The summer festival season kicks off in earnest this weekend with the annual musical jamboree on the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately for those in attendance, the weather forecast is for showers. Some argue that the outlook is just as depressing for the great British festival tradition.
Glastonbury, the biggest and most revered of them all, which begins in two weeks' time, has still not sold all its tickets. What makes this remarkable is that the festival has been hugely oversubscribed in recent years, with applicants forced to jump through all manner of hoops.
To some, Glastonbury's surprise spare capacity reflects a deeper malaise. There are complaints from some quarters about the direction the major festivals are heading. They are certainly more expensive every year, with prices now typically costing considerably more than £100 for a weekend ticket. Festivals also often feature the same artists, making them rather indistinguishable experiences. Amy Winehouse, for instance, will be playing this summer not only at Glastonbury, but also T in the Park in Scotland and Bestival on the Isle of Wight. Some of those who remember when the British festival scene began in the 1960s and 1970s also lament its growing commercialisation and a dwindling of community spirit among revellers.
The controversy that broke out when Glastonbury's organisers announced earlier this year that the American rap star Jay-Z would be headlining was a good example of the angst that surrounds the festival circuit. In reality, all that the row exposed was the stubborn insularity of much of the British music scene.
But there is no doubt that this silly row symbolised the problems facing organisers. There are too many festivals for the market to support, with dozens of new ones seeming to emerge each summer. And now the sector has hit an economic – and, some would argue, creative – downturn. Actually, some growth is in response to the commercialisation of large festivals; thus, we have events such as Furnessfest in Cumbria, and Two Thousand Trees in Cheltenham, which eschew corporate sponsorship and make a virtue of their relative modesty of scale.
In the end, the market will correct itself. The UK has a flourishing live music scene and festivals have become an extension of that. A few showers might be on the horizon, but there is no reason why music fans should not enjoy a long, hot summer.