Culture Secretary “very hopeful” for full return of live music, as Download Festival added to Events Research Programme


May 26, 2021

Optimism is growing that full capacity shows and events will be possible again in England from 21 Jun following comments from UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. Although a government spokesperson stressed that data is still being gathered and a final decision is yet to be made.

Dowden was speaking to the Evening Standard about the UK government’s Events Research Programme, which has been monitoring a series of events with ever increased capacities to assess how to safely reopen the live entertainment and sporting sectors as COVID rules are relaxed.

Insiders had already said that positive results were coming out of that research. Various measures had been identified for reducing the risk of the coronavirus being spread at full capacity shows, so that people were at no more risk of contracting COVID at such an event than they were if they went to a restaurant or shopping centre.

In the new interview, Dowden revealed that 58,000 people have now attended events as part of the research programme and only fifteen positive COVID cases have been identified among those attendees post-event.

Included in the shows taking place as part of the programme was this month’s BRIT Awards, where an audience of 4000 watched the proceedings live without social distancing or face masks once seated. No COVID cases were reported among that audience afterwards.

Only two cases were reported among the 5000 people who attended a mini-festival in Liverpool, while among the 6000 people who attended two Circus club nights, also in Liverpool, just nine cases were identified.

The positive outcome of the research, Dowden said, means he is now “very hopeful” that after 21 Jun the stadiums of England will be full again, while theatres and venues will be able stage full-capacity sell out shows.

Although that’s not yet assured. A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson told reporters that additional data still needed to be gathered and scrutinised, after which a full report would go to Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson who will make the final decision regarding 21 Jun.

Following Dowden’s interview, it was announced that the Download Festival – the 2021 edition of which was cancelled in March – will now take place as part of the Events Research Programme. However, it will have to drop its capacity by more than 100,000 to just 10,000 ticketholders. Seemingly, this is the test camping festival that the boss of Live Nation’s Festival Republic Melvin Benn revealed the company was preparing to announce earlier this month.

The festival will take place at Donington Park on 18-20 Jun (a week after its original dates), with tickets going on sale on 3 Jun.

“Researchers from Public Health England will be overseeing the study”, say organisers in a statement. “They will be gathering data on transmission risk, the suspension of social distancing and face coverings over several consecutive days. This data will help to ensure that events later this summer can go ahead safely”.

“There’s certain criteria the science bods need you to fulfil for their research (being over sixteen is one example)”, they go on. “Anyone who wants to attend will need to read and agree to a consent document first to ensure they understand the research process and meet these criteria before they can buy a ticket”.

Last month, the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media And Sport Committee urged the government to add more live events to the Events Research Programme. This, it said, would ensure that more events would be able to go ahead this summer, if the government planned to hold to its decision not to provide state-backed cancellation insurance.

The lack of such insurance on the commercial market has led to many festivals to cancel plans to go ahead this summer, even though the upcoming relaxation of COVID rules means they could have taken place. However, with no cancellation insurance available, many promoters can’t afford to take the risk that COVID restrictions will be extended at the last minute. Shows taking place as part of the Events Research Programme are insured by the government.

However, as the resurrection of Download shows, one drawback to this plan is that government test events are all limited in size. If events have to shrink down to around a tenth of their size, then this will also mean a significant rethink of their staging and the acts they will have performing.

No line-up has yet been announced for the Download test event, but it seems unlikely that original headliners Kiss, Biffy Clyro and System Of A Down will be performing. Find out more about the festival here.

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