Reading & Leeds boss on the chances of international acts being able to play

"The international acts that are playing Reading & Leeds are telling me that if it’s safe to come then they’re coming"

The organiser of Reading & Leeds has spoken to NME about his confidence of acts from the US and overseas being able to play the festival this summer amidst concerns around coronavirus restrictions.

A number of festivals across the UK and Europe have been announcing either mostly or entirely domestic line-ups to play it safe in case COVID travel restrictions prevent acts from travelling to the UK or require them to quarantine upon arrival. Many are hoping that the government’s “traffic light system” will create travel corridors allowing artists be able to play at UK events this summer, when full capacity live music returns following the roadmap date of June 21.

Set to take place on August Bank Holiday Weekend, Reading & Leeds festival will this year feature two main stages, six headlines and a line-up that includes international names such as Queens Of The Stone Age, Post Malone, Madison Beer, Doja Cat, DaBaby, Girl In Red, Fever 333 and Sigrid.

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When NME asked Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn about the chances of them being able to perform, he replied: “I can’t comment on other festivals, but the international acts that are playing Reading & Leeds are telling me that if it’s safe to come then they’re coming. By safe, we mean safe for the punters. That’s all I know. They’re being very explicit at this point in time. I’m very much looking forward to them fulfilling that.

“The reality is that we’re going to have a great line-up and a great festival come what may.”

Leeds Festival
Leeds Festival in 2019 (Picture: Getty)

On his expectations for the government’s traffic light plan, Benn said:  “In fairness, the international acts in the main are going to come from the United States or Ireland. I think the traffic light system will absolutely be green for both of those countries to come here. I’m sure that the traffic light system will definitely be working for the United States because their vaccine programme is actually proving to be as good as ours, if not even better.”

He continued: “Certainly by the end of June, the Irish government have committed to a minimum of their population to be vaccinated. When they say that, they mean with both jabs. My feeling is that those acts will absolutely sail through on green traffic lights at that point.”

While some promoters have voiced worries over US acts being able to afford play in Europe because of so many of their other tour dates across the continent being wiped due to the pandemic, Benn said this was not a concern for ticket-holders here because “Reading & Leeds is the destination” and “the anchor of so many things”.

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“What you have with Reading & Leeds is the opportunity to play to nearly 200,000 people between the two events,” said Benn. “That’s a lot to sacrifice and that’s why people are so keen to make the effort to come. I’m pretty confident about it actually.”

Speaking to NME last month, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton Dr Michael Head said that the music community can’t be certain what the rules will be for quarantining for overseas travel when the summer rolls around – and that “those policies might change in the last minute”.

“There may be restrictions on people coming into the UK, there may be the need for quarantines depending on where you’re coming from,” he said. “If you’re booking an artist to come to the UK in August, then you can’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be policies like needing to quarantine for two weeks. Booking overseas talent is a logistical challenge and you can’t guarantee what the rules might be at the time of the event.”

Benn also spoke to NME about what fans can expect from the upcoming COVID testing pilot gig in Liverpool, describing the event as “historic” and saying that ticketholders will be able to “behave as if the pandemic never happened”. The long-awaited pilot event for live music with no social distancing will see BlossomsThe Lathums and Zuzu all perform to 5,000 fans at Liverpool’s Sefton Park on May 2.

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