What a strange summer we all had last year. A brief lull in cases allowed most of us a small taste of freedom. Restaurants reopened their doors, hairdressers bravely sharpened their scissors in a heroic battle against the nation’s lockdown hairdos, and for a short while life felt almost normal.
But when it came to the prospect of live music events – one of the cornerstones of a great British summer – all bets were off. Across the country the farms and fields that in normal times would welcome tens of thousands of glitter-clad festival goers were left empty. The grass was left to grow.
This year, we were promised things would be different. The vaccination programme and the roll-out of rapid testing gave fresh hope that maybe, just maybe, we might be allowed to dance in a field together sometime soon.
The prime minister’s proposed roadmap out of lockdown means that in theory, by 21 June (depending on case numbers), music festivals and other live events should be given the green light.
The response from the industry started out jubilantly. Scores of independent festivals optimistically announced plans to put on events, with many selling out almost immediately.
But then came the spanner in the works. Without the safety net of insurance and the precarious nature of the pandemic, organisers knew they were rolling the dice.
Last week, news from the live events industry was gloomy. Shambala, Boomtown and indie rock festival Barn on the Farm announced cancellations within days of each other – all three citing the financial risk of staging events that could be shut down at a moment’s notice by new Covid restrictions.
More cancellations are expected. Paul Reed, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals, which represents around 80 festivals, last week told the Guardian a recent poll of festival organisers found 92.5 per cent said they would not be able to go ahead without some form of government-backed insurance or indemnity scheme.
An industry that has been almost decimated by the pandemic is calling out for help. Artists, freelance sound engineers, set designers, marketers and caterers who usually work the festival circuit cannot afford another summer like last year.
With the success of the vaccine programme and increased regular testing, events should be able to take place as planned. Organisers just need to know they won’t fall into financial ruin if anything changes. Suppliers need to know they will be paid.
For the cost of a government-backed insurance scheme, Boris and his pals can help protect livelihoods while knowing they have delivered some version of the summer they promised.
Music festivals aren’t just about getting drunk in a field. With all the infrastructure that surrounds events, festivals are like mini-cities in their own right, employing thousands of people, many of whom might not have worked for the best part of a year.
To the rest of us, music festivals are a magical portal to freedom and human connection. Live music is a balm that can soothe and heal. And after the last 13 months, god knows we need it.