This summer’s music festivals could be cancelled this month, MPs told

Organisers are asking the government to help protect the future of the UK's festivals

This summer’s major music festivals could be cancelled for 2021 by the end of this month, promoters have told MPs.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee heard from organisers of Parklife and Boomtown earlier today (January 5), as an inquiry into the future of festivals in light of the coronavirus pandemic began.

It comes after festivals in the UK suffered huge losses in 2020, unable to go ahead due to the global health crisis.

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“If the government don’t help with insurance then the smaller festivals are going to drop away,” Sacha Lord, co-founder of Parklife, said. He also told the committee that vaccinations and mass testing would be key for events to be able to go ahead.

“Social distancing does not work at any of these events,” he added. “It’s a festival. You just cannot put social distancing in place, so we are anticipating that we will be operating at 100 percent [capacity].”

Anna Wade, director of communications and strategy at Boomtown Fair, said festival organisers would be in “absolutely dire straits” financially if they are unable to hold their events this summer too.

Boomtown Festival
Boomtown Festival in 2019 CREDIT: Chris Gorman / Big Ladder

The measures needed to get gates open will also add huge numbers to their costs without government help, with Wade saying testing kits currently cost £10 each. For every attendee of the 66,000-capacity of Boomtown to be tested would cost an extra £660,000 for the festival.

According to Steve Heap, the general secretary of the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO), major music festivals would have to make a decision about their 2021 editions this month. Smaller festivals, however, could put off cancelling until April.

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“If we get as far as Easter and we still don’t know that crowds can gather at festivals, however large or small, then we are in a catastrophic situation with this year’s season,” he said.

However, Lord added that he was optimistic festivals would “bounce back” once COVID-19 was under control. “People want to go to a gig, whether it’s a festival or a small grassroots venue,” he explained. “The appetite is out there.”

The session follows UK Music sharing a new report, Let The Music Play: Save Our Summer, this morning. The group said the report “outlines a clear strategy to protect and support the multi-billion pound live music industry so it is ready to restart when safe to do so later this year”.

The report discussed the need for coronavirus cancellation insurance, an “indicative date for a full capacity restart”, further financial support and more.

“While this pandemic is still raging and continues to cause devastation to lives and livelihoods today, there is an endpoint in sight,” UK Music’s Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said. “Government is rolling out the vaccine and is openly speculating about returning to normal by the spring – but there is a serious risk that even if this proves to be a reality, lack of notice and available insurance options will mean much of the 2021 summer music season can’t go ahead.”

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