It's ludicrous to announce music festivals for 2021 – here's why.
The announcement that the Reading and Leeds festivals will take place this summer has fans and Liam Gallagher ecstatic. It is the largest music event to declare its intention to return this year, with festivals such as Creamfields, Parklife, and Field Day also announcing their plans. You'd think I'd be overjoyed, given that festival season has been the highlight of my year for almost a decade. The issue is that I don't believe a single word of it.
Last year, the live music industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, losing an estimated 90% of its sales. It's no surprise they're excited to get back to work, following the government's plan to get England out of lockdown by June 21. The words "LET'S GO" appeared alongside a video montage of packed fields in summer, full of revellers enjoying drinks and music in the blazing sunshine, as you'd expect from a festival still dominated by lad rock. When I look at those pictures, however, only one word comes to mind: "superspreader."
More than 18.2 million people in the UK had received their first vaccine dose at the time of writing – about one in every three adults – and about 670,000 had received their second. Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, has admitted that there are "supply fluctuations" and that it could take "a few months" for manufacturers to create a consistent production routine. The vaccine distribution will continue as the government relaxes its lockout limits, allowing more people to gather outside. Beer gardens and outdoor dining will reopen on April 12th, followed by indoor dining and drinking just over a month later.
However, the DCMS (Department for Entertainment, Media, and Sport) has not provided the green light for large-scale music events in 2021. It has stated that it is working with industry and civil society leaders to determine when and how activities with greater audience sizes and less social distance will be able to return safely. Music festivals, sporting events, big weddings, and conferences are all examples of this. Beginning in April, the government will conduct a series of pilot events using different safety mechanisms to see how large-scale events fare. These results from various sectors will be used to assess if lifting restrictions is secure. To add insult to injury, Boris Johnson warned earlier this week that the UK will not be completely out of lockdown and “back to normal” by June 21.
With all of this in mind, and the fact that festivals still lack insurance coverage for cancellations due to Covid, it seems downright reckless that events are raising fans' expectations too fast. Melvin Benn of Festival Republic expressed “hope” that the government will declare funding for festivals in its Budget next week (3 March), but nothing is assured. And, considering the government's shameful lack of support for the creative industries during the recession, I don't anticipate any such news this time. Rather, the announcements from Reading and Leeds seem to be designed to place pressure on the government to provide more funding for music events. The government is the bad guy if they are forced to cancel and incur losses as a result of their lack of insurance. Meanwhile, fans purchasing tickets ensure that they are at least more comfortable than they were last year – if only for the time being.
Industry groups are among those that are urging caution, despite the fact that many of their peers are not doing so. According to Greg Parmley, CEO of the umbrella organization LIVE, it will be at least four months before there is any clarity on a live music reopening date. He believes that a government-backed insurance program is also essential to reduce the danger that the industry faces. “These activities take months to schedule and have significant upfront costs, so having access to insurance would give organizers more trust. It will be a long road to recovery, and even if sanctions are lifted in the summer, our industry will be a long way from normalcy in 2019. It is important that the government acknowledges this and reacts accordingly.
Also fan responses to the most recent festival announcements have been subdued, with plenty of criticism thrown in for good measure. Young people suffering from long-term Covid side effects complained on Twitter that they were still having difficulty breathing normally. I know from personal experience – more than one member of my family, as well as the loved ones of close friends, has died as a result of coronavirus – that we must continue to take this virus very seriously. Being young does not make you invincible, and I am terrified at the prospect of thousands of young people crammed into a stadium. Nothing makes me happier than standing in a packed field with my friends, drinking and singing along to our favorite artists. I just do not believe it is worth fighting for.