For the past 10 months, the organisers of Glastonbury have been pursuing “every avenue” to make this year’s festival viable after it was cancelled in 2020. This week, they concluded that uncertainty regarding the pandemic was too great to press ahead with the event in June, and it was pulled too.
They had considered on-site testing, the removal of indoor venues, increased medical provision and other measures, said co-organiser Emily Eavis, yet they still could not be “reasonably confident that there would be no or much reduced social distancing measures in place” when gates opened in late June.
She denied reports that they cancelled the event over insurance issues, citing multiple deciding factors. “Everything from restrictions on public transport capacities to availability of the medical staff we need to work at the event, to the simple fact that mass gatherings are currently still legally prohibited and it’s not at all clear when that will be reversed.”
Eavis also dismissed suggestions that Glastonbury could go bankrupt after a second fallow year. In 2020 the festival lost £5m after cancelling in March with much of the planning and work under way. Cancelling now meant this year’s losses would not compare, she said.
“We would have been in trouble if we’d hedged our bets and pushed on regardless to March and then had to cancel. We’d have spent a lot of money by then, money which we wouldn’t get back.”
Glastonbury had not applied for the culture recovery fund (CRF), though it had furloughed some staff and received rates relief, said Eavis. Some independent areas of the festival, such as the late-night clubbing areas Shangri-La, Block 9 and Arcadia, have benefited from the CRF.
The government could be doing “much more to support the arts in general, and that goes way beyond festivals”, said Eavis. “The arts sector brings billions to this country’s economy and it’s been halted through no fault of its own. Plus there are an awful lot of musicians and crew who are falling through the cracks in the government’s financial support schemes and those people desperately need help too.”
She called for financial support for events that were forced to cancel. “Germany announced a €2.5bn event cancellation fund in December, and we don’t currently have anything like that here,” she said.
Referencing industry demand for a government-backed insurance scheme for live events, Eavis said: “It’s not even about insurance. It’s about the government offering direct financial support where events have to cancel because of circumstances they have no control over. If other countries can do that, I would hope we would be able to.”
Promoters say Glastonbury’s cancellation doesn’t necessarily set a precedent for this year’s festival season as it is an outlier in many ways. With a capacity of more than 200,000, it is the world’s largest greenfield event. Its rural Somerset location means it takes longer to build than city festivals, and it falls towards the start of festival season. “We have a few things against us,” said Eavis. “I think as the months go on, it will become more and more likely that smaller events can take place.”
Deciding to cancel had been “a rollercoaster of emotions” for Eavis and her father, the 85-year-old Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis. “So many livelihoods depend on this event and that’s why we desperately wanted to make it happen. All of us at the farm are just a tiny part of an enormous web of people who rely on the festival.”
Support from the public had been overwhelming, she said, with very few ticketholders asking for refunds in 2020 and “no more than a handful” since Thursday’s announcement. Many people offered to donate their £50 deposits to the festival, she said. “I think a lot of people want to hang in there and support us, plus they know they’ve got a ticket to what will be one heck of a party when it does happen.”
It hadn’t been an easy year, Eavis said. “It’s not easy trying to cancel a festival while also teaching three different primary-aged children at once. But at the same time, we’re certainly well aware that we’ve got it better than so many. We are healthy, we have a home, and we’re surrounded by some incredible countryside. And, even though we didn’t have a festival last summer, the work hasn’t really stopped.”
Eavis said she was still working on Glastonbury-related projects for this year, including possible livestreamed events. “A lot of big artists have been in touch offering to perform for us at the farm, so we’re doing everything we can to make that happen. We would love to build a show that can be watched at home by people all over the world, and of course it would be a useful way for us to make some very welcome income.”
Michael Eavis told LBC on Thursday that they were considering staging some autumn events. This could be a version of the annual Pilton Party usually held in September as a thankyou gig for the local village, Emily clarified cautiously. “We’d definitely like to do something around then in 2021 if we’re able to and it’s allowed.”
Planning for the 2022 festival would traditionally commence in September but could be pushed back “if we’re extremely confident we’ll be able to go ahead”, Eavis said. “I think next year is going to give us all such an enormous high, because when we can all reunite on this scale it will feel even more uplifting than ever. One thing this last year has taught us is that fundamentally we all need human connection.”