Could 2021 Spell the End for Music Festivals?

Felix Asare 28 January 2021

The thought of a festival seems like a distant memory from where we are now. Large crowds, live music and good weather have all been absent from our lives for months, with little to no hope for any of them returning soon. Throughout this pandemic music of all kinds has been heavily affected, with larger events suffering the most, leaving organisers in financial turmoil. With the path to normality still remaining unclear, there is a growing sentiment that the absence of these events could continue for a significant longer period, even after the virus is brought under control.

Glastonbury became the first casualty this year, cancelling the festival for a second year running due to the pandemic [1]. The organisers released a statement detailing how deposits and tickets would be rolled over, but the impact of the second cancellation has fuelled much speculation on whether even the 2022 festival will be possible [2]. One of the festival’s main selling points has been its early date, with Glastonbury regularly occurring at the end of June, slightly before the ‘official’ festival season begins. However, this has proven to be its undoing this year, as the later festivals (such as Reading and Leeds, the Edinburgh Fringe and Boomtown) are still planning to go ahead, in the hope that the threat of the virus will be mitigated by July and August. Closer to home, this has raised fears over May Week, which is still scheduled to take place before Glastonbury’s original dates. While there are rumours surrounding whether the balls will happen and what form they will take, committees are, for the moment, continuing to plan for them, and aiming to give us a much-needed reprieve having endured such trying times.

Despite this hope for the coming months, many festivals have already stated that future events could become financially unviable if they have to cancel or reduce their capacity this year. This comes after recording a 90% decrease in revenue from 2019 to 2020 [3], meaning the 2021 events will be vital for their futures. Coupled with a complete lack of consumer confidence and spiralling insurance costs, the festival industry is now looking to the government for assistance on a similar scale to that of the hospitality and sports industries [4]. However, many are working to find alternative solutions: Oklahoma rock band The Flaming Lips performed a covid-secure concert by having the crowd in individual plastic bubbles earlier this week [5], whilst Glastonbury organisers have indicated the possibility of a smaller event in September [6]. While it remains to be seen whether either of these will prove to be the future of live events, it is clear that unless the situation improves rapidly, or the government’s stance changes, we may be without festivals for the foreseeable future.

Although these circumstances are bleak, the hope provided by the vaccines and increased testing mean that the majority of festivals are still optimistic for this year. Despite the lack of a clear route out of the pandemic, the extent of the potential ramifications has left many with no choice but to make a range of plans for this summer, or face cancelling for a number of years. Having become a staple part of the British summer, organisers are doing everything they can to ensure that festivals can survive, only time will tell whether they succeed.