The British festival scene was massive in pre-covid years, with 26% of British adults attending a festival in 2019 alone. Before we delve into 2021’s landscape, music editor Simon Singleton takes us back a bit...
Whether it was a sunrise session of Ben UFO DJing at Houghton, a dose of hotpod yoga wellbeing in the fields of Wilderness, or raving with your kids to Mr Tumble at Camp Bestival, the British festival scene went massive and diverse in the recent pre-covid years, with 26% of British adults attending a festival in 2019 alone. But before we delve into 2021’s landscape, let’s go back a bit!
My first major festival was Glastonbury in 1995, in a now unimaginable time when you could just grab a Glasto ticket in the weeks leading up to the event rather than priming a network of servers to join a 9am Sunday tech bunfight with millions of others (and still fail dismally…)
The Stone Roses were set to headline (though they famously cancelled with Pulp heroically stepping in last-minute) and most of the buzziest acts of the era were also billed, from Oasis and Jeff Buckley, to Massive Attack and Portishead. I was 17 years old, travelling down from Scotland with a pile of mates, and feeling absolutely alive. I was hooked on the experience.
You could sense the festival landscape was changing at this time too, with festivals like Glastonbury introducing more and more DJs and dance acts who’d grown up in the often illegal rave and acid house scene. Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy started becoming as integral to Worthy Farm as Ozric Tentacles and Hawkwind, and many of these ‘alternative’ dance acts had become the pop stars of the day.
Festivals were increasingly becoming more mainstream and demand was soaring, with new large-scale events appearing exponentially in this time, from T in the Park and Creamfields, to Download and Phoenix. Since those early Glasto trips I’ve been lucky enough to work at many festivals, booking acts at nearly 20 festivals over five years for the Jagerhaus stage, and you get the same buzz from the energy of the crowd even when you’re stuck with a clipboard and radio mic. Well, almost! I’ve even got a chance to DJ at a fair few, and some of my favourite ever festival moments are those afternoon and late-night sessions where everything just came together perfectly - the weather, the energy of the crowd, the right tunes!
On the stages I’ve booked, I’ve watched grime MC Novelist stride on, take control and send a crowd absolutely wild at the predominantly indie festival Kendal Calling, and Idles deliriously close the Sunday night at Bestival before coming off-stage into a freak storm that caused bedlam in the backstage area. And being the wonderful gents they are, the band instantly pitched in and helped us crew restore order as tents looked in danger of spinning off into the site! One of my most recent highlights was booking the amazing Self Esteem to play London festival All Points East, and their set was a truly mesmeric ‘had to-be-there’ moment. Hearing them blow up at the moment on Radio 1 and 6Music, I feel privileged to have witnessed this early, magical show and helped make it happen.
So where are we summer 2021 with festivals? If you look at the current landscape with a glass-half-full perspective then it’s hard not to be feeling energy and excitement about much of what lies ahead, especially after the first festival weekend of the summer, with Latitude, Tramlines and Standon Calling among the events taking place. Currently, a very decent amount of further festivals are still scheduled to take place, and with ticket sales thriving. Among the larger sold-out events are Reading and Leeds (which sold 170,000 tickets in three days), Boardmasters, End of the Road, All Points East, Field Day, and Parklife, and there are plenty of smaller events looking in a healthy shape too. Wireless and Green Man even sold out without announcing a single artist, showing how potent this desire is and going against 2019 research that found the main reason for visiting a festival is to see a particular artist.
Keeping them up and running in the coming weeks is going to be a massive task (especially if we continue to see incredibly difficult weather conditions like those seen last weekend at Standon Calling) but production workers are more than used to tough challenges. And now festivals are back open again it’s hopefully going to help a battered UK economy, with Association of Independent Festivals’ research showing they contribute an estimated £1.75bn to the UK economy annually as well as supporting 85,000 jobs across the country.
Now of course music fans are generally not public health experts so the next few weeks are still going to be dictated by data and modelling rather than the enthusiasm and energy of pent-up ravers. However, you can sense by the speed at which events are selling out that the people are truly ready to let go once again. See you down the front.