Where’s the level playing field for music festivals?

WOMAD – the independent World of Music and Dance festival became the latest victim of the Coronavirus last night. Organiser and musician Peter Gabriel said on the event’s website:

It is with great regret that we are cancelling WOMAD ’21 today (28th June). Without the simple support of a government insurance scheme or the guarantee of Test Event status, we cannot continue and put WOMAD’s long term future at risk. We feel that our audience, artists, staff, and contractors, who have been amazingly supportive throughout all this, will understand the need for us to act to guarantee our survival.

The festival was due to start on 22nd July – 72 hours after Government restrictions are due to end on the 19th July. All that WOMAD were asking for was a level playing field – to become a Government test event and qualify for Government backed insurance to be underwritten in case the festival was cancelled.

The Guardian were quick to focus on organisers blaming the Government and the insurance issue:

Just hours earlier, another independent music festival, Cropredy in Oxfordshire – due to be held in mid-August has been cancelled. Meanwhile, two other festivals are going to go ahead. As Womad’s own website then added:

On the BBC news last Friday, we heard that Latitude and Tramlines festivals have been granted Test Event status on the same weekend as WOMAD which clearly implies that only approved test events will be protected and guaranteed the right to go ahead as normal – even though this flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s statements.

WOMAD have been keen to point out that they weren’t asking the Government for money or to pay for insurance – just to underwrite it. As so often with the Government, a failure to understand what is going on at ground level, and a lack of attention to detail means that another festival has been cancelled. The result is fans disappointed, artists losing income when they most need, and freelance workers on the festival circuit suffering a further cut in work. The multiplier effect means that we lose even more to the local economy as a result.

Its not the only festival to be cancelled. Ramblin’ Man Fayre has suffered a similar fate this year. There are now long term doubts whether Ramblin’ Man Fayre will ever return, with some anxious ticket holders still waiting for a refund weeks after the event was cancelled, left in financial limbo.

All of this could have been so easily avoided. As WOMAD point out themselves, contrast this with the Silverstone Grand Prix:

Big money and a strong lobbying team from the FIA meant that this event was secured recently, with a crowd of over 140,000 attending on the 18th July – within the restriction period. Yet support from Government as a test event and the deep financial pockets of motorsport means that this race will continue. Meanwhile, smaller music festivals continue to lose out.

Liberal Democrats believe in equality and fairness – for all sizes of business and events. The nation is currently gripped by football – where people rightly expect a level playing field. Is it really too much to ask for the same for the festival circuit, where all festivals are treated equally?

The Tories are meant to be the party of business, competence and enterprise. It’s high time they started acting like it – not just for events for big lobbyists, but for medium sized and small events, and events on the alternative music scene, as well as the mainstream.

* Simon Foster is a lecturer in Politics and Economics, and has published twenty-five books on Politics, PSHE and Citizenship.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • Peter Hirst 4th Jul '21 - 1:53pm

    This government seems to prefer sport to culture. A competitive ethos is important to maintain our economic status. However cultural events are equally important in fostering the arts, encouraging creativity and helping to lift the mood of a different sector of the population . They are also essential for reviving our tourism industry.

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