Festivals in 2020 were all but wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from the odd event held early on in the year – Bangface Weekender, for example – the UK’s typically packed festival calendar (and, tbh, entire cultural landscape) was reduced down to virtual models, livestreamed events and tentative postponements until later in the year, and then, eventually, 2021.
For organisers across the board, be it those helming low-key and intimate events, legendary festivals or something in-between, uncertainty, flexibility and safety remain key in their logistical planning as they map out how future editions may look and operate for artists, attendees and staff. From general uncertainty surrounding the fast-changing and quick-developing national and international changes put forward by governments or medical bodies to public health concerns, travel bans, tricky insurance policies and social distancing requirements, there’s more than ever to consider as they cautiously cast their gaze towards 2021.
Though, there is hope. Especially in the wake of the recent Covid-19 vaccine announcements, a British vaccination rollout and developments in rapid testing. In fact, rapid testing is something some festivals, UNUM Festival in Albania, for example, have already included in their plans.
As we all reflect on the year gone and look ahead to 2021, Crack Magazine chats with festival organisers working in the UK and Europe about what the future, or simply next year, may have in store for their events.
Bert de RooijFestival Director, Dekmantel
“My initial thought after hearing about the vaccine was that it was great news. I didn’t expect that kind of news so early, to be honest. It gave way more perspective to 2021 than we had.
By adding vaccines to other building blocks – quick [Covid-19] tests, air quality control, masks, hygiene regulations, personalisation of tickets, communication on desired behaviour and a few other things – we should be able to minimise the risks so as to resemble the risks in other parts of society, such as stores or restaurants.
We’re keeping track of all new developments and working on scenarios where we apply these measures. It’s too soon to say how our festivals will look or how certain measures will be applied. We’re really still looking into all options.
There are a few things that we talk about a lot, the entrance of the festival is a good example. Normally, 70% of the people enter the festival within roughly two hours. At our festivals we already have a very large set-up relative to the amount of visitors to ensure people don’t have to wait too long. But, we envision it needs to be even larger, as the handling of visitors will take longer. Another thing is the amount of personnel that work with us – we will need more health staff, security, and door staff, for example.
As an international festival with both artists and guests from all over the world, I can see countries being on different speeds. This is, of course, already the case with countries like Taiwan or New Zealand in a positive way, but it could also mean that visitors from a certain country are not able to come to our festival. But I have good hopes that Europe, where most of our visitors are from, are mostly on the same speed.
In general about the pandemic influencing our festivals: Do you have time?! But mostly, I’d like to say that if there’s one thing that we as event organisers are good at, it’s adapting to new realities as fast as possible.”
Fiona StewartOwner and Director, Green Man
“The ways in which we would adapt our festival if a vaccine was to be introduced would depend on what threat Covid-19 still caused by the time the Green Man took place in August. I believe things will return to normal pretty quickly once enough vaccines have been distributed.
Green Man is an open-air festival and fresh air has been cited as a deterrent to catching the virus. Each festival is designed from the ground up, which makes it a great deal easier to adapt it around risk, put in monitoring systems, increase hygiene facilities and manage crowd movement. The Green Man audience is brilliant and will work with us. That makes everything so much easier.
I ran two Big Chill Festivals in the foot-and-mouth year and although the risks were different, we were able to put in controls which satisfied health and safety partners and still created a great festival experience. Common sense and science working together can create a safe environment.
[During the foot-and-mouth year] all vehicles’ wheels were disinfected coming in and out of the festival and everyone walked through a disinfectant shallow pool before they entered or left the site. No one left the site during the festival period. There were hold ups, and it took time, but everyone entered into it and the Big Chills at Lulworth Castle and Larmer Tree Gardens 2001 were brilliant festivals. Plus, the farming community was left satisfied with the levels of control which was as concerning to me as the enjoyment of the guests.
The biggest obstacle that we expect to face is that enough [of the] vaccine hasn’t been rolled out in time, and the government hasn’t put in place affordable insurance cover. Most festivals will have public, personal insurance and we also have wet weather and cancellation insurance, but none of these cover cancellation due to a worldwide pandemic.
The live events industry and its extensive supply chain has been greatly damaged by the pandemic, but we are hard working and adaptable and in time it will recover. We can never be so vulnerable again and I hope we learn from this experience, and freelancers particularly are better protected in the future.
Experiencing live music will always be the best option, but online performances are here to stay and becoming more technically advanced. But, there needs to be clarification on legal and media permissions, publishing and performance rights. If it’s too complicated and costly then independent festivals and emerging artists may not be able to afford that opportunity.
Running festivals has never been an easy career choice. It’s a challenging and sometimes brutally competitive business to be in. But, there is nothing better than experiencing a great festival with people you care about. These are the memories that last a lifetime and help to bring us together and, in these isolated times, we need that more than ever.”
Benedetta VenturiniFestival Director, Flash Festival
“Hearing about the vaccine gave us a sense of hope. We launched Flash Festival 2021 dates with more optimism and went on sale with a great response. It gave our community more confidence to book in a world of uncertainty.
However, as organisers, I don’t feel it’s the only option. With the vaccine not being accessible yet, we are constantly looking into alternative solutions such as implementing fast, easily accessible and reliable Covid-19 testing, whether attendees or crew can take DIY Covid-19 test kits prior [to] arrival onsite, creating a risk-free environment. But, if [a vaccine] allows governments to plan better guidelines for future months or years, let’s go.
We will work with guidelines set by the Italian government for a small festival of 1,000 capacity, like Flash Festival. We’re keeping clear communication to our community to reassure awareness of changes in festival guidelines. We are also offering a Premium option [that includes a] ticket and accommodation for people who want to be covered for a refund if they get Covid-19 or if they are unable to attend Flash Festival due to other unforeseen circumstances.
We’ve introduced a team of event professionals to manage and implement a Covid-safe plan and to respond to all the changing regulations.This team will stay up-to-date with changing regulations and be in regular consultations with government and stakeholders. This team will also be on-site implementing all Covid-safe regulations of the current time; hand washing basins, [ensuring] face-masks [are] available, for example. As regulations are constantly changing, the team will need to be quick to respond.
Everything from communication, travelling to the event, entry policy, site layout, cleaning and hygiene will be considered to deliver a safe festival. We constantly work and plan for when new regulations will come out (hopefully in the new year) and how they will hypothetically affect the festival’s accommodations and travel solutions, health and safety measures, security plan, medical and welfare arrangements, crowd considerations and site adjustments.
Travel bans remain a concern for us, as most of our festival-goers are international tourists. Our community feels uneasy booking a trip to Tuscany not knowing if they have to self-isolate for 14 days.
There is also a lack of lobbying for the event industry across some UK and European governments – Italy included. Live events were the first to close and will be the last industry to open with no government support.”
Jane BeeseHead of Music, Manchester International Festival
“As I’m sure with most people, [I felt] hopeful and elated at the thought of people coming together without restrictions to do all the things they love – to watch a performance, be in a field around people dancing, to see a band play live again.
2020 was thankfully our ‘year off’ as MIF happens every two years, so we’re currently planning for all sorts of scenarios for 2021. Usually we’d have hundreds of thousands of people in attendance enjoying events together at spaces and venues across Manchester, so a vaccine could help us get close to business as usual.
The majority of shows that we create for the festival are new, unique and world premieres, so we’re able to be really flexible in our planning. We’re in constant talks with the festival artists about developing creative ways of presenting their work if we’re still in a similar position to what’s been going on this year. Most important to us, on a par with safety, is maintaining that special energy and atmosphere for both the audience and the performer wherever people are experiencing it. We’re looking at shows which audiences can experience while walking along the street, live streamed performances where one of the cameras is a character in the show, and concerts staged in unusual open-air spaces.
During the summer, we were involved in organising a mass doorstep sing-a-long which was so emotional and really brought home how important the arts and cultures are in people’s lives. So, I think there’ll be a real appetite for people to get together again. Our role will be to give people a memorable and high-quality experience that they feel safe and confident coming to.
The impact Covid-19 has had on the industry is devastating, and it’s a worry that people will give up their careers in the creative sector. We’ve tried to do our bit to combat this by supporting artists and freelancers in Manchester to present performances online, develop their practice through ‘remote residencies’ and we’ve just announced a new initiative, MIF Sounds, to support members of Manchester’s music scene to continue to create work.”
Dave HarveyDirector, Team Love (Love Saves The Day, Love International)
“Like many, I was skeptical about the idea of a vaccine happening so quickly as historically they have taken many years to get right and many viruses still don’t have one. It’s been hugely encouraging to see where the world has got to in a relatively short amount of time. The alternative of not having a vaccine would have meant grave implications for the festival industry, with wider society and the world seeming much more scary.
We are taking a different approach at different events. With Love Saves The Day, we are looking at a reduced capacity on the same sized site and currently working out how we make it work with Covid-19 security in mind. We operated a successful Covid-safe venue with Breaking Bread, so we would replicate some of the tried-and-tested measures there that could be adapted for larger scale events like a festival.
For Love International, a much smaller event, all outdoors and in a hot climate, we are feeling more confident that it can run in largely the same way but we are working out the best practice for the overall event to ensure we are mindful of the local and national regulations in Croatia.
It’s too early to speculate on what level of restriction will be indicated at that time, as it will depend on both the national and global picture for the pandemic, alongside any government restrictions. Due to the ever-shifting regulations and R number we can be too prescriptive in our response. All being well with the vaccine, I think educating and informing people [on] how to be mindful of their own and others safety feels important to reiterate. Being mindful and respectful of others is already an embedded principle of all our festivals, so in keeping with the message we want to keep delivering.
Nationally, I think young people are desperate for the festival scene to start again, so largely I can see tickets selling well. But there will still be those who will be anxious, especially those who may be higher risk populations and it’s a shame for things not to be inclusive to all people even those with health or mental health issues affected by this pandemic. International events may be faced with the consequences on the airline industry, so fingers crossed the airlines will opt for cheaper flights to lure people back to travel rather than jacking up prices.
The world has been traumatised by this pandemic and we don’t yet know all the implications of having had to go through the last nine months. We feel confident that the support from our guests throughout the last year means the festival industry will hopefully survive but the financial impact/global recession is affecting so many and looks set to continue.
I feel really hopeful that if there is confidence in global immunity [then] normality will return. Things might initially be smaller scale with high vigilance but, over time, if the scars from this pandemic heal we may find an even greater passion and investment for the industry that was a palpable void for so many in this last year. The next time we are all on the dancefloor at Barbarella’s it’s going to be a very special moment indeed.”