With Glastonbury And Coachella Cancelled, Could This Be The Year That Your Favourite Festivals Head Online?
A month ahead of the anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, few of us could have imagined then that we would be in a mostly unchanged situation twelve months on. However, with the second wave having only just reached its peak in both the UK and the United States, it seems that we could be in for another socially-distanced summer – and large annual events are, once again, being forced to cancel.
While many smaller gatherings may be able to take place later in 2021 with safety precautions in place, the same, sadly, can’t be said for the much-loved music festivals held annually around the world. With attendance in the hundreds of thousands and the difficulty of maintaining a sanitary environment on-site, music festivals were among the first casualties of the events calendar at the beginning of the pandemic – and little has changed since.
While many organisers remained optimistic about the likelihood of going ahead in 2021, two of the world’s largest festivals – Coachella and Glastonbury – have already pulled the plug, originally due to go ahead in April and June respectively.
“Despite our efforts to move Heaven & Earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the festival happen,” Glastonbury organisers Michael and Emily Eavis said, in a statement released to Twitter last month, “We are so sorry to let you all down.”
While the Eavis family may have pre-empted the inevitable, there’s still no word from other major UK festivals taking place in the late summer, such as Reading & Leeds, Kendal Calling and Creamfields, who are yet to release a statement confirming whether or not they’ll be able to go ahead in 2021.
However, with artists booked, line-ups released and tickets purchased, could there be an alternative, COVID-safe way for festivals to take place in 2021?
Last summer saw both Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds mark the dates that they were due to take place by teaming up with the BBC and revisiting the highlights of previous events. In the latter’s case, the festival was given its own dedicated channel on the BBC’s iPlayer streaming service, with performances from the likes of Billie Eilish, Muse and Red Hot Chili Peppers broadcast from midday until late across the weekend.
Meanwhile, Glastonbury marked its 50th anniversary on the BBC by revisiting some of their most memorable performances across five whole days of dedicated broadcasts, including iconic archive sets from Oasis, Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys and David Bowie, to name just a few. Whilst it wasn’t how anyone would have preferred to celebrate such an important milestone for the UK’s largest music festival, it gave fans a chance to recreate the festival feeling at home, with many households even sharing photos of their back-garden Glastonbury celebrations!
It’s possible that we could see plenty of similar events broadcast throughout the summer of 2021, with archive footage replaced by brand-new sets from confirmed artists. In a change from the much stricter rules of the first lockdown, current UK restrictions allow professional performers to gather for the recording of virtual performances, which could allow festivals to take place remotely.
While there would be no live audience permitted, creatives around the world have been using innovative technology to recreate the atmosphere of large live performances in alternative ways throughout the pandemic. MTV utilised such technology to great effect in their 2020 awards ceremonies with the inclusion of virtual audiences and Extended Reality (XR), the process of extending a small physical set into an immersive virtual stage, allowing directors to create a whole new world for artists to perform in. In one exciting moment at the 2020 VMAs, XR technology allowed Doja Cat to give an ‘out of this world’ performance of her hits Say So and Like That from ‘Planet Her’!
While we aren’t used to seeing live performances in this style – especially in a festival setting – it’s certainly something we may see plenty more of in 2021, with Billboard continuing to release a round-up of the virtual concerts taking place across the internet each week.
We’ve yet to see any major festivals release details of online events for the summer of 2021, but Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis has confirmed that, while the festival is not facing bankruptcy, they are hoping that a potential live-streamed event will provide some ‘welcome income’.
“A lot of big artists have been in touch, offering to perform for us at the farm,” she explained to The Guardian following the cancellation announcement, “We would love to build a show that can be watched at home by people all over the world.”
So, when can we expect to know the fate of 2021’s festivals? Paul Reed, head of the Association of Independent Festivals, believes the news is likely to come within the next couple of months.
“(Glastonbury) is a different beast to most festivals and most likely ran out of time due to the size and complexity of the event,” he told BBC News last week, “For most festivals, the cut-off point is most likely the end of March.”
While we’ve all got our fingers crossed for the return of live music, the unfolding situation leaves it looking a little unlikely to happen any time soon. However, thanks to innovations in technology and the hard work of music creatives, it’s hoped that livestreams and virtual concerts may go some way towards filling the live music void within the first half of 2021 – and they could be the key to keeping the festival feeling going over the summer, too!