Musicians and their fans need to be told by the government that they must be vaccinated in order to attend music festivals this summer, according to two of Britain’s leading festival directors.
Festival tickets have been selling in record time since the government set out its roadmap to recovery last month, yet these events may still be in jeopardy say many of the 70 independent festival organisers who held an emergency meeting on the subject on Friday.
“A lot of us want to urge government to follow the example set up already in other areas, like travel, where people will have to show proof of vaccination or of a recent test,” said Josh Robinson, events director of Hospitality Weekend in the Woods, a drum’n’bass festival set to take over a park in south-east London in September.
Gareth Williams, director of Cropredy, the folk festival hosted by the band Fairport Convention on the borders of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire in mid-August said: “What we really need is for government to say everybody needs a vaccination to get in. We need that clarity, rather than each having to go to people and explain.”
Robinson sold 16,000 tickets in five hours for his new festival, a spin- off from established annual events staged in the capital. “The demand is pretty unbelievable. It would normally have taken eight or nine months to sell that many,” he said. “The roadmap has given fans the impetus to start buying, which is great, but we are operating like a bank or something, in a strange scenario where we are just holding people’s money in case we have to return it.”
Uncertainty about the pace of the pandemic’s retreat and about safety regulations both mean that final confirmation of dates is on hold. Last week, ex-Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown declared that he would not play at an event with a vaccination-only policy. This has added to the complexity of communicating entrance requirements to performers, as well as to punters and stage crew. Brown is a virus sceptic and has pulled out of an appearance at Neighbourhood Weekender in Warrington, saying: “I refuse to accept vaccination proof as a condition of entry.”
“What we should say to artists now is another morally tricky conundrum,” said Robinson. “But if we don’t go ahead soon, the whole support structure for this industry could crumble for good.”
The lack of a national vaccine entry standard is just one obstacle in the path of festival organisers, who still hope to win government insurance cover for cancellations and to receive help from the next round of recovery grants.
Williams and 70 other organisers were among those at the remote post-budget meeting on Friday to share concerns. Most were worried about being expected to run mass infection tests.
“We just can’t test everybody. We would need an airfield to do it,” he said. “The recovery grant has been very helpful, but we are still knocking on the door, lobbying for financial cover, as we cannot go beyond the end of March and start paying for everything without some extra security. It is a huge financial risk. Our festival is small-to-medium size, but it still costs one and a half million to put on.”
Williams suspects folk festivals like his that cater to older audiences may face a simpler situation, since many punters will have had both jabs. “We do have an older demographic anyway, which may make it easier,” he said. “Or a lot may depend on having the extra space for social distancing.”
Many festivals have moved back their dates, so late summer is now crowded. Even if there are plenty of eager punters to go round, festival workers are scarce.
“The supply chain is going to be a big problem to kick-start,” said Robinson. “We all need freelancers to set up the bars, the staging, the fencing, the lighting and the sound systems. We would normally employ between 300 and 400, and they’re going to be hard to find. Some have just gone out of business.”
Both men are holding their nerve till the end of this month.
“Festival organisers are masters of contingency planning, but there are just so many factors to keep track of this year,” said Williams.
• The headline and sub-heading of this article were amended on 8 March 2021 to reflect that the views were aired by two leading festival directors rather than the wider industry, and a quote from Josh Robinson was amended to more accurately state his view that the government should be urged to require festival goers to show proof of vaccination or of a recent test, rather than “vaccination passports”.