NEWS of Glastonbury Festival’s decision to cancel the already-rescheduled 2021 festival is a huge blow – not just to those hoping to head to Worthy Farm in June – but to the industry itself.
Tens of thousands of people rely on festivals across the UK for income, as well as entertainment, and the money the events generate is enormous – running into the billions.
Last year, festivals simply didn’t happen, leading to some already pondering their future.
While Glastonbury is one end of a large scale, in terms of size, income and organisation, the effects on those at the other end is often more damaging.
In the same county as the world’s largest festival, Somerset, the Watchet Music Festival is a good example.
The event, which runs across the August Bank Holiday weekend, postponed in 2020, carrying over much of the line-up to a planned return in 2021.
Speaking before the Glastonbury announcement, organisers said they were optimistic for this summer.
“As it stands, Watchet 2021 is still scheduled to take place,” said a spokesperson. “The vast majority of the 2020 line up has been re-booked/rolled over to 2021.
“Obviously, whether it can actually take place will be Covid-dependent, to ensure compliance with all national and local authority guidance on mass gatherings, and to guarantee the safety of all staff, performers and attendees.
“Being much later in the season than many events, we very much hope and expect Watchet 2021 to take place.”
But others are not so confident.
Sacha Lord, co-founder of Manchester’s Parklife, has previously warned how workers would permanently transition to other industries and smaller festivals would disappear in the wake of more cancellations amid Covid-19 in 2021.
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.
UNDER PRESSURE: Smaller festivals like Watchet, held in Somerset. PICTURE: Paul Jones
They were speaking earlier this month 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.
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.
GLOOM: Hanging above the festival industry amid the coronavirus pandemic. PICTURE: Paul Jones
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 and has today confirmed the cancellation of the already-rescheduled 2021 event, at Worthy Farm in Pilton.
The inquiry will also consider the potential impact of festivals collapsing, on local communities, ticket-holders and suppliers, as well as the freelance workforce.