Festivals face a ‘grave’ future if the 2021 season is cancelled, say organisers

Alex Green, PA Entertainment Reporter
·4-min read

The UK’s music festival landscape faces a “grave” future if the 2021 season is cancelled, organisers have warned.

Sacha Lord, co-founder of Manchester’s Parklife, said workers would permanently transition to other industries and smaller festivals would disappear in the wake of more cancellations amid Covid-19.

Anna Wade, communications and strategy director of Boomtown Fair – held on the Matterley Estate near Winchester – said large and grassroots music events would be in “absolutely dire straits” financially if restrictions remained by summer.

They were speaking to MPs examining the plight of music festivals in the UK after Covid-19 restrictions led to widespread cancellations in 2020, including Glastonbury and TRNSMT.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee was looking at how Government policy could support festivals due to take place this coming summer.

Lord, who is also a night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said coronavirus had “absolutely decimated” his festival, its suppliers and freelance staff.

Parklife festival, which attracts some 75,000 attendees annually, has been delayed until September 2021 and more than 250 artists and suppliers have already been booked.

“If we have got another year like 2020, we have got serious problems,” Lord said of the risk involved in making those commitments.

Future of music festivals
Anna Wade, communications and strategy director of Boomtown Fair (Parliament TV/PA)

Wade, whose festival had some 40 full-time employee before Covid-19, told MPs: “In terms of Boomtown, it is a very similar story as it is for all festivals and events up and down the country.

“We were absolutely decimated as well. We were first to really shut down and will probably be one of the last to reopen as well.”

Some 4.9 million people attended a festival in the UK in 2018, with festivals estimated to have generated £1.76 billion in gross value added last year.

And industry bodies including UK Music and the Help Musicians charity have touted festivals as an essential stepping stone for future stars in developing an audience.

Wade said there was “no silver bullet” that would guarantee a 2021 festival season but called on the Government to set a date for its return and provide financial support including extended VAT holidays.

Parklife 2015 – Heaton Park Manchester – Day 2
Parklife festival in Manchester (Katja Ogrin/PA)

Lord, who is also co-founder of the Warehouse Project superclub in Manchester, said the UK risked falling behind Europe if action was not taken.

“Absolutely, and I think that was happening pre-Covid anyway,” he said.

“The likes of Portugal, Germany, Malta, Croatia – they were all coming on board.”

He also warned that mass testing and vaccination was the only way forward.

He told MPs “Social distancing does not work at any of these events. It’s a festival. You just cannot put social distancing in place, so we are anticipating that we will be operating at 100%.”

In a second session, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of the trade body UK Music, called on the Government to help boost confidence in festivals and encourage punters back.

He also warned there could be a “talent transfer” as musicians and crew look to Europe for work in 2021.

Last month, Germany announced a £2.3 billion event cancellation fund and other countries have introduced measures to encourage festivals.

Steve Heap, general secretary of the Association of Festival Organisers, said April was the latest festivals could decide to cancel.

“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.

Paul Reed, the chief executive of the Association Of Independent Festivals, told the committee of MPs that festivals were “rapidly approaching the determination point” and some larger events would have to make a decision by the end of January.

Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis previously told fans to expect the Somerset event to make an announcement in the coming weeks.

The inquiry will also consider the potential impact of festivals collapsing, on local communities, ticket-holders and suppliers, as well as the freelance workforce.