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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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The show goes on: UK set for huge weekend of music

It’s business as usual for the UK this long weekend, with British festival fans, refusing to be cowed by the threat of terror, gearing up for three days of live music across the country.

While several concerts, including Take That at the Echo Arena in Liverpool and Blondie at London’s Round Chapel, were called off in the aftermath of Monday’s bombing at Manchester Arena, the majority of events have chosen to continue, with many issuing statements on the importance of carrying on as usual.

Among the events going ahead as planned this weekend are pop-punk festival Slam Dunk, in Birmingham, Leeds and Hatfield; We Are Fstvl in London; Margate WonderlandRadio 1’s Big Weekend in Hull; and Liverpool Sound City, which says it will “not be defeated” by the “cowardice” of the Manchester Arena bomber.

Dot to Dot, which includes a Manchester leg, is also still on – Anton Lockwood of promoter DHP Family told IQ on Tuesday “it didn’t occur to us to cancel” amid a mood of “defiance” in Manchester– as are Happy Days festival in Esher, Surrey, and Bestival’s Common People in Oxford and Southampton.

As in France – where, says Live Nation France head of festivals Armel Campagna, seeing live music has become an act of ‘cultural resistance‘ following the Bataclan attack – many promoters say pushing ahead with their events sends a strong message to enemies of live music.

“The message is: ‘The show will go on'”

In a statement, Manchester festival Parklife – organised by LN-Gaiety-owned The Warehouse Project – says it will go ahead as planned on 10 and 11 June and that, “we will not be defeated by such cowardice”.

“We can’t let these people get us down,” adds Common People/Bestival promoter Rob Da Bank. “The message is: ‘The show will go on.'”

Gary Barlow of Take That, meanwhile – whose postponed Liverpool show will instead take place tonight – called upon the crowd to “sing a little louder, reach a little higher and clap our hands a little harder”:

While much of the discussion around the attack has, understandably, largely focused on the security implications for live music, it bears remembering that the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, was, thankfully, unable to gain access to the arena itself.

Speaking to Billboard yesterday, LiveStyle CEO Randy Phillips praised Manchester Arena’s security, saying that “no one can say that venue security wasn’t sufficient”, and expressed his concern that while terrorist attacks remain extremely rare, the abundance of mainstream news coverage “could lead to an exaggerated sense of insecurity among concertgoers”.

One organisation aiming to counter those perceptions is Live DMA, an umbrella body representing associations of venues and festivals in 13 European countries.

“Terrorism can never stop us from making music”

With support from Music Venue Trust in the UK, the association’s venues will tonight at 9.59pm GMT hold a minute’s silence for the victims – followed by ‘One Minute of Noise’ at 10pm.

“Live music is joy and fellowship,” says Live DMA. “We are thousands of venues, festivals and other concert organisers, at thousands of places across Europe, that open our doors for joy, music, freedom and friendship daily – and we will keep them open and let live music go everywhere.

“Our thoughts are with the affected families and our colleagues in the UK live music industry, and we will dedicate our upcoming concerts to the victims of this tragedy, when venues across Europe, together with the audience and artists, will mark the terrorist attack in Manchester with ‘one minute of noise’. Because terrorism can never stop us from making music.”


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