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Parliament’s culture select committee to put the spotlight on music festivals

By | Published on Thursday 12 November 2020

Festival Crowd

With its inquiry into the economics of streaming already underway, the UK Parliament’s culture select committee yesterday announced another music industry related inquiry, this one looking at music festivals and what support they need to successfully return after the COVID shutdown.

The committee noted yesterday that “with the vast majority of festivals cancelled in 2020 owing to COVID-19, the sector’s revenues have dropped by 90%. The predominantly freelance workforce and other parts of the festival supply chain have been similarly affected. However, social distancing requirements and public health uncertainty present further risks for festival organisers”.

It remains unknown to what extend the COVID-19 pandemic will impact on the 2021 festival season. Some fear that another round of cancellations could occur if there are further surges of the virus or more draconian social distancing rules stay in place making it tricky for major events to operate in a commercially viable way.

For independent festivals, cancelling a single edition of an event basically writes off a whole year’s worth of revenues, so even if live music was to resume in a commercially viable way in autumn 2021, that doesn’t help much of the festival sector.

However, optimists hope that – especially following this week’s news regarding a COVID vaccine – that 2021 editions of most events will be able to proceed. Though extra public health requirements will almost certainly still be in place, possibly reducing capacities, certainly increasing logistical requirements. And if there are still international travel restrictions in force, that too will affect how festivals are both programmed and marketed.

On top of that, you have the insurance dilemma. With cancellation insurance hard to secure, every pound spent on a festival will be a lost pound if a festival does ultimately have to cancel its 2021 edition. That makes festival promoters – even the bigger more corporate promoters – nervous about spending heavily on next year’s events. So even if ultimately the 2021 festival season goes ahead almost as normal, there’ll be a lot more last minute bookings, logistics and marketing than would be the norm.

The key question for the select committee, though, is how could government help festival promoters meet those challenges. And without such support, what would be the economic, social and cultural cost of having a festival sector on the brink.

The committee has identified seven questions that it plans to consider. Most relate in some way to COVID, though not all. The committee also plans to discuss how the festival market has evolved in recent years, as well what festivals can do to make their events more environmentally sustainable and to more effectively tackle the dangers of drug use at their events.

Announcing the inquiry, Chair of the committee, Julian Knight MP, said: “The collapse of the vibrant music festival sector this year is a real cause for concern. The majority of festivals have been cancelled with the money they generate down by 90% and real risks surrounding their future viability”.

“We have so many legendary festivals that have given the UK a worldwide reputation”, he went on. “It would be devastating if they were unable to come back with a bang, or if smaller festivals that underpin the talent pipeline disappear entirely. We want to hear from festival staff as they face huge pressures, fans who’ve missed out, as well as musicians on the contribution that festivals make to our culture and economy”.

He concluded: “It’s crucial that support to enable music festivals to go ahead in 2021 and beyond is put in place. We’ll be assessing what’s been done so far and what more needs to be done to safeguard the future of festivals”.

The Association Of Independent Festivals said on Twitter yesterday that the inquiry was “hugely welcome”, adding “we look forward to contributing”.