Reading and Leeds music festivals have always been a strange mix of creche-like fun, youthful joy, and drug-addled risk. Probably amongst the UK’s most iconic music festivals and a rite of passage for post-GCSE and A-Level students who need to earn their ‘indie’ creds, the festival’s return this summer (dependent on BoJo’s commitment to end social distancing in June, of course) is finally a positive sign of the recovery of UK music.
But what will festivals look like? Will there be lateral flow tests? Could there be restrictions on crowd sizes or special measures to keep the festivals covid safe? Currently, there is little clarity – which, since the live music industry has been constantly left in the dark when it comes to re-opening, comes as no surprise. In a recent Guardian article, it was revealed that around 70 festival organisers are now calling for the government to establish vaccine-passport entry rules for their festivals. This is not only for welfare concerns, but also as it takes away their responsibility to organise testing for their events.
This probably won’t raise too many problems unless, like Ian Brown, you are an anti-vaxxer (the ex-Stone Roses singer recently refused to play the Warrington festival Neighbourhood Weekender because of its vaccine-only policy). Whether or not someone who holds such disregard for public health should be on stage is a debate for another time; the primary issue with the vaccination-passport policy is that many festivals are waiting on the government to implement it. Most have hesitated to make serious safety measures on their own.
Paying lip service to the virus may be the theme of festivals in 2021 and if last year’s summer is anything to go by, once people get a taste of freedom from coronavirus measures, it’s going to be wild. A few extra hand-washing points aren’t going to make much difference. Latitude, Parklife and Creamfields have also announced they will be going ahead, and whilst some festivals – notably Download and Glastonbury – have been cancelled, it is still set to be a busy summer. I currently have tickets to see New Order in Manchester in September and am ready to purchase my Parklife tickets and I am cautiously optimistic. Parklife was postponed until September and, like the Isle of Wight Festival, hopes to have greater clarity on government measures by the time the festival is due to occur.
Hygiene points, emphasis on hand washing and vaccine-passport tickets could certainly be effective in making the festivals covid-safe and it is likely such measures will be put in place. However, if Reading’s previous lack of care towards festival-goers is anything to go by, its covid measures will only abide to government rules rather than taking extra safety precautions. Judging by past government hastiness, our desire to return to normality and the pressure on the government not to push things back for a third time, mean few accurate predictions can be made.
Festivals may opt to play things safe. Indeed, socially-distanced festivals could provide more space to appreciate the music and the performance. But do we really want that? Is that what a true festival is? No: we want the mess, the muck, and the dirt. After so long inside, we want to be thrown around a sweaty mass of intoxicated festival-goers who, whilst only knowing a few of the band’s songs, make up for it in their enthusiasm for moshing.
Here’s hoping that music festivals will continue as normal as possible and, for those of us who do attend, they will mark the key moment between the end of the lockdown and the booming years of the post-pandemic 20s. After over a year of being deprived of live music, I have no doubt that the festivals that do go ahead this summer will be superb but also chaotic, with double the number of accidents, mishaps and carnage which makes them so great.