Will COVID-19 vaccines save UK festival season?

Articles, News // Wed 27 Jan 2021 - 18:36pm


In the years leading up to 2020, the UK live music industry was a powerhouse, both economically and culturally. Pulling in an estimated ~£1.3bn in revenue, it was the beating heart of the UK’s £5.8 billion music industry and showed no sign of slowing down. Its economic benefits were felt all across the UK, vitally supporting local and economic regional growth. Attendance of live UK music events peaked in 2019, bringing the greatest number of UK attendees ever recorded closer to the music they love, and crucially employing a record number of creatives, promoters, and freelancers.


Despite a booming decade, COVID-19 and the subsequent government-imposed health restrictions have significantly impacted the UK live music sector. Strict bans on mass events meant cancellations were enforced across more than 90% of 2020’s planned festivals and gigs. Having already lost over 64% of the live music sector’s workers, the previously colossal ~£1.3bn industry is currently projected to more than halve in size, depriving musicians of 80% of their expected income and potentially pushing three-quarters of music creators out of their trade.

The possibility of holding live events in 2021 has comparable uncertainty to the previous year, if not more. Even if a national lockdown was not presently being enforced, the UK’s ever-tightening tiered systems implement such rigorous restrictions, capacity limits, and social distancing requirements that holding events in an economically viable way is becoming unfeasible. Additionally, a recent discovery of new COVID strains exhibited to be ~70% more contagious than those preceding it has accelerated transmission exponentially Fwithin the UK. As a result, restrictions have had to become even tougher and there is little certainty as to when normality will return. Hence, very few organisers have the confidence to risk planning major events.


Despite a growing threat that the 2021 festival season will be written off as quickly as 2020’s season, there is still hope, and it comes in vaccine form. As of January 2020, three COVID-19 vaccines have been given regulatory approval for supply in the UK by the MHRA.  These vaccines, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and Moderna are a world first, unlike any vaccine the world has seen before. Traditional vaccines typically contain a deactivated sample of a pathogen to stimulate an immune response and generate antibodies. Instead, 30 years of research allows these new vaccines to utilise mRNA which generates a stronger type of immunity, stimulating an immune response that generates both antibodies and T killer cells.

So far, the UK has vaccinated one in nine of the UK’s population, including 78.7% of all over-80’s. People were being vaccinated at a rate of more than 250 per minute last week, 2.5 million in total. Yet, there is a concern of supply shortages being the rate-limiting factor to the vaccination programme. Some estimates project the 53 million adults in the UK to be vaccinated within the range of September to December of 2021, given they opt to receive it.


The government still has no clear answer on when coronavirus restrictions will lift, with a summer lockdown still being a possibility. Glastonbury organisers released a statement this week saying: “With great regret, we must announce that this year’s Glastonbury Festival will not take place,” the festival was scheduled to take place on the 23rd of June. The organisers urge they are “so sorry to let you all down” but “look forward to better times ahead”. Many other organisers remain optimistic in light of the progress in the vaccination programme.

Parklife organisers have changed the Heaton Park based festival from its usual mid-June dates to the 11th-12th of September for 2021, shifting away from its usual summer weekender. The festival bosses decided to move the dates so “we can be sure of the good times coming” and promise a “huge lineup, two years in the making”. It is full speed ahead for these organisers with even more time to curate a massive lineup featured across eight stages that will make all the waiting worth it. Looking at the 2020 lineup, we can be sure to see a house of massive names in 2021 such as Carl Cox, Bicep, Andy C, CamelPhat, and Alan Fitzpatrick. It seems the best hope currently for organisers is to follow suit and push back their events from summer to autum. If the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the UK remains stable and on target, the UK’s 2021 festival season could likely go ahead, albeit postponed a few months.

Words by James Barnes