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International Festival Forum 2021 marks a return to form

After 2020’s online-only version, the International Festival Forum (IFF) enjoyed a successful return to a physical event in late September, as more than 600 delegates registered for the event that focuses on booking agents and festivals.

Enthusiasm for IFF was evident at the opening party, hosted by UTA, where many delegates renewed acquaintances with colleagues they had not seen in the flesh since the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) in March 2020.

With agency partners reporting oversubscribed speed-meetings at their pop-up offices around Camden, the conference element included a number of pre-recorded sessions, covering such topics as Your Next Headliner – Climate Action; Festival Playground – the Future of Music Festivals; Festival Insurance in a Post-Pandemic World; and Counting the Cost of Brexit.

The keynote saw CAA’s Maria May interviewing Festival Republic chief Melvin Benn and FKP Scorpio founder Folkert Koopmans, who delivered an optimistic message about the future of the business.

“[Festival Republic] is starting new festivals in 2022… we’ve got to try and keep up with Folkert”

Both men noted that there had been no dialogue between the live music industry and the government prior to Covid, meaning much of the last 18 months had been spent educating politicians and persuading them to help support the business.

Quizzed by May about what could be done to help emerging talent, given that many festival line-ups have rolled over into 2022, Benn revealed that he would be launching new events next year. “I am starting new festivals in 2022,” he said.”I’ve always got to have at least one because I try to keep up with Folkert. So, we’ve got at least one or two next year, and that will give new talent the opportunity to start getting to play to a bigger audience.”

“When I hear that Melvin is doing two or three new festivals, we might do four,” quipped Koopmans. However, he admitted that staffing was a problem and along with spiralling costs it means there will be some tough choices to make, so establishing any new showcase festivals might have to wait.

But he predicted that not only will the 2022 season go ahead, but “It will be the biggest year ever. And I suppose the next years will just grow. I’m super optimistic.”

“There might not be a complete shutdown, but booking a European tour in February, at the height of flu season, will be a huge risk”

Benn concluded that the industry can also take a lead on sustainability. “Now it feels like everybody is on the same page – artists, managers, promoters, agents, suppliers and fans – and collectively there’s a lot we can do together and that needs to be one of the greatest collaborations that the music industry can continue with.”

Elsewhere, The Agency Business panel examined the recently announced CAA and ICM Partners acquisition, with panellists agreeing that the deal could provide opportunities for independent agencies, while former CAA staffer Jon Ollier admitted to being “fascinated” by the merger, noting that CAA will be determined to preserve the company’s culture.

And it was Ollier, now boss of One Fiinix Live, who shared his belief that one potential outcome of the Covid pandemic may be that the industry will lose its winter season. “There might not be a complete shutdown, but booking a European tour in February, at the height of flu season, will be a huge risk. So why not follow the sun around the globe to mitigate that risk?”

ATC Live head Alex Bruford noted that rebuilding consumer confidence would be a major challenge, while he predicted a more flexible approach to touring where acts may put on a series of arena dates at short notice as market conditions change.

“AEG’s Jim King called out the scandal of guest-list ticketing fall-off, which has been 40% on some shows”

The conference’s opener involved a Therapy Session where delegates shared stories from the past 18 months, alongside plans to rebuild and reopen their various markets for live events.

With Barnaby Harrod (Mercury Wheels) and Claire Courtney (Earth Agency) onstage to represent the different parts of the business, those in the room heard a number of tales, with arguably the most inspiring related by Georg Leitner of GLP, who revealed that Syrian refugees are being recruited by security firms in Germany to help that sector get back to full strength ahead of the 2022 season.

Paradigm’s Clementine Bunel, meanwhile, moderated The Roaring 20s? where she and her guests examined whether the rest of the decade could be a golden era for live music. And while the future could indeed be rosy, multiple challenges were identified, not the least of which will be sharp rises in ticket prices to cover spiralling costs – an issue that Lowlands Festival’s Eric van Eerdenburg warned could prevent young fans from attending.

And noting increased drop-off rates at recent live events throughout Europe, AEG’s Jim King called out the scandal of guest-list ticketing fall-off, which has been 40% on some shows, compared to 10-12% normally. “It’s outrageous,” he blasted.

The afternoon and evening programmes at IFF once again featured some of the hottest emerging talent on the rosters of ITB, Earth Agency, Paradigm, Primary Talent & ICM Partners, Marshall Live, X-ray Touring, and ATC Live, while Music Venue Trust used the occasion to bring down the curtain on their nationwide Revive Live Tour, as well as sponsoring the closing IFF party.


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Melvin Benn: “I have reason to feel triumphant”

Just two months after the British government confirmed the full reopening of the country’s live music sector, Festival Republic has completed all seven of its domestic events.

The Live Nation-owned promoter has not only delivered Reading, Leeds, Latitude, Clapham Common, Wireless, Wilderness and Download Pilot – it has also been an integral part of the government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), which paved the way for the UK’s reopening.

On the back of a particularly busy summer, and in advance of Benn’s double keynote interview with Folkert Koopmans at the upcoming International Festival Forum, IQ met with the Festival Republic MD onsite at Wireless Festival to discuss his last event of 2021.

 


IQ: Amid a global pandemic and frequent uncertainty, you may be one of the only festival promoters in the world to pull off seven festivals in 2021. How triumphant are you feeling right now?

MB: It is an achievement. I think I am probably the only one. The team is exhausted because we have had to work incredibly hard to make these festivals happen. We’re sat here on 12 September, exactly two months from 12 July when the prime minister announced that things could open up again. And actually, until the 12 July, as much as we thought something might happen, we didn’t know. So we’ve literally had two months to put everything together. That’s really tough – particularly, on the back of the pandemic and the difficulty with the supply chain and other post-Brexit issues. I’ve got reason to be triumphant.

Today (12 September) marks another significant win for the British live music sector, as the health minister has said vaccine passports will not be required at events. What was your reaction to the news?

If I’m being really honest, our ideal world is no vaccine certification at all. So we’re really pleased about that. Would we have carried on with Covid certification (as a pose to vaccine certification) if we had to? Yes, we would’ve just got on with it because we want to make shows happen. What the health minister appears to have confirmed… is a massive step forward for us. It means that the government is pretty happy with its control of Covid. It’s a great statement for us as an industry too. The UK live music scene is truly open now.

No Covid certification or vaccine certification is a massive step forward for us

Unlike other Festival Republic events, Covid certification and testing were not enforced at Wireless, only recommend. What was the thinking behind that decision?

Two reasons. One is, legally, I don’t need to. Another is, it’s not a camping festival – people weren’t here for lots of days. And tracing the contraction of Covid to a particular location in London is really hard because people move around London so much – especially with the transport. We’re very largely a London audience. It didn’t seem to make any sense from an economic standpoint. All the crew, staff and artists are being tested though.

Wireless moved from Finsbury Park to Crystal Palace Park for this year only. How have you found the new location?

Amazing, really fantastic. It’s a beautiful, historic park and I’ve loved learning things about it, and about the neighbourhood. The beauty of the park is what really drew me to it. It’s also really special to have an audience arena that’s on two levels. I think it’s probably the best sound in London because of the nature of the way the site is. All the agents have been telling me as much.

I think Wireless probably has the best sound in London because of the nature of the way [Crystal Palace Park] is

It sounds like you’ve got an affinity with Crystal Palace Park. Will you be returning in any capacity?

We’re going to go back to Finsbury Park next year with Wireless but I will be returning to Crystal Palace Park. There are a couple of things that I’m looking at… some concert days. I’ve one activity that I think will be really good – a big American thing that I’m very excited about. I’m not able to say what it is but it’s already contracted for mid-July 2022 and then I’m going to build some concert dates around it. I’ve gone into a long term arrangement with the park and the trust and I’m committed to Crystal Palace now.

One pandemic-related problem is international artists dropping out of lineups. Wireless hasn’t just retained its international lineup, it has also included surprise guest features from the likes of Drake. What’s your secret? 

The thing is, hip-hop acts are generally not travelling with so much backline, or a full band. They rehearse in a smaller space. It’s very expensive for a band to rehearse and get hotels and bring crew and a team. Hip-hop has the ability to travel lighter, with fewer people and therefore, for what is one-off shows, it’s still worth travelling. Bands need to be amortising those costs across lots of festivals around Europe. The drop out of American acts has largely been due to mainland Europe not being able to host shows.

We’re going to go back to Finsbury Park next year with Wireless but I will be returning to Crystal Palace Park

Wireless has a storied past with guest features. Why do you think this is?

What’s really nice about Wireless is, it’s exclusively within the genre. Every hip-hop act, grime act, drill act wants to be here and they all know each other and they all feed off each other. They know each other’s songs inside and out so they can come up and guest really easily. That’s a joy. You can feel the buzz in the backstage area. Friends are bumping into friends. It is the festival they want to play.

 


More information about how to attend the International Festival Forum (IFF), along with the full event schedule, is online at www.iff.rocks.

Electric Picnic cancelled: “We have run out of time”

Electric Picnic 2021 has been cancelled following the local council’s refusal to grant the organisers a licence.

The Irish festival was scheduled for 24–26 September at Stradbally Hall Estate, County Laois but, at the beginning of August, the council declined to issue a permit based on “the most up-to-date public health advice”.

Electric Picnic’s promoters, Festival Republic and MCD, had previously petitioned Laois County Council to reverse its decision.

The council has since said it cannot legally revisit its previous refusal of an event licence for Electric Picnic 2021 and that statutory timelines would not allow for the processing of a new application in time for the original date.

“We would not be able to do the festival justice this close to show day”

“We have now run out of time,” the promoters wrote in a statement.

“Regrettably, we have no other choice but to cancel this year’s edition. We would not be able to do the festival justice this close to show day, and it would be unfair to ask ticket holders who’ve stood by us throughout this pandemic to come to EP and not get the full experience they are used to and deserve.”

Snow Patrol, Foals, Chemical Brothers, Rage Against The Machine, Lewis Capaldi, Skepta, James Vincent McMorrow, Denzel Curry were due to perform.

Ticketholders now have the option of obtaining a full refund or holding onto them for next year’s event, scheduled to take place from 2–4 September 2022.

A day before the festival was cancelled, the Irish government announced a new phased reopening plan which Festival Republic and MCD among others have long been calling for.

 


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Ireland’s MCD: “We are angry and disappointed”

MCD Productions boss Denis Desmond says the Republic of Ireland’s live sector is “frustrated, disappointed and angry,” by the prolonged shutdown of the industry.

Industry representatives held a two-hour meeting with ROI’s minister for arts yesterday (18 August) but still, no date was set for the return of live concerts and cultural events.

“There are 35,000 people who are employed in the sector who haven’t worked in 525 days and it’s terrible,” Desmond tells IQ. “It’s very hard on people who have families and mortgages to pay. The government support is a small amount of money. A lot of people are struggling – not only financially but mentally.”

In comparison, the UK’s live industry has been fully open for a month and Scotland lifted most restrictions on 9 August.

Festival Republic director Melvin Benn told RTÉ’s News at One that the failure to allow live music events to return, including Electric Picnic (co-promoted with MCD), is “unnecessary and wrong,” given Ireland’s high vaccination rate.

He went on to say that Ireland’s situation contrasted with “political leadership” in other countries, including the UK. “It isn’t a different virus [in Ireland].”

“What we really need is a full reopening and a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to the UK”

The promoters’ comments come after their event, Electric Picnic, was denied a licence by the local council on the grounds of the current restrictions.

“We’re still looking at the options and we have written to the government asking why they made the decision. We’ve been assured that we’ll get an answer by next Monday so we’ll wait until we get a reply to review what happens next,” says Desmond.

The government has also promised a roadmap for reopening by the end of next week but it won’t be a silver bullet for the industry, says the MCD boss.

“What we really need is a full reopening and a government-backed insurance scheme, similar to the UK,” he tells IQ. “The most important thing about the UK’s scheme is that the insurance package is valid for 12 months because Covid is not going away. We’ve got to learn to live with it but there needs to be support for businesses.”

Desmond believes the lack of support for Ireland’s live music industry – and other markets in Europe – is down to a lack of understanding. “The reality is, there is little understanding of the contribution this industry makes to the economy and to the wellbeing of people,” he says.

The Republic of Ireland’s perceived lack of understanding is likely exacerbated by a lack of representation in political spheres. It was recently revealed that minister for arts Catherine Martin – whose plan to reopen the sector was snubbed by government – is not yet on the cabinet committee on Covid-19.

The Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) says the lack of representation is “disastrous” for the industry.

 


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Ireland’s Electric Picnic presses gov for reopening plan

Electric Picnic is calling on the Irish government to interrupt its summer recess and “immediately issue reopening guidelines,” after the festival was refused a licence for this year’s event.

The event, which would usually take place with 70,000 attendees per day, was scheduled to go ahead from 24–26 September at Stradbally Hall Estate, County Laois.

However, despite the organisers’ proposal to ensure that everyone attending the event would be fully vaccinated and registered in advance for contact tracing, the local council has declined to issue a permit based on “the most up-to-date public health advice”.

The council cited current government guidance in relation to “events of this nature being restricted to an attendance of 500 people only”.

“This was a very difficult decision for the council to make and I’m sure it will be disappointing to thousands of music fans and the live music industry,” says Laois County Council’s chairman, councillor Conor Bergin. “However, in the current climate, it’s the lack of certainty over Covid. We’d all love to see it go ahead but with no certainty, it’s very hard.”

The promoters, Festival Republic and MCD, described the news as a “huge blow and set back to our entire sector, which was mandated to close on the 12th March 2020 (over 500 days ago).”

The statement said that the decision means “the further loss of employment for over 3,000 people, who had clung to the hope that Electric Picnic would bring an end to their period of hardship”.

“This is a huge blow and set back to our entire sector”

“To see Scotland, a country with a similar population and virtually identical vaccine rollout and uptake as our own, only announce yesterday that they were easing restrictions and allowing events such as Trnsmt in Glasgow go ahead in September makes this decision even more difficult to accept,” it said.

It was announced yesterday that Trnsmt was granted ‘gateway event’ status by the government, exempting it from the capacity limit for outdoor events.

The three-day event will take place this September with up to 50,000 non-socially distanced fans per day.

Electric Picnic is now calling on the Irish government to reopen the live music sector “on a phased basis” from 14 August, building to the lifting of restrictions from 1 September onwards.

The organisers say they’re now “reviewing their options” and will be in contact with ticket holders over the next week.

Should Electric Picnic 2021 be cancelled, it will mark two years in a row without the festival. The festival has been staged annually since 2004.

 


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10,000 enjoy moshing without masks at Download Pilot

The organisers of Download Pilot – the UK’s first major camping festival of its kind since lockdown – are hailing it a resounding success and are confident that the test will encourage government to green-light other summer events.

The specially created three-day festival took place over the 18–20 June weekend as part of the second phase of the UK government’s scientific Events Research Programme (ERP). The Download Pilot involved 10,000 metal fans welcomed to the hallowed grounds of rock in Donington Park to enjoy a fully-fledged festival experience with no social distancing, no masks and moshing allowed.

All attendees were required to take both a PCR and lateral-flow test prior to the event, sharing details with the NHS contact-tracing system. Attendees had to show proof of a negative result to enter the festival gates and have committed to submitting a second PCR test five days post-event to help scientists monitor any Covid-19 infection activity.

Headlined by Enter Shikari, Bullet for My Valentine and Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, 40 acts in total from the UK’s world-leading rock scene waived their fees, united by the prospect of moving the live events industry forward and playing in front of an audience for the first time in over a year.

As the last of the fans left the venue today, promoter Festival Republic dismissed any notion that live events are not possible while the Covid-19 pandemic continues. “[This] is 100% evidence that this is not true,” stated managing director Melvyn Benn. “This is a very clear demonstration that you can do it.”

“This is a very clear demonstration that you can do it”

He continued, “It’s really fantastic. I am very heart-warmed by it all. The level of compliance around the testing and requirements we have is absolutely extraordinary. It is coupled with a level of normality that is equally extraordinary when you have been out of it for so long.”

Benn believes the data gathered through the festival will prove similar events can take place this summer. “In fairness, the [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] are on board with the message which is that these things can happen and they can happen safely,” he told reporters.

“What we want from Download is data that scientists can analyse that will effectively reinforce that position, and that data is being gathered and I am certain it will do just that.”

Indeed, another Festival Republic gathering, Latitude, has confirmed it will go ahead for its 22–25 July event, while it’s expected that the Reading and Leeds festivals in August will also proceed as planned.

Benn added that following talks with the DCMS in recent days, he felt “sufficiently encouraged” to push ahead with Latitude and he suggested the UK government is finalising plans to launch a limited coronavirus insurance scheme that will allow other festivals to push ahead with their 2021 editions.

“There is no guarantee, but I believe the government will come forward with a limited government-backed insurance scheme,” he commented. “It wouldn’t be everything that we want, by any means, but it would certainly be enough to encourage us to all get going again.”

“We urge the government to reappraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports”

However, while that optimism will buoy the UK business, any government backing has come too late for Kendal Calling festival, which today criticised the government for delaying the publication of ERP report, as it outlined the decision to shelve its festival for the second year running.

“Without this safety guidance, there are numerous aspects of the festival we cannot plan, and which could lay us wide open to last minute unforeseen regulations or requirements which could scupper an already built festival,” reads a statement on the Kendal Calling website. “Capacity or density restrictions, track and trace protocol, testing regime, Covid certification – a host of unknown actions required, yet potentially requested too late to be implemented.

“Our understanding is that the DCMS are keen to publish the ERP findings and guidance, but that it now does not fit around [the British government’s] communications plan. This is insulting to our entire industry, who have been awaiting the results of a pilot event that took place almost two months ago to inform our approach to staging events safely this summer.

“This has been a frankly devastating 16 months for our industry. If calls for a government-backed insurance scheme had been heeded – as recommended by the DCMS, emulating successful schemes now up and running in other countries – we could have potentially continued to plan and invest in the coming weeks. We take this opportunity to urge the government to reappraise its approach and to listen to the recommendations of its own reports, as the continued lack of leadership hampers the recovery of our live event industry.”

Meanwhile, the iconic Notting Hill Carnival will also not go ahead in 2021, it has been confirmed, for similar pandemic concerns.

 


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Festival Republic planning 10,000-cap. camping pilot

Festival Republic plans to follow up its recent Sefton Park Pilot event in Liverpool with a second test festival, this time with camping, next month.

Sefton Park Pilot, along with Tuesday’s Brit Awards one of two live music events held as part of the UK’s Events Research Programme (ERP), took place on 2 May, welcoming 5,000 fans to Sefton Park in Liverpool for a one-day music festival headlined by Blossoms.

Speaking during IQ’s first Recovery Sessions event yesterday (13 May), Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn revealed that while previous test events in Liverpool, including Sefton Park Pilot and the two club shows held in the preceding days, aimed to show how live entertainment could restart with little or no Covid-19 transmission, the camping festival in June will focus on dealing with an outbreak at the event.

“While the Circus club shows and the Sefton Park Pilot were effectively events that were designed to ensure the enablement of reopening on 21 June,” Benn explained to chair Maria May (CAA), “the camping event, because its three or four days, will actually be about testing the protocol of how to deal with anyone that might have Covid at the event. It’s about testing the protocols around using Covid certification on the NHS [National Health Service] app, and it’s also around testing the protocols of what the SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] scientists here in the UK want, which is at-home testing for all attendees that don’t have the vaccination and that are not immune.”

According to Benn, the festival will take place in the “middle of June” and have a capacity of 10,000 people.

“The camping event will actually be about testing the protocol of how to deal with anyone that might have Covid”

“It’s not like Reading or Lollapalooza Chicago or anything like that, but it’s a decent number, and certainly a number that they can adequately take data from and multiply,” he continued, adding that while “the politicians are a little more reticent”, he is confident “the scientists will persuade them, because [home testing] is the only practical way forward” as long as a large enough proportion of the population are vaccinated. “So, in essence, that’s where we seem to going,” he continued. “Remarkably, the UK government appears to have a coherent plan, and it seems like we’re going in a good direction.”

Benn added that he believes the government are now more concerned about the potential for Covid-19 transmission on public transport than at live events.

“The area that they are significantly most concerned about actually is not so much the venues – they know [the operators] will look after everybody at the venues – it’s public transport. It’s large amounts of people squashed with no circulation on buses coming into Glasgow City Centre, or coming on tubes into Wembley Stadium,” he explained. “I believe that’s the area they are more concerned about, compared to the actual venues themselves, particularly outdoor venues…”

In welcome news for UK festival organisers, the Festival Republic boss also predicted that there should be news on the cancellation insurance front by 14 June, with a government-backed solution potentially in place from mid-July onwards.

IQ subscribers can watch the ‘Industry Heads: Leading the way back’ panel, which also featured AGI’s Marsha Vlasic and ASM Global’s John Sharkey, on demand on the Recovery Sessions mini-site. To subscribe to IQ for just £5.99 a month, click here.

 


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UK festival pilot builds hope for reopening

A successful outcome from yesterday’s 5,000-person Sefton Park Pilot in Liverpool will provide a lifeline to the entire UK live music business by proving that festivals can go ahead safely with no social distancing this summer, organiser Melvin Benn has said.

Featuring music from Zuzu, the Lathums and Blossoms, the one-day music festival took place on 2 May as part of the British government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), following two 3,000-person club nights, dubbed The First Dance, held at Liverpool’s Bramley-Moore Dock on 30 April and 1 May. Like all ERP events, there was no requirement to socially distance or wear a face covering at the three pilots, though all ticketholders required a negative Covid-19 test to gain entry.

Festival Republic MD Benn described the model as a “prototype” to reopen the industry after more than a year without any significant live music events. “Will we always need it? I hope not,” he told IQ, “but we’ve learnt a lot and we’re ready to pass it onto the industry.”

For the Sefton Park event, attendees and guests underwent a supervised lateral-flow test (LFT) at a local tennis centre up to 32 hours before the event. Each test was registered directly with the National Health Service (NHS), and results communicated via text and email within 30 minutes, with a negative test result activating each ticket. An additional testing site was positioned directly outside Sefton Park.

Alongside the lateral flow test, attendees were also encouraged to carry out a government PCR test, mailed by post, with a second test completed up to five days after the show. To motivate fans to complete the post-show test, Festival Republic offered a range of festival ticket prizes as an incentive.

Testing for staff, guests and press was overseen by Caroline Giddings and Solo Agency, one of a number of live music businesses to offer its support to the event, which was pulled together in the space of three weeks. (That’s not quite a record, said Benn – the One Love Manchester show with Ariana Grande was organised in even less time – but it was “pretty quick!”.)

“It’s important for the industry … that events like this happen”

In addition to Festival Republic, “there are people working on it from SJM, from DF, from Cream, from Isle of Wight Festival – it’s a bit of an industry effort,” explained DF Concerts’ Geoff Ellis. “It’s important for the industry and for fans that events like this happen to help us get there.”

For Ellis, who described Sefton Park Pilot as a “monumental occasion”, it was “really surreal being here because it feels dreamlike,” he said. “You’re seeing people from the industry and you bump into them and you’re wondering, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’”

Speaking to IQ, Benn related the event in similar terms, saying organisers, fans and artists alike were conscious of participating in a “historic moment” paving the way towards an overdue return to something approaching normality.

Benn is as confident as he was in summer 2020 that rapid testing (now coupled with vaccinations) is the key to unlocking the return of live events. “It’s something I’ve been saying since June last year, and it’s taken a long time for government to listen, but I think they do believe in it now,” he explained. “They did have faith in this [Sefton Park Pilot], and certainly [from conversations with] the scientific teams from government and outside of government that I’ve been working with, the modelling of this seems to suggest to me that it can work.”

“What we are learning is that a festival isn’t going to need to look different to how it did look, or behave different to how it behaved,” pre-coronavirus, he continued. “Putting on a festival, as any festival promoter will tell you, is a series of hurdles, and we’ve all learnt how to jump every single hurdle that’s ever put in front of us. Covid one is another one. We’ll find ways of overcoming.”

The other hurdle at present, of course, is the non-availability of event cancellation insurance, though Benn expects more news on that front in the coming weeks.

“What we are learning is that a festival needn’t look different to how it did”

“The government provided insurance for this event, to give us the backing we needed, and in doing so they demonstrated there’s a need for insurance,” he explained. “There’s a team working very hard to find a way […] out of this, and hopefully by the beginning of June there’ll be something in place.”

As in Barcelona, where a recent pilot arena show demonstrated a lower incidence of Covid-19 than in the city as a whole, Sefton Park Pilot needn’t record zero cases to be considered a success, Benn continued. “It’s not necessarily about no infections,” he said. “The ideal outcome is that there is no greater spread of the virus in Liverpool than there already was. We want to prove you can have these events and it doesn’t present a greater risk to the area than already exists.”

While interim findings from the ERP events will be reported to the prime minister in a matter of weeks, Benn revealed that a second FR-organised outdoor pilot show is in the pipeline. While details are yet to be announced, it will likely be similar in format to Sefton Park Pilot, and “greenfield, for certain”, according to Benn.

Like Sefton Park Pilot, that second pilot event will again mobilise an army of festival staff and music fans in numbers not seen since the summer of 2019. But Benn, like everyone involved with the pilots, is hopeful those events won’t be a one-off.

“There have been a huge amount of people who made the effort to give up their time for this, and they all put an enormous amount of work into it,” he said. “So what we’re learning, we want to tell everybody – because this is for the whole industry.”

 


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FR announces biggest UK pilot show to date

Sefton Park in Liverpool will host a new music festival, simply called the Sefton Park Pilot, as part of the British government-backed Events Research Programme (ERP).

The ERP, details of which were announced earlier this month, will also include several sporting fixtures, a business conference and a club night, also in Liverpool, among other events. IQ reported at the time that a live music pilot event was still to be announced.

Sefton Park Pilot will take over a small area of the 235-acre park on Sunday 2 May, with performers including Blossoms and the Lathums, as well as Liverpool singer-songwriter Zuzu. After doors open at 4.30pm, concertgoers will not have to socially distance or wear face coverings, given the show’s status as a research study on the transmission of Covid-19 in an outdoor festival setting.

Scientists monitoring the festival, which is being produced by Festival Republic (Reading and Leeds Festivals, Download, Wireless), will observe how crowds mixing outdoors increases the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

Ticketholders will take a lateral-flow test at a community testing site 24 hours before the event, and will have to produce a negative test result to gain entry. Those attending will also be urged to take an at-home PCR test on the day of the event, as well as five days afterwards, to ensure any transmission of the virus is properly monitored.

“This event is not about pushing vaccines or passports – we do not want to limit attendance in any way”

So-called vaccine or health ‘passports’, of the kind being used in Israel, New York and elsewhere, and considered by the EU, are not part of the ERP in Liverpool, though they are being trialled at other ERP events.

“Festival Republic is delighted to be able to support the Government’s efforts to get the live music industry back up and running. The Sefton Park Pilot is a vital, science-led event which will help open up the live music industry in a safe and secure way,” says FR managing director Melvin Benn.

“This event is not about pushing vaccines or passports – we do not want to limit attendance to our events in any way. Working with the government we want to create a universal blueprint for reopening and demonstrate we can do it safely.

“Secretary of state Oliver Dowden and his team at DCMS are showing real commitment to making this a reality by launching the Event Research Programme and the Sefton Park pilot.”

Dowden, who leads the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), says: “We’re one step closer to a summer of live events now our science-led programme is underway. Testing different settings and looking at different mitigations is key to getting crowds back safely and the Sefton Park Pilot is an important addition to the programme.

“After many months without live audiences, Festival Republic are bringing live music back to fans with this very special event and I hope it won’t be too much longer until gigs are back for good.”

“I hope it won’t be too much longer until gigs are back for good”

Under the current ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, the British government hopes to lift all restrictions on gatherings and events after 21 June.

“It is good to see Liverpool bringing a live, outdoor music festival to the Events Research Programme. The festival in Sefton Park will make the most of an iconic, accessible fresh-air venue,” comments Prof. Iain Buchan, dean of the Institute of Population Health at the University of Liverpool. “Restarting this part of community life is important to society’s wellbeing and therefore is of public health importance, as well as minimising Covid-19 risks.”

“Live music is a vital part of so many people’s lives,” Benn continues. “This event is the first step in getting festivals back on track this year. It’s about demonstrating our absolute commitment that we can and will open on 21 June.

“We want to get festival fans back at events safely this year. We all need a summer of live music.”

Tickets for Sefton Park Pilot, which may only be purchased by residents of Liverpool, are on sale now, priced at £29.50.

The poster for the event, which shows the festival-style ‘big top’ venue in which the concerts will be held, is pictured below:

Sefton Park Pilot poster


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New UK festivals seek to ‘reinvent the wheel’

The UK is to gain a number of new festivals this year, each boasting a concept that puts a spin on the traditional greenfield affair.

Velio Festival is hoping to reinvent the wheel by bringing together cycling, music, comedy, gastronomy and wellbeing across a three-day event.

The debut edition is projected to take place from 17–20 September in the grounds of Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire.

Five cycling routes will be set out around the castle’s grounds, varying from 3km to 100km to cater for cycling enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.

The line-up is yet to be announced, but organisers have promised performances from international artists and comedians across the festival’s five stages.

The festival will also offer a physical wellbeing programme comprising talks, workshops, wood-fired hot tubs, yoga, meditation, wild swimming, walks, runs and games – plus an array of gastronomical offerings; feasts, long-table banquets, award-winning chefs, local produce and speciality bars.

Velio Festival is for “the late-night dancers, early morning meditators, weekend feasters and mid-week riders”

Organisers say the event is for “the late-night dancers, early morning meditators, weekend feasters and mid-week riders”.

The event is the concept of Mustard Media, which has grown festivals worldwide including Afronation, Lost & Found, Elrow, and locally Manchester Pride, Parklife, The Warehouse Project and Lightopia.

One Island Festival is also set to make its debut this September (3–5) on a 380-acre private island in Essex.

Touted as ‘the UK’s very own island getaway’, the hyper-exclusive festival will host a maximum of 500 people across 23 island properties including yurts, bell tents, village cottages, penthouses, courtyard apartments and manor houses.

The three-day event, organised by global party brand Candypants, will cater to fans of disco, R&B and hip-hop with sets from Chesqua, Colin Francis, Dave Robinson and Drew Moreland.

Tickets for the festival start from £497.50 plus booking fees for a basic bell tent.

One Island Festival is to make its debut on a 380-acre private island in Essex owned by record producer Nigel Quentin Frieda

Elsewhere in the UK, London’s newest event Yam Carnival promises a unique combination of carnival and music festival and ‘an unrivalled celebration of black culture from around the world’.

Produced by Festival Republic, Smade Entertainment and Event Horizon, the one-day festival will pay tribute to afrobeat, hip-hop, dance, afro-swing and R&B.

The inaugural edition on 28 August at Clapham Common will feature performances from Davido, Kehlani, Ari Lennox, IAMDDB, Ms Banks, Princess Nokia and Nao across three stages, ‘Carnival Stage’, ‘Afrika Shrine Alive’ and ‘Afrotronic’.

The celebration of black culture will extend to the festival’s F&B offering, which will comprise ‘traditional home comforts and contemporary bites’ from African-influenced food trucks and chefs from around London.

General release tickets starting from £65 are now on sale.

 


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