Reading & Leeds boss: “I think the festival season really can happen”

Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn tells NME what last weekend's Liverpool COVID pilot gig could mean for a summer of live music

Reading & Leeds boss Melvin Benn has offered up fresh hope that festival season will be able to go ahead this summer as planned.

Speaking to NME just after the gates opened at last weekend’s Sefton Park COVID pilot gig in Liverpool (where all entrants where tested for coronavirus before being allowed in), the Festival Republic Managing Director revealed what the event could mean for the coming summer of live music.

“This is a pilot event and I’ve been pushing to create something like this for a year now,” Benn told NME. “What I’ve been saying for the whole year is, if we adequately test people before they come into a gig, there’s no reason why the gig can’t happen.”

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He continued: “There’s no reason why the spread of the virus will get out of control and that’s what this event is about – effectively demonstrating that people can be responsible, they can have the test, come to the gig, have a test afterwards, make sure there’s no virus happening and I think we’re open. I think it means that the festival season really can happen.”

Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn. Credit: Ben Bentley for NME
Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn. Credit: Ben Bentley for NME

Despite the pandemic’s devastating impact on the music industry, Benn said he remained confident on Reading & Leeds would be going ahead as planned this August bank holiday weekend.

“I never lost hope to be honest,” he said. “Will everybody still have to be tested by then? I suspect we will still have to test people, but of course a lot of people will have the vaccination already and that will probably mean they won’t need to be tested. We’ll wait and see what the government say but what we will know is that if it’s done properly it won’t increase the spread of the virus.”

He also warned that if this pilot event hadn’t gone ahead, the effects could have been disastrous. “It could have easily been two years without festivals,” Benn admitted. “If this event hadn’t happened, I’d have been worried it would have been a long time before we got back to a festival. For me it’s very emotional, a lot of my staff were in tears, tears of joy really so fantastic.”

Benn added: “It’s surreal in a way, but absolutely normal in another way really. I mean, I’m one of those people that spend my life in crowds so I feel really comfortable in crowds. It feels like we can be back to normal. You see kids jumping up and down and it’s just brilliant.”

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Machine Gun Kelly, Wolf Alice and Sam Fender were the latest 90 additions to the Reading & Leeds line-up – which will be headlined by Stormzy, Liam Gallagher, Post Malone, Catfish & The Bottlemen, Disclosure and Queens Of The Stone Age.

Despite a number of festivals booking largely domestic line-ups, Benn previously told NME of his confidence that the international acts on the bill will be able to travel and perform come August.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The crowd for Blossoms at the Liverpool Sefton Park COVID pilot gig. Credit: Ben Bentley for NME
The crowd for Blossoms at the Liverpool Sefton Park COVID pilot gig. Credit: Ben Bentley for NME

He added: “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.”

However, there has been a stark warning from many other UK festivals, with the Association Of Independent Festivals issuing a “red alert” after hitting a “brick wall” with the government over COVID insurance talks – claiming that 76 per cent of July and August’s festivals at risk without it.

Read NME’s full Sefton Park report here, including further comments from Benn and performers Blossoms, The Lathums and Zuzu.

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