“In the space of a week in March my job disappeared and my festival crumbled into ashes”
There were 241 music festivals planned for 2020, but in the end fewer than 5% actually took place. We are a festival-loving country – from vintage car rallies, to the entire book world descending on the tiny village Hay-on-Wye, community carnivals and colourful civil rights celebrations to big multi-disciplinary months of culture like the festivals in Edinburgh and Brighton – the British know how to party.
And here we are in 2021. We know that Glastonbury is out, but Reading and Leeds are in. Festivals might be only accessible to the vaccinated, but that’s presuming people will want to get up close and personal at all, after a year of learning how not to. And it is not just the organisers, the venues, the contributors and technical crew impacted – but festivals are a clear marker of place and of identity. For some more remote places, like Shepton Mallett and Lulworth Castle, the annual calvacade of resellers might be welcomed through sometimes gritted teeth – but festivals are not just huge economic drivers for these beauty spots, but they connect tens of thousands of people with landscapes and parts of England they might not otherwise see. And they leave with good memories.
Our desire to gather and collectively revel in shared interests will never die – but the economics of risk, and the sheer logistical apparatus of convening mass events have been rocked. Festivals cost a huge amount of money and take months and months of planning. What we understand festivals to be, may not actually be for some time.
In this After Corona? episode, we’re looking at the impact on UK festivals, how people have responded and what comes next.
The special guests you’ll hear recorded their contributions at different points over the past year – and we wanted to get a sense of mood and response to the changing landscape.
Andrew Comben is the Chief Executive of both Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, and 2020 would have been his 12th festival – working with guest Director Lemn Sissay. As we speak the 2021 festival is now launched – as a hybrid of digital, physical, outdoor and spectacle – but back in spring last year, when Andrew spoke to us, absolutely nothing was certain.
Ros Green is the Director of the Essex Book Festival – a key cultural landmark every March in the East of England. We were working closely with Ros last year when the festival was curtailed whilst in full swing – yet innovation led to some surprising new ways of working.
Joanna Hedges – who has since got married and changed her name to Goodey – is part of the always possible team as well as an extraordinary festival producer and events management expert with lots of hats on. She reflects here on what happens to a grassroots community when its big annual get-together is pulled.
And Marion Leeper, is joining us from the East Anglian Storytelling Festival. And whilst the planned events of last year needed to change last minute, our need to share stories was not diminished one bit – so, perhaps, we just find new ways…
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