CASTLE DONINGTON, England – At 5 p.m. on Friday, a metal band called Death Blooms took to the stage in a field here and embarked on a hit track to open the Download Festival, the first full-scale music festival in Britain to take place since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
A second later, several hundred rain-drenched fans – including two men dressed in bananas – began to cross in front of the stage, arms and legs flapping, smiling ecstatically as they formed the first mosh pit. legal from Great Britain in 15 months.
After 10 minutes, Jim Ellison, one of the bananas, rushed out of the tent to catch his breath. âIt’s so good to get back to normalcy,â said Ellison, 19. He admitted that most wouldn’t define normalcy as âa man in a banana moshing suitâ, before cutting the interview short as Death Blooms began playing a song called âLife is Pain.
âI’m so sorry,â Ellison said apologetically, âbut I love this song.â He ran straight into the pit.
Music festivals have been a key part of the British summer since the 1970s: events where teenagers get a taste of a vacation without parents, music fans find community and people usually get very muddy and carefree. . But there are widespread fears that few events will occur this year, despite nearly half of the UK population having been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. And organizers say they risk going bankrupt.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said social distancing measures would continue in England until at least July 19 – almost a month after all restrictions were planned to be lifted. Within days, several major festivals were canceled for the second year in a row, with organizers saying they couldn’t afford to pay vendors if there was no guarantee the events would happen.
âThere seems to be a whole body of evidence saying, ‘You can host outdoor events safe,’ but for some reason the government won’t let us,â said Chris Smith, director of WOMAD, a festival of world music, in a press release. telephone interview. His event was slated for July 22, and Smith was hopeful that the government would provide support for the event to take place.
UK festivals range from world-famous events like Glastonbury – which turns a farm in southwest England into a temporary town for a week each year – to more scrappy productions like Tribfest, an event for cover bands .
In 2019, nearly 1,000 took place, attracting 5.2 million attendees, according to the Association of Independent Festivals, a professional body. That year, the festivals generated Â£ 1.7 billion, or $ 2.3 billion, for the UK economy.
The download was initially canceled in March. This weekend’s hastily curated special edition could only happen because it is part of a government trial to see if and how cultural life can safely return. Previous pilot events – two 3,000-person club nights and a 5,000-person rock concert in Liverpool – have led to eight cases of potential coronavirus transmission, according to one of the scientists involved, Iain Buchan.
Download 2021 had a significantly reduced capacity: the three-day festival of metal, punk and hard rock typically sees more than 110,000 hard-rock fans camping out at Donington Park – a set of fields next to a race track in the Leicestershire, England – to watch bands like Slipknot and Slayer. But for the government trial, only 10,000 fans were allowed and the lineup featured only British acts to avoid the risk of international travel and quarantines.
Participants had to take a coronavirus test before entering and agreed to do one five days after the festival as well so scientists could see if the event caused the spread of the coronavirus. But once inside the pitch, masks were unnecessary, while headbuttings, moshing and drunken conversations on the campsite were rife.
Melvin Benn, director of Festival Republic, organizer of Download, said he was not concerned about a coronavirus outbreak at the site given the testing system. “I probably have to be more worried about the foot of the trenches,” he said, taking shelter from a downpour.
Participants were also not worried about catching Covid. Harry Jackson, 26, a theater technician, said the only anxiety he had around the festival was taking the test before the event. âI just sat there watching him for half an hour saying, ‘Please be negative, be negative, I don’t want to miss this,'” he said. “I am considering Download My Home,” he added. ” It is my family.
Organizers of other UK festivals say they can only be sure their events will take place this summer if the government creates an insurance initiative to cover their costs if the country delays its reopening again. Austria and Germany have adopted such programs, but not the British government, despite pressure from politicians.
Last month, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, a group of multi-party lawmakers, said in a report on festivals that there would be a hole in “people’s lives. music lovers and creators “this summer as a” direct result of the government’s refusal to support insurance for the sector “.
At least one festival has found a creative solution. Last month, Brainchild – a three-day event for emerging musicians and directors slated for early August – asked its 2,500 attendees to agree to be reimbursed for only half the price of their ticket if the event was canceled so that the organizers could start paying acts and equipment suppliers.
Only 106 people refused to lose the Â£ 60, said Marina Blake, the festival’s creative director, in a telephone interview. âIt was amazing,â she says. “It shows that people are so desperate to have something to look forward to,” she added, noting that such an initiative was probably not viable for big events.
At Download, the relief of being back at a festival was palpable. During the set for pop-punk band Neck Deep, singer Ben Barlow said, “This is our first gig in two years, and I never want to wait that long again.”
âIf we are the lab rats, let’s give them a good experience,â he added, encouraging the crowd to go wild to mosh. Barlow appeared on the verge of tears on several occasions during the set.
On Saturday morning, the scene in Donington Park was typical of a British music festival. Music fans walked around with teary eyes and two interviewees said they decided to skip the showers on site and cool off with a combination of wet wipes and hand sanitizer.
At 11:30 a.m., 23-year-old James Carroll was standing by a stage, waiting for the music of the day to begin. He was in pain from the moshing the night before, he said, but it was nothing that a few cans of beer couldn’t fix. âDay two, pick up right away,â he said.
Soon a band called Lotus Eater took to the stage, their lead singer shouting into a microphone as his band created a cacophony behind him.
Immediately the mosh pit started again. There were no men in banana suits this time, but soon there was someone dressed as Tyrannosaurus rex.