You heard me right. They’re over. No longer will we have that one time in the year where the sound of live music sends everyone nearby into a responsibility-free frenzy of moshing, mud, beer and really bad food. That is, according to the legendary creator of Glastonbury Michael Eavis anyway.
Glastonbury is “on its last legs” with only “another three or four years” left in the game, Eavis told The Guardian in July 2011. If one of the UK’s pivotal festivals is supposedly on its way out, is this heralding a depressing future for all festivals in general, or is it simply a lull for the enigmatic ritual of the English festival season?
We must first look at the season that just passed— it was poor. Reading and Leeds have been a bastion of the British festival scene over the past few years and are notorious for selling out annually in a matter of minutes. This was not the case this year, however, as tickets were being sold from the official website for months after their release date. This was a common occurrence around the country, with major festivals such as Latitude and Wireless struggling even to sell all of their tickets. Up to 300 smaller festivals and events were also cancelled. What has happened to the UK’s beloved festival season?
Eavis cites economic reasons, saying that with the current financial situation and the rise of tuition fees, the British simply don’t have enough money. DJ Rob da Bank, the curator of Bestival, has admitted that in the summer he received many tweets and Facebook messages from fans with comments about the government and their wages. Understandable, since as students we can perhaps sympathise with this economising attitude. When we are skint, we have to be choosier about where our money goes, especially in the summer.
Eavis also blames the general public’s apathy for the decline of festivals. We are “increasingly bored of seeing the same acts rotating around the festival circuit every year,” Chris Salmon reported in The Guardian in September of this year. Indeed, it is true that Muse, the headliner of Reading and Leeds this year, have played at eight major festivals since 2004. Creamfields is another culprit, repeatedly showcasing acts such as David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia year after year. Perhaps we are just craving new material. The UK market is saturated with so many festivals, each competing for the best and often very similar acts, that it can be difficult to decide which one to go to if you can only afford one festival outing that year. Moreover, UK festivals now have to contend with the increasing attraction of sun and sand that European festivals such as Benicassim offer for cheaper prices, perfect for the bargain hunting and slightly escapist British public. UK festivals with their reputation for chronic rain have little chance of success it appears.
With this gloomy picture, however, we must not forget the successes of 2011. V festival’s decision to include more urban rap acts this year, in particular Eminem, meant that its 85, 000 capacity was sold out in a matter of hours. Kendall Calling had a ‘”fantastic year”, according to its director Ben Robinson, by keeping the weekend tickets down to an affordable £95 and having such acts as Blondie and Chase and Status, who have a much broader appeal, headline. Perhaps it is an example of what could happen if festivals start to branch out from their regulars. In addition, despite Glasto apparently being “on its last legs”, it still managed to sell out several months before the line-up was released. This was perhaps due to the magic atmosphere of the festival itself, and the hedonistic revelry which is associated with its name, rather than the attraction of the line-up, but either way it puts Eavis’ depressing prediction at strange odds with the figures.
There is always the possibility, of course, that 2011 was just a blip. Besides, 2012 is going to be an interesting year as the biggest competition, Glastonbury, is taking a break. This means a whole 135, 000 customers and many major acts are potentially freed up for the other major festivals. One must also remember that the very concept of music festivals fits succinctly with the bizarre idiosyncrasies of the British Summer and our romantic love affair with them has existed for decades now. One bad summer does not mean we have fallen out with them yet.