Just how likely is it that we’ll see the reopening of major UK festivals this year? Here’s a look at what we know so far.
The arrival of several COVID vaccines in the UK has lifted hopes in the middle of an extremely serious third wave of infections. As people look ahead to better times, there has been talk about the possibility of music festivals in 2021, after widespread cancellation last year – many festivals have even released line-ups in anticipation.
Yet major doubts remain. The thought of thousands of people congregating at close quarters seems unlikely at this moment in time with artists such as Sir Paul McCartney expressing concerns about a possible ‘superspreading’ event.
With all that in mind, just how likely is it that we’ll see the reopening of major UK festivals this year? Here’s a look at what we know so far.
The biggest festival in the UK, if not the world, has had its 2021 acts ready for some time after announcing many of them for the last year’s event just before the COVID pandemic started. Former Beatle Paul McCartney and global icon Taylor Swift were two of the headliners due to take to the famous Pyramid Stage.
Apart from entertaining 200,000 fans across its huge site, Glastonbury is also extremely important for local businesses. The festival has thousands of stalls selling food, drinks, clothes and even spiritual therapy, not to mention the stage and lighting companies involved. The UK lottery has pledged support for creative businesses in the area through its Cultural Recovery fund, including Arcadia Spectacular Ltd who provide the famous late-night entertainment area on Worthy Farm, yet reality will start to bite for them if the 2021 event is written off.
Organiser Emily Eavis downplayed talk of a cancellation after Spice Girl Melanie Brown told BBC Radio 5 Live that the event, due to be headlined her group, was off. The signs don’t look good, though: nearly a quarter of a million people mixing over a five-day period doesn’t look likely, especially with the festival’s June date coming so early in the festival season.
Probability of taking place: 3/10.
The Reading and Leeds festival organisers are optimistic that the festival can go ahead thanks to its late slot in the festival calendar – the August Bank Holiday weekend. They took the ambitious step of announcing their six headliners back in September, including grime sensation Stormzy and rock legends Queen of the Stone Age.
Festival boss Melvin Benn typified this optimistic spirit in an interview with the NME. When asked how he planned to deal with thousands of youngsters mixing together in a field, he claimed that testing each person upon entry would be possible, and even that a vaccine wouldn’t necessary because the system would be so effective.
Whether this works remains to be seen, but it’s certainly good news for music fans who are desperate for live music. If it does go ahead, R&L festivalgoers will get double the number of headliners as usual, with the second stage given the same importance as the main stage for the first time in the event’s history.
Probability – 7/10
The popular London festival set its stall out early on during the pandemic. It announced the cancellation of the 2020 event in May, but confidently claimed that it would return for the first weekend of July this year.
Yet since that announcement we’ve heard very little. Apart from the occasional social media post, there hasn’t been much noise from the Wireless camp. While the 2020 event had A$AP Rocky, Skepta and Meek Mill lined up as its main acts, the festival still hasn’t confirmed if they’ll appear at this year’s event. Wireless regulars might have good reason to get worried.
That said, Wireless marked the new year by posting a social media message looking forward to ‘turning up’ in 2021, but whether they meant turning up the volume on the virtual concert or turning up in person at the festival itself remains to be seen.
The heavy rock festival is the biggest of its kind on the UK scene, and 2020 was set to be one of the most spectacular events yet with supergroups such as Kiss, Iron Maiden and System of a Down on its card.
When organisers announced the 2021 line-up in May, there were a few major changes. Biffy Clyro had replaced Iron Maiden, while The Distillers moved up to headline the Second Stage after The Offspring pulled out. It’s likely that fans won’t care too much, however, as long as they’re allowed to attend any festival at all.
Download’s super-early festival slot in the first weekend of June casts a major doubt over its chances of coming back. Organisers have been tight-lipped in recent weeks as all eyes turn to whether the new Covid vaccines can take full effect in time.
Probability – 3/10
One of the world’s leading dance festivals has been a regular fixture on the UK festival scene for several decades now. The Cheshire event has long been a celebration of everything electronic, with genres ranging from deep house to hardcore trance pleasing its thousands of attendees.
The 2021 event features acts such as Above & Beyond, deadmau5 and House icon Carl Cox across 10 arenas, and is the top choice for many clubbing fans.
Like Reading and Leeds, it may benefit from its August Bank Holiday slot which gives extra time for vaccinations to take effect and for life to return to some kind of normality. Yet this is far from confirmed and dance fans will be holding their breath as they wait for further news.
Probability – 7/10.