It’s been almost twelve months since the pandemic put a halt to live music as we know it, and the future of the industry still looks incredibly uncertain. However, festival bosses have now provided optimism about when these events could return.
The optimism comes primarily from the speed that the UK is currently vaccinating its citizens, providing hope that there is a real chance that festivals may go ahead this summer. Events like Manchester’s Parklife and London’s The Mighty Hoopla have moved back their 2021 dates from June to September to allow an extra few months for the public to be vaccinated and build up immunity to the virus. Many festival bosses are carefully watching Glastonbury and see what the Eavis’ will do and whether they will cancel the event or move it back until later in the summer.
Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic and boss of events including Reading & Leeds and Download Festival, told NME: “I feel very positive because I know that it’s possible. You’re monitoring everything every hour, if not every minute, so I was very confident about the early summer before Christmas – but the new strain is spreading quicker, so that knocks your confidence a little bit,” said Benn. “However, the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine picks your confidence back up again. I suppose I’m taking Matt Hancock and the Prime Minister’s word.
“The Prime Minister has said that 88% of hospitalisations and deaths will disappear once the over-70s and frontline workers are vaccinated. The Health Secretary said: ‘When that’s done, cry freedom’ – I’m crying freedom. At that point, I’m saying let’s get on with it.”
Benn then added: “I’m super confident about the end of the summer, I’m super confident about the beginning of the summer. If everyone over the age of 60, or definitely the age of 50, is vaccinated by the end of May, then Jesus – there should be no stopping us.”
“The plan was always based on the vaccine first and testing second,” Benn told NME this week. “It could be a mix of both. I feel that we can get away with shows purely on testing. It’s immensely hard work, but operationally doable and hopefully unnecessary. The Full Capacity Plan was always based on verification of being clear of COVID, or clear of being in danger of COVID.
“The vaccination and verification that you’ve had it would give you that safety of knowing that you’re not going to get super-ill. It will work providing that they can get the majority of the people in the country vaccinated, and as long as there are enough people at the event who have been vaccinated. The industry has always done what it’s needed to do to create great festivals in a safe environment. If the government say to us that part of that will be testing, then we’ll do that. I’m taking the government line – they’re going to vaccinate everybody.”
However, Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd’s attitude was much more cautious. He explained to NME: “I’m guessing that it would difficult to put on the Green Day ‘Hella Mega Tour’ in June of this year, but there’s quite a lot of distance between that and someone going to see Pa Salieu in a small gig in May. These gigs are not the same. There’s a long tail here, but there are a lot of bright points along the way.”
He added: “I’m not as pessimistic about music returning to small venues in people’s local towns and cities as other people are about us getting the whole live music industry back up and running. I’m certain we can put on socially distanced gigs from spring onwards – that’s our position and the government’s position. Can we put on a full capacity gig at The Adelphi in Hull in 2021? I’m going to say yes at this point. I think full capacity with something near normal behaviour will take a little bit longer, but we’re confident it will happen this year.”
Medical professionals have also warned that at least 50% of the population would need to receive the vaccine before gigs or festivals could become possible. Whilst the UK is currently doing well with the vaccination rollout to the most vulnerable people in the country; there is still a long way to go yet.