Coronavirus pandemic had ‘decimating’ effect on UK music festivals in 2020, organisers say

Representatives for Boomtown and Parklife festivals told MPs of the impact of the pandemic and how it is threatening the very future of the live music industry

Roisin O'Connor
Tuesday 05 January 2021 10:56
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The coronavirus pandemic has had an “absolutely decimating” effect on the UK’s festival industry, representatives have said.  

Organisers for Parklife and Boomtown festivals told the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport how their employees had been forced to retrain after losing work over the past year.  

In 2020, virtually all UK music festivals were forced to cancel as the government banned large public gatherings in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19.  

Anna Wade, communications and strategy director for Boomtown, said the pandemic had caused a “huge gap” in the UK’s culture sector but also the extended industries that contribute to each event, such as catering, engineers, taxi drivers and cleaners.  

“Festivals are like mini cities in themselves, so the infrastructures are vast,” she said.  

Organisers are now looking ahead to another difficult summer, as the UK struggles with huge spikes in Covid-19 cases and a faster-spreading variant of the virus.  

Wade explained that there was a “kind of stand-off” currently taking place because organisers are unsure whether they will be able to go ahead with their events this year. 

Sacha Lord, co-founder of Parklife festival and the Warehouse Project, said he was confident that the freelancers in the supply chain would be “wiped out” by another year like 2020.  

“If we have another year like 2020, we’ve got serious problems,” he said.  

He warned that the “vast majority” of people could disappear from the UK festival industry if it suffered two consecutive barren years.  

Wade said that Boomtown had added a “Covid contingency fund” into its budget which could go towards mass testing for guests, but could have a “crippling” effect on the event’s income.  

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“We would have to look at spreading those costs and hopefully receive some government support,” she said.  

She later added: “Time is absolutely of the essence right now,” Wade said. “Understanding the gravity and the precipice that we’re all on is absolutely essential.”

Lord said his biggest hope was the UK-wide rollout of the coronavirus vaccines.  

“Whatever it takes to make those events safe and secure, we will do it, but all our hopes now are on that vaccine,” he said.  

However, it was pointed out that it was “unlikely” that Parklife’s average audience age of 18-23 would have been vaccinated by this time.  

Both Wade and Lord were asked about the practicality of turning potentially hundreds or thousands of “slightly boisterous” people away from the door if they tested positive for coronavirus.  

“As organisers, we’re ready to deal with matters like that,” Lord responded.  

Both praised the government’s culture recovery fund – which granted money to music events, venues and organisations to help support them during the early stages of the pandemic – and suggested another round of funding would help the festival industry.

Glastonbury Festival organiser Emily Eavis said on Monday 4 January that the likelihood of the event being held this year was still in doubt.  

Fans were confused after former Spice Girls singer Mel B claimed that it had been announced that the festival was cancelled during an interview with BBC Radio 5.  

However, Eavis disputed this claim, saying it was “not cancelled yet” and that organisers were “quite a long way” from being able to confirm the festival’s status in 2021.  

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