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The Future Of Festivals

Festivals are big business. Well, they WERE before this summer. They are rites of passage for generation after generation – to celebrate excellence, to discover new and enticingly forbidden experiences, and to be part of a community of like-minded people. Whether you are a film-buff lurking on the promenade at the annual Cannes Film Festival or a pensioner remembering the highlight of being at Woodstock or even squashed into the Charlton Athletic Football ground in 1974 for the legendary line-up of The Who, with Lou Reed, Lindisfarne, Humble Pie and Bad Company. £2.50 a ticket when the weekly wage packet was £40 if you were lucky.

It would have been £238 for Glastonbury’s 50th … admittedly the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival on the planet - unhappily cancelled thanks to Covid-19.  Still, we’ll be able to put on our feathered tribal head-dresses, dig out our retro kaftans, and bop away to the best of the previous Glasto musical moments, thanks to the Beeb. Oh, and use our own toilets – yay!

On average, British festivals have gone up in price 24% over the past five years, to £165 a head. And that’s without all the camping gear, the ride there and back, and the food and bevvies on site.  If only wages matched that kind of hike. Festivals are a great way to get outside and enjoy the British summer, even if Glastonbury does seem to descend into a mud-bath annually.  But, with prices continuing to rise far beyond the annual rate of inflation, many young people are priced out of the market. 

According to the UK Events report, launched just before lockdown and published by The Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP), festivals represent £6BN of the UK’s overall £70BN events industry. They provide jobs for 70,000 people and the future was looking rosy until Covid-19 struck.

Trying to put a brave face on it, BVEP chair Michael Hirst OBE said “The report was compiled in what seems another age, but it will serve to provide testament to the power of events to create change and transform experiences, key requirements in facing and achieving the UK’s future challenges.”

He’s referring not only to Covid-19’s devastating effect on our industry but also the impending impact of a No Deal Brexit, presumably?

Not only have festival organisers been struck down, but Summer 2020 – the summer of No Festivals - has hit our fantastic purpose-built event venues and historic buildings suitable for hosting world-class events,  our networks of creative agencies and talented event suppliers, our performing arts/music sector and the new technology sectors with all their innovation and equipment standing idle.

Even if 5,000 people will be permitted to assemble over the Irish Sea, come September, it’s too late for us, for this year.

Game attempts to host virtual 2020 events have fallen flat. The organisers of Burning Man, have shelved the idea of one integrated digital hub and will share the festivities across various communities. In principle this is to share the event beyond those who “would have purchased a ticket.” In practice, it’s fuelled by financial constraints.

And the question must be asked, are the British public and our overseas visitors going to want to go to festivals this side of Christmas, even if they are staged? Access All Areas/Mash Media reported at the end of May that 82% of the 110,000 festival goers polled said they would feel comfortable returning to festivals within one to six months of lockdown being lifted, according to research done by Festicket. Interestingly, the survey showed that health and safety measures ranked higher in importance than ticket price. The top priorities remained as “getting money back on cancellation” and “good line-ups”.

When asked what type of festival they would feel most comfortable attending, 83% said they would feel comfortable attending a day festival, while 68% said they would feel comfortable attending a weekend festival. 60% said they felt comfortable attending domestic and international music events in 2021. The good news is that the majority felt they would book tickets for 2021 festivals within the next two months, because they’re confident that these events will go ahead. 24% would pay over 500 Euros for the privilege, 34% would spend 250 to 500 Euros, and 35% would pay between 100 and 200 Euros to be at a festival next year. A lot depended on whether they would be a one-day festival, or over weekends, with all the attendant additional expense that would entail.

Festival organisers will need to review and upgrade enhanced hygiene in all public areas, most of all the toilet facilities and camping grounds, to take into account the contagion concerns around Covid-19 which may well still be loitering into next year and beyond.

“The virus has certainly taken its toll in 2020” said Steve Heap, General Secretary of the AFO (Association for Festival Organisers) “with 87% of our member festivals cancelling and moving over to their 2021 dates”. The economic impact will hit hard in the communities where the festivals are both a respected arts event  and a major contributing factor to the local economy.

At Kit & Caboodle we have a dedicated team of festival-goers who now, in some cases, are introducing the next generation to all the fun whilst looking for family-friendly experiences that are a far cry from the old days. We’ve staged private parties for individuals and corporates at festivals, such as Festival Number 6; dressed dedicated areas such as the Barber Shop and fake Pool at V Festival, and built a New Look radio installation at Wireless. 

Festival organisers would be welcome to have a discussion with us as to how our creativity and design experience can be used to supercharge the 2021 Festival offerings with brilliant, whacky, off -the-wall ideas that will also resonate with the growing public passion for sustainability, diversity and inclusion. And novelty hand-washing! We’re already in talks about an installation at Glastonbury. 

Meanwhile – watch this space! Were you amongst the 200,000 disappointed festival-goers who instead enjoyed some of the past highlights of Glasto on the Beeb as part of your DIY Glastohomebury experience over this past weekend? One good thing about lockdown – TV programmers have been frantically digging through the archives and coming up with some great TV classics. David Bowie’s headline set on the Pyramid stage in 2000, being shown in full for the first time across BBC 2, BBC 4 and BBC i-player … not to mention full headline performances from Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Adele and Coldplay. Yay!

Some of the team tuned in on Youtube with DJ Mag who hosted a live stream of the Block9 Warehouse Party. They saw amazing sets by Norman Jay MBE, DJ Paulette and the Dazzling Heidi.

We also watched ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay, Rolling Stones and Adele in highlights on BBC…. Seeing all of those happy faces, enormous crowds and fluttering flags made us want to be right back there again. We hope Glastonbury can go ahead in 2021 - We’ll be there with bells on!


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