Festival boss on “historic” Liverpool pilot gig: “Punters will be able to behave like COVID never happened”

Melvin Benn explains what to expect from the Sefton Park show with Blossoms, The Lathums and Zuzu

Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn has spoken to NME about what fans can expect from the upcoming COVID-19 pilot gig in Liverpool, claiming that fans will be able to “behave as if the pandemic never happened”.

This weekend saw the long-awaited announcement of a pilot event for live music,with Blossoms, The Lathums and Zuzu all set to perform to 5,000 fans at Liverpool’s Sefton Park on May 2.

With no social-distancing in place and no requirement for masks during the gig, attendees will have to take a lateral flow COVID-19 test at a local testing centre prior to being granted entry, as well as another test after the show. During the show, they will not be asked to wear masks or practice social distancing.

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Blossoms
Blossoms – Credit: Getty

The pilot is being organised by Benn, who also runs Reading & Leeds festival among others, and told NME that this would be an “incredibly historic gig” and play an essential role in reopening live music this summer.

“There was an attempt at a pilot gig in Germany before Christmas, the Spanish one where everyone had to behave and wear masks, and there was some degree of limitation on what the audiences could and couldn’t do,” Benn told NME. “This will be the first gig in the Northern hemisphere where it’s a proper show, with 5,000 people not socially distanced, not having to wear masks, with bars and food stalls in the arena, and it will feel like a mini version of a festival. The punters will just be able to behave as though COVID had never happened.

“The whole world will be looking at it. You know how many gigs I’ve been involved in, but this is the most historic. I’m just so excited by it.”

Goose Island Presents NME Radar Sessions: Zuzu and Swimming Girls
Goose Island Presents NME Radar Sessions with Zuzu. Credit: Andy Ford

Describing the logistics of the day and what the experience might look like to a punter, Benn said: “You can only arrive on the day if you have had a lateral flow test at one of the Liverpool test centres. If you’ve had that, you’ll be given a QR code that will enable your ticket to become valid.

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“Once it’s valid, and we hope people do this because it’ll be better for the gig, you’ll be required to observe all the normal social distancing standards of wearing a face mask on the bus, the train, the taxi, or in the car to the gig if you’re travelling with other people. When you come through the arena entrance, we’ll ask you to continue to wear a mask up until security.”

He added: “After that, you can take your mask off and pretend that COVID never happened. Just sing, dance, mosh, have a laugh, enjoy the bands and have the most historic night that you’ll ever be involved in.”

Benn also explained how fans who then fulfilled their promise of being tested five days after the event would then be entered into a prize draw for tickets to a range of this summer’s festivals.

“I’ve got 200 festival tickets available to events like Reading & Leeds, Neighbourhood Weekender, Boardmasters, Green Man, End Of The Road,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”

The Lathums, live (Picture: Sam Crowston)

Benn said that he was feeling “very confident” about England gradually exiting lockdown by the end of June and the likelihood of full capacity outdoor events being able to go ahead –hoping that the Sefton Park Pilot will “prove that the risk can be managed, whatever is happening”.

“I’ve had two SAGE scientists, with Professor John Edmunds this week and Professor Paul Hunter last week, telling me that there are no evidenced cases of COVID spread outdoors,” said Benn. “I am therefore very, very positive that we have a summer of festivals.

Asked if COVID passports might be required for events this summer, Benn replied: “No festival has said that they’ll be doing that, not a single one. It’s not set in stone. It’s possible, but not certain. That’s what the Events Research programme is going to examine with pilots like this.

“With this gig, we’re not using COVID passports. This gig is just about using the principle of testing before entry. That’s it. It’s not discriminatory. As with all events I do, people with disabilities are welcome to participate. This gig is completely open, but everyone has to test to say that they’re COVID-clear – and that to me seems pretty reasonable.”

He added: “The spread of the virus outdoors is clearly very minimal. With the increased vaccination, it will become even less. The government will make sure that we’re doing it properly and safely and I think every festival organiser up and down the country will observe the rules and give everyone a great time.”

Benn also spoke to NME about his confidence for US and international acts being able to travel and perform at Reading & Leeds festival this summer.

Tickets to the Liverpool pilot event went on sale at the weekend. To be eligible to attend, fans must also be over 18-years-old, living in the Liverpool City Region and registered to a local GP and healthy and showing no sign of COVID-19 symptoms.

The new concert comes as part of a bigger plan for a number of venues in Liverpool to take part in the pilot scheme to test crowd safety before coronavirus lockdown rules are eased this summer.

It was revealed last month that a dozen test events were being planned across the UK in the run-up to lockdown being further eased. The events – which come under the umbrella of the Events Research Programme (ERP) – included the World Snooker Championship final this weekend (April 17), as well as the football FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on May 15, and the BRIT Awards at London’s O2 Arena two days later.

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