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How will music festivals manage another summer without audience?

The big music festivals are cancelled again this summer because of the Covid19-crisis. Will the popular festivals manage the crisis and what does the future look like for them?

By Susan Grønbech Kongpetsak, , 6/3/2021

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected the music festivals?

Even with support from the government the flow through effects within the music festival and live performance industry have been deeply negative. The whole live performance ecosystem from technical staff, to designers, to transport, food suppliers, and marketers have been affected.

More than this, the festival’s committed army of volunteers has a sense of not being able to participate, and this generates feelings of loss within festival communities. In the end, they now need to support their audiences, sponsors, and communities with hybrid and online participation, and various innovations which hold their festivals together until 2022.

How will the festivals manage another summer without audience?

I’m both optimistic and hopeful. The big music festivals keep moving and are eager to find ways to go forward. And let’s not forget most people hold on to their tickets for 2022, it’s been a vital support for the festivals during difficult times – also economically.

For the music festivals it’s essential to keep audience and volunteers committed and with a sense of continuity and future regarding their festival. The Tønder Festival does this well by working dedicated with their volunteers and keeping them involved in the festival community and the coronafriendly events, the festival is planning in august.

It’s a time of huge stress, but also innovation. Festival are being held this year. Of course, they are smaller, often hybrid physical-virtual formats or entirely online events, or they might be new festivals that pop-up and start small this year with the aim of building a new festival tradition

Some people generalize from the reflexivity corona has initiated that festivals might change forever; becoming smaller, less commercial, or go back to community basics.

Ian Woodward, Professor

How did the festival guests react to the cancellations?

People feel a sense of dislocation and loss, in line more generally with life in the pandemic, and festivals are an important symbol of collective enjoyment and connection that we lose.

But many have also organized creative ways of staying connected and remembering the summer festivals, for example through small garden parties that might even recreate their favourite summer festivals.

We expect to see this again in summer 2021, maybe even more than last year because people know how to manage the Covid-19 restrictions better.

What does the future look like for music festivals?

Some people generalize from the reflexivity corona has initiated that festivals might change forever; becoming smaller, less commercial, or go back to community basics. On the other hand, we see pent up demand for the celebratory connection festivals offer – community, escape, good music and food.

So, we might expect a return to business next year, for instance Copenhell and now Heartland Festival here on Fyn have already announced huge, irresistible musical line-ups for 2022. But that festivals will have to organise with corona in mind for some time to come.

Meet the researcher

Ian Woodward is a professor at the Department of Marketing and Management at SDU. He is researching music festivals and festival culture and leads a European research project examining the music festivals and their significance in 5 European countries.

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Editing was completed: 03.06.2021