher, Haim and the Chemical Brothers.

This week also saw the cancellation of the 20,000-capacity Cornbury Music Festival, which was to feature Dido, Jack Savoretti and the Waterboys, as well as Judas Priest-headlined metal festival Bloodstock. Organisers say the event will be back for a bumper five-day edition in 2021.

Other major UK festivals to cancel due to the coronavirus outbreak include Boomtown (Wu-Tang Clan, Underworld, the Libertines), Bluedot (Bjork, Metronomy, Groove Armada), Black Deer (Wilco, the Waterboys, the Dead South) and Y Not Festival (Royal Blood, Richard Ashcroft, Bombay Bicycle Club), adding to cancellations of AEG Presents’ All Points East and British Summer Time Hyde Park, Live Nation’s Parklife, Lovebox and Isle of Wight Festival, and Glastonbury Festival.

In Scotland, which has limited self-government within the UK, DF Concerts’ Trnsmt (Courteeners, Liam Gallagher, Lewis Capaldi) and Regular Music’s Summer Nights at the Bandstand (Rick Astley, Van Morrison, Primal Scream) cancelled after first minster Nicola Sturgeon suggested public gatherings would be banned for the foreseeable future.

In the neighbouring country of the Republic of Ireland, festivals including Longitude and All Together Now cancelled last month, as the government announced a blanket ban on events over 5,000 people until 31 August, although it recently indicated that smaller events would be permitted from 10 August.

 


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UK sell-outs down as slow festival season looms

Festival bosses have identified economic uncertainty, homogenisation and difficulty booking talent as the likely factors behind Britain’s slow festival season, as the UK festival business braces for a quieter-than-normal summer.

At a time of year when most summer events expect to be approaching capacity, of the major May–June festivals only Glastonbury Festival and Manchester’s Parklife have sold out – with tickets still available for heavy hitters like All Points East (24 May–2 June), Field Day (7–8 June), Isle of Wight Festival (13–16 June) and Download (14–16 June).

A number of events are also appearing on discount sites such as Groupon, while several festivals are currently advertising two-for-one ticket offers on social platforms.

While the majority of festival professionals quizzed by IQ say their 2019 ticket sales are softer than previous years, opinions are divided as to why, and the broader implications for the UK’s mature festival market.

“We’re OK – we’re probably going to end up 10 to 15% on last year, which is where we wanted to be,” says Oliver Jones, who – alongside his wife, Kate Webster – runs Yorkshire’s Deer Shed Festival (11,500-cap.), which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. “But there are plenty of events on our radar who aren’t doing so well.”

Jones says the festivals “that are selling out, and will continue to, are independent, and the owners really care about the experience. Look at Green Man, for example – they put hospitality right at the top of the things their festival should offer, and look after people.”

“There does seem to be a general slowdown on ticket sales”

Another festival boss laments that too many events share a booker, with the result that festival line-ups are becoming increasingly samey. “You can make a Venn diagram,” they say, “with a handful of bands. One festival will have Elbow and Doves and Franz Ferdinand, another will have Doves and Franz Ferdinand but no Elbow, and so on… Too many festivals now are just homogenised.”

Gill Tee, co-founder with Debs Shelling of Kent’s Black Deer Festival, says the Americana event, now in its second year, is “going great guns”: “Fortunately for us we are currently on track, and do not seem to be too affected by the challenges other festivals are experiencing this year.”

“With [her] supplier head on”, as co-founder and director of Entertee Hire, Tee says “there does seem to be a general slowdown on ticket sales. I have heard many opinions as to the reasons why, but in reality nobody really knows. There have been years in the past that have shown a general slowdown on the appetite for attending festivals, which has then lifted the year after.”

Conversely, for Paul Reed, CEO of the 65-strong Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), while some members are “a bit slower than usual”, the 2019 season is largely “a mixed bag, as always”.

“I’m not seeing any dramatic changes, but there might be a cloud of Brexit uncertainty affecting people’s buying habits,” Reed explains. “And, as always, festivals are at the mercy of who’s out and touring – ultimately, line-ups are dictated by who’s available.”

Tee largely attributes 2019’s slowdown to “the amount of choice [in festivals] people now have, and they probably just buy later because they can.”

“It’s mad to spend all your budget on one or two bands, when no act is liked by everyone”

Meanwhile, Reed notes that, with artist fees still spiralling, many of AIF’s members have given up on the headliner “arms race” altogether, with several events having “stepped out of playing that game completely”.

That’s true of Deer Shed, adds Jones, who says he’s “not prepared to play that game with headliners anymore”. Topping the family friendly festival’s line-up for its tenth year are Ezra Furman, Anna Calvi and Australian indie-rockers Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, with money that would have gone on booking a single huge musical headliner instead invested in hospitality, facilities and comedians such as Reginald D. Hunter, Milton Jones and Nina Conti.

Outside the big corporate events, the UK festivals that succeed in future – even in slow years – are the focused, niche events with a strong identity and loyal fanbase, suggests one industry insider.

“Look at 5,000-or-so-capacity festivals like [experimental rock event] ArcTanGent or [Herefordshire music and arts festival] Nozstock,” they say. “Nozstock in particular is doing really well now. I think the penny has dropped that it’s not all about the headliners, and if you go to these kind of events you feel valued and you’re going to have a unique experience.”

“It’s mad to spend all your budget on one or two bands, when no act is liked by everyone,” they conclude. “So you’ve got to adapt. Of course, you can have a great festival if you’re prepared to lose a million pounds – but most of us don’t have that luxury.”

 


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Independent Festival Awards 2018 winners revealed

Following research released yesterday showing independent festivals added over £1 billion to the UK economy from 2014 to 2017, the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has revealed the winners of its Independent Festival Awards 2018.

Hosted by Glastonbury Festival’s general counsel, Ben Challis, the awards ceremony took place at 92 Burton Road last night (6 November) following the first day of AIF’s Festival Congress. Winners included Black Deer Festival (new festival on the block), Henge (live act of the year), the Data Mine at Shambala (unique festival arena) and Truck Festival (smart marketing campaign).

In addition, the late director of Sheffield’s Tramlines, Sarah Nulty, was posthumously honoured with the outstanding contribution award. Nulty passed away after a short illness earlier this year, aged 36. Donations were collected on the evening for Weston Park Cancer Charity and Cavendish Cancer Care, which provided care and support for Nulty during her illness.

The act of independence award was handed to Southbank Centre’s Meltdown Festival for replacing Frightened Rabbit’s set at the event with a panel on mental health awareness following the death of singer Scott Hutchison earlier this year.

“The Independent Festival Awards was an outstanding celebration and an emotional evening”

Nominations were put forward to AIF’s 65 member festivals and then determined by a Festival Congress steering group vote.

AIF CEO Paul Reed says: “The Independent Festival Awards was an outstanding celebration and an emotional evening. Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees, who help reaffirm that the independent festival sector is in an incredibly strong place.

“I’m especially grateful to the Tramlines team and the family of Sarah Nulty for working with us to honour her incredible achievements and convey the admiration for Sarah that runs throughout the festival community.”

A full list of winners is available from the Festival Congress website.

 


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Entertee launches new UK Americana fest, Black Deer

UK event production outfit Entertee Events has announced the launch of Black Deer, a new “celebration of all things Americana and country” set to debut at Eridge Park, near Tunbridge Wells in East Sussex, this June.

Headliners for the new event, set to take place from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 June, are Iron & Wine, Passenger and Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit, with Ward Thomas, Eric Bibb and John Moreland also on the bill and more to be announced soon.

Complementing the music line-up will be “an array of authentic Americana-style meats, smokey whiskeys, bespoke custom bike showcases [and] storytellings from cultural pioneers”, say promoters, bringing “an authentic, roots-style line up to the UK”.

Kent-based Entertree is co-founded by Gill Tee, who was festival director for Vince Power’s Hop Farm and also produced four editions of Party in the Park for Capital Radio. She says, “having been in the music industry for many years, producing events for other people”, she is “proud to finally take a giant step to having a festival of my own”.

“That’s what Black Deer is all about – bringing passionate, like-minded people together through authentic good times”

“Set in a beautiful part of the world that I know and love, with a genre of music that holds so many memories for me, is really exciting, as well as extremely challenging,” she comments. “I hope that Black Deer can bring to a wider audience all the love and warmth that I feel about about our festival. All the characters who make up our wider team have the same ethos. We are all working together to ensure that anyone who steps foot into the world of Black Deer will want to come back for many years in the future.”

Deborah Shilling, Black Deer co-promoter and Entertee’s other co-founder, adds: “Black Deer is the coming together of all the things I love and value in life. Things that all have one thing in common: authenticity. From real Americana and country music to honest, wholesome food and drink and the raw beauty of the great outdoors, where the experience of being a mum to two young boys has allowed me to be part of designing a natural playground full of family fun and adventure.

“But more [than that], I love that feeling of being part of a community. And that’s what Black Deer is all about for me – bringing passionate, like-minded people together through authentic good times.”

Adult weekend tickets, priced at £115 (tier one), are on sale now from blackdeerfestival.com.

 


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