Download boss on festival pilot: “These people are going to be moshing, hugging, kissing, shagging and losing their minds”

"You’re actually safer at a festival than not," festival boss Andy Copping tells NME as punters arrive for this weekend's pilot event

Download Festival boss Andy Copping has spoken to NME about what to expect from and the significance of this weekend’s pilot event.

Today (June 18) saw 10,000 rock fans arrive at the rainy Donington Park site for the first tester event into festivals with camping and no social distancing, following last month’s pilot events with Blossoms performing to 5,000 people at Sefton Park and the likes of Fatboy Slim entertaining revellers at a club night test in Liverpool – all with testing in place and no COVID restrictions.

This weekend will mark a significant test for the future of this summer’s festivals, as fans safely enjoy headline sets from Bullet For My ValentineFrank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and Enter Shikari.

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“It’s looking amazing. Just coming on site and seeing everything set up is so cool,” Download boss Andy Copping told NME earlier today. “Obviously it’s like a miniature version of Download because we’re used to operating to 100,000 people every year and this year it’s only 10,000 – but it just feels so good to be seeing everybody.”

And of course, it wouldn’t be Download if it wasn’t pissing it down.

“Oh my god. We booked all the bands, we booked all the staging, booked the steel shield, booked the staff, sold the tickets – we had to book the rain. Now it’s all done.”

Download Pilot
Music fans arrive at Download Pilot at Donington Park on June 18, 2021 in Donington, England. Download Pilot is a 10,000 capacity festival part of a UK government test event to examine how Covid-19 transmission takes place in crowds. Credit: Katja Ogrin/Getty Images.

Describing the atmosphere at Donington today, Copping said: “I’ve just had a walk around the campsite and the fans are in really good spirits. Everybody’s been really compliant and we knew they would be with the Download crowd. They knew if they wanted to come then they had to sign a few procedures, and they were like, ‘Alright, where do we sign? We’re ready and we’ll do it’. That was proven when the 10,000 tickets sold out within a few hours. Now everybody’s just psyched up and ready for it.

“The fact that they’ve had to do some pretty stringent testing and jump through a few hoops to get in hasn’t bothered them one iota.”

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In the run-up to the Liverpool Sefton Park pilot, Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn told NME that “punters would be able to behave like COVID never happened once they had passed all tests and got through the gates. Copping said the same applied for Download this weekend, after fans had famously been promised that “moshing would be allowed.

“No masks, no social distancing, these people are going to be moshing, stage-diving, dancing, hugging, kissing, shagging, losing their minds,” said Copping. “The beauty of it is that they’ve all been tested, everybody’s in good spirits, they know what they’ve got to do, but they’ve been given the opportunity to go out and behave in a way that they could prior to COVID.

“Yes, it’s a test event and it’s important, but we want people to have that interaction. If we can prove that the infection rate of the people who came to Download hasn’t gone up or moved significantly, that’s going to set things up for all the other events taking place later this year. This is going to be a big, big thing for the entertainment industry.”

Download Pilot
Music fans enter the site of Download Pilot at Donington Park on June 18, 2021 in Donington, England. Download Pilot is a 10,000 capacity festival part of a UK government test event to examine how Covid-19 transmission takes place in crowds. Credit: Katja Ogrin/Getty Images.

Copping spoke of his confidence, after it emerged that apparently just 15 out of 58,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 following the various government-run event trials, which followed a corroborating report that mass events without COVID-19 restrictions are “as risky as going shopping”.

“The fact is that from those other pilot events that have taken place, there has been little or no sign of any infection,” said Copping. “That shows that this is working. Whether that’s down to people having their jabs, the way that people have been behaving during lockdown, the safety of the testing – it all adds up.”

He continued: “We’ve been saying it for a while, but you’re actually safer at a festival than not being at a festival. We nearly had t-shirts made up saying that. We’ll get the results of this by the end of June I would hope, certainly before the July 19 reopening date. All of the data that will be collected will go through to government and if it’s positive then it will mean that come July 19, we’re going to be ready to open up and get back to the proper life we had prior to COVID.

Asked about whether festivals after July 19 might look similar to this pilot with all attendees requiring a test before entry, Copping said that he thought any future restrictions would be “minimal”.

“The fans that are coming in have been doing the lateral flow test, which is really easy to do,” he said. “You go to the local pharmacy, get a box of tests, get it done in five minutes, wait half an hour for your result, then you put that on your app and be done. I don’t even think it will come to those lengths when it comes to the end of the summer.”

He added: “If they do, it will be a next-to-nothing job, but I’m pretty confident that people will be allowed to go to events and festivals as per normal.”

Download Festival will make a full return in 2022 with headline sets from KISS, Iron Maiden and Biffy Clyro.

The music industry is keen to reopen soon and for more government support. Grassroots music venues are set to lose £36million and cancel 4,000 gigs in the month that reopening has been delayed until July 19, while nightclubs also fear “mass evictions” and their sector being “decimated” and festivals are crying out for an “urgent intervention” of government-backed insurance.

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