UK Festival Season Tossed Lifeline as Restrictions to Lift This Month

Dave Grohl
Simone Joyner/Getty Images

Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters performs live on the Main Stage during day three of Reading Festival 2019 at Richfield Avenue on Aug. 25, 2019 in Reading, England.

Representatives of the live industry welcome the news, but warn that a government-backed insurance scheme is still needed to "save summer"

LONDON – After being closed for 16 months, full-capacity live shows and outdoor festivals can once again take place in the United Kingdom beginning July 19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday (July 5), throwing a much-needed lifeline to the country's struggling live sector.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson announced that the final step of the government's roadmap out of lockdown will see all social distancing rules scrapped and people no longer legally required to wear a face mask in public settings.

The U.K. is scheduled to lift its last remaining COVID-19 restrictions on July 19 with a final decision to be made one week earlier on July 12, following a government review of the latest health data.

Confirmation of an end to restrictions was welcomed by promoters desperate to save what remains of the British festival season.

Tentpole events scheduled to take place later this summer include the 185,000-capacity dual-site Reading and Leeds festivals headlined by Liam Gallagher, Stormzy and Post Malone, and the 70,000-capacity Creamfields, which features David Guetta, deadmau5, The Chemical Brothers, Alesso and Martin Garrix. Both events take place Aug. 27-29. Following Johnson's announcement that they will be able to take place free from any capacity limits, Reading and Leeds Festival tweeted, "Let's go!!!"

Other big U.K. festivals taking place in August and September include Parklife, All Points East, Boardmasters, End of the Road, Neighbourhood Weekender and the Isle of Wight Festival. Indoor live shows booked for the tail end of summer include gigs by Gorillaz and Burna Boy at London's The O2 arena, and Blossoms and Genesis at Manchester's AO Arena, although the vast majority of U.K. touring is not scheduled to resume until the fall.

"We have watched the rest of the economy reopen while our doors have been forced to remain closed," says Greg Parmley, CEO of U.K. live industry body LIVE. He says the end of lockdown will generate "considerable excitement amongst music fans," but warns that the government must do more to help the sector bounce back.

Key to any revival, say U.K. execs, is the introduction of a government-backed insurance scheme covering the cost of last-minute cancellations as a result of COVID-19, similar to what's been introduced in other European markets, like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The absence of such a safety net in the U.K. means that organizers are reluctant to risk their businesses, says Paul Reed, chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals. "There is no rationale for not implementing such a scheme if the government's roadmap is truly irreversible," says Reed, fearing further festival cancellations this summer, despite the end to restrictions.

According to the Association of Independent Festivals, more than half of all U.K. festivals scheduled to take place in 2021 have been cancelled this year. Big name casualties include Glastonbury, BST Hyde Park, Download and Kendal Calling.

Having previously delayed the lifting of restrictions by four weeks, Johnson said he expected the U.K. to fully reopen on the planned target date, despite an alarming rise in coronavirus infections linked to the Delta variant.

On Monday, the U.K. recorded 27,334 new cases of COVID-19 and the seven-day case average rose 53% compared with the week before.

According to the latest data, just under 34 million people in the U.K. have had both vaccine doses, equivalent to 64% of the adult population, and 45 million people have had one dose, or 86% of adults.