The last time I saw my best mate, we spent the evening under the lights of a crowded arena with tens of thousands of other people, singing at the top of our lungs, just as we’d done numerous times before.
“I need to know what song this is,” we’d shout over the music as if our lives depended entirely on the fabric of a couple of riffs and bridges. “I’m going to the bar, do you want anything?” one of us would say, pushing our way through the crowd, coming back ten minutes later, grinning ear to ear, with two very warm, overpriced ciders.
But as we all danced along to The 1975’s autotuned “go outside? seems unlikely,” I don’t think any of us on that February evening intended for it to be a prophecy of the year to come.
In fact, before the past year, it was hard to envisage a year without live music. You see, without exaggerating or reducing myself to a cliché, my fondest memories have been made in dingy sticky-floored venues, bellowing arenas and waterlogged fields. Those vivid memories of jumping on strangers’ shoulders, pressing your skin against the cold barrier, losing your friends in a crowd and drunkenly befriending a group of people with who music is your only connection.
— Festival Republic (@FRfestivals) May 2, 2021
Because they are the moments when your body becomes overcome by awe and you feel like you’ve cracked the code to unwavering happiness. Realising that Harry Styles is actually a person and not a figment of your imagination. Seeing Florence and the Machine turn an arena into an intimate concert for one. Watching Rihanna at *ahem* a random field 10 miles outside of Stoke.
With the first non-socially distanced pilot events well and truly underway, and with the news that Glastonbury organisers have obtained a licence for a one-day concert this autumn, I am reluctantly optimistic. Though plans have not been confirmed, the first hurdle has been safely passed. It seems like my relationship with live music soon may no longer be one of long distance.
But as the prospect of going to a local venue is getting nearer by the day – less than a month to be precise, but who’s counting – the legs of the live music industry are buckling and the government appears to be doing nothing more than turning a blind eye. In fact, in a report published on Saturday, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee have warned that action must be taken soon or else it may be “too late for festivals this summer.”
After 15 long, difficult months, today is the day when Grassroots Music Venues across the country can finally begin the challenging journey back to bringing you the live music we all love. Read more below. https://t.co/rqy8bDOWvr#ReviveLive #SaveOurVenues pic.twitter.com/8GYdnk6VLv
— Music Venue Trust (@musicvenuetrust) May 17, 2021
According to the Association of Independent Festivals, 76% of festivals scheduled to take place in July and August are on red alert and are at risk of being cancelled without government intervention. Whereas countries in Europe such as the Netherlands and Germany have created cancellation insurance funds to support festivals going ahead, festivals over here have been left in the dark.
All of this follows a year in which “the arts” has fought to merely stay afloat. Venues have closed, people have lost livelihoods and social media has become a mechanism by which these cultural hubs have had to battle to assert their importance.
Reduced to a buzzword to encompass anything remotely creative or expressive, the cultural sector, despite supplying the UK economy with £10.8 billion a year, has been treated as if it’s some form of luxury, a hobby that we can live without.
And whilst it may not be the thing to keep us alive, for many, like me, it certainly plays a huge part in that. The broad descriptor that we’ve come to know is something that we live and breathe every day.
If I remove all the gigs, festivals and nights out from my head, then not only am I eradicating some of my best memories, but I’m also erasing some of my best friends, conversations and communities.
Though the government’s roadmap out of lockdown is underway, I worry that we won’t see gigs as we know them for a long time. Not out of concern for social distancing, I understand that, but because some venues and festivals just won’t be able to open without serious financial support from the government.
So, as I’m spending my Bank Holiday weekend reminiscing over festivals gone by, I will be imagining a world in which I’m watching music again outside of a screen, having my view blocked by a 6ft human and singing like a soon-to-be groom on a stag do in Benidorm.