Can the festival industry survive post-pandemic?



Joe Evans

A postponed festival just won’t be the same.

With lockdown in full force and stricter enforcement being reportedly planned, it’s safe to say that the impact on the festival and touring industry has been massive. Glastonbury is just one of the big events to have been axed to ensure public safety, and most touring artists who can reschedule are doing so, with the rest announcing cancellations as the situation develops.

Upon hearing that gatherings were being restricted, and having spent a scarily large amount of money on gig tickets for the next six months, my first thought was (between expletives) something along the lines of “that’s a lot of money I’m not getting back.” Now, fortunately, most tours are just postponed until autumn with original tickets still valid, but not all. SXSW (South by Southwest), which was scheduled to take place in Texas from 13 – 22 March, was early to both cancelling and informing ticket holders that there would be no refunds on offer under any circumstances, which sets a terrifying precedent for other cancellations. Furthermore, postponed or rescheduled dates may be better than a straight cancellation, but if you can’t make it to the new dates, it might as well be. And there are no guarantees of a refund on ticket, travel and even accommodation costs. On top of all this, changed dates can mean changed line-ups if artists already have other commitments on the new dates for the festival. Slam Dunk, for example, already has four artists who have had to pull out of the rescheduled line-up – so even a postponed festival will obviously not quite be the same.

My Chemical Romance have also been forced to abandon the Australia, New Zealand and Japan dates on their reunion tour, with the remainder of the dates also at risk. Of all the damage that Covid-19 has brought to the music industry, this may be a real contender for the worst. 

As heart-breaking as this is for us fans and festival-goers, though, spare a thought for the thousands of people who depend on gigs for their livelihoods who are now facing a very worrying period of unemployment which could quite possibly tank a lot of independent production companies. Festivals especially bring in huge sums of money every year and provide lots of temporary jobs, alongside the permanent organiser roles. The loss of this revenue is understandably extremely worrying to everyone, from the stage managers and sound engineers to the temp worker behind the bottle bar. As with all other “non-essential” workers, these people now have no income and their employment is insecure at best, particularly the temporary workers and staff on zero-hour contracts, for whom it is still not confirmed that they will be able to claim the government assistance announced for affected workers. The upshot of all this is that the people this industry relies on may not be around to keep the festivals and gigs going when restrictions are lifted.

Another damaging effect of Covid-19 is the uncertainty it is producing over how long restrictions will stay in place, and whether the announced delays will themselves even be able to go ahead. Glastonbury may have announced its cancellation for this year, but for the first half of March, the organisers were defiantly insisting that the festival was going ahead, even announcing Kendrick Lamar as Friday night headliner on March 12. This received some quite understandable backlash, and within a week the festival announced a postponement until 2021. I do hope that the organisers kept all the companies, artists, food vendors and other people, without whom the festival would not function, well-informed about all discussions and decisions leading up to the cancellation. 

There is, believe it or not, an upside though – a tiny glimmer of a silver lining to the potential hobbling of an entire industry; many artists are using their time in self-isolation or quarantine to write and record new material. The first new shows and releases post-lockdown are going to be killer, which means it will be well worth spending a bit of cash (if you have any) to help get the industry back on its feet. No matter what your taste or which communities you are part of, you should go to see the artists you like. Buy new releases and support not just the artist themselves, but the recording artists, lighting technicians, sound engineers and touring musicians who don’t have the fame, recognition or – in many cases – money to survive the loss of income. To borrow a phrase from my dad; if you love music, keep it live.


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