Britain's Glastonbury Festival cancelled again this year, casting doubt over Europe's music festivals

Glastonbury is Britain's largest pop event, held each June at the Eavises' farm in Pilton, southwest England.
Glastonbury is Britain's largest pop event, held each June at the Eavises' farm in Pilton, southwest England.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (NYTIMES) - Britain's Glastonbury festival, one of the world's most prominent pop music events, was cancelled on Thursday (Jan 21) for a second year in a row because of the coronavirus pandemic - sparking fear that large music festivals in Europe will not go ahead this summer.

"In spite of our efforts to move heaven & earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the Festival happen," Michael and Emily Eavis, the festival's organisers, said in a joint statement on Thursday. "We are so sorry to let you all down."

Glastonbury is Britain's largest pop event, held each June at the Eavises' farm in Pilton, southwest England. About 210,000 people were meant to attend this year, camping at the site for several days (the farm's cows are moved off site for the event).

The announcement came as coronavirus deaths were soaring in England, which is in its third national lockdown. Some 1,820 daily deaths were announced on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters it was "too early" to say when lockdown restrictions would be eased in England.

For weeks, Glastonbury's organisers had been warning that the festival was at risk of cancellation because of uncertainties around the pandemic, with insurers unwilling to provide cover.

In December, Ms Eavis did a string of interviews with British news organisations in which she asked the government to create its own insurance scheme to cover costs if a last-minute cancellation became necessary.

"What we definitely can't afford to risk is getting too far into the process of next year, only for it to be snatched away from us," she told the BBC.

Britain's culture minister Oliver Dowden said in a tweet on Thursday that Glastonbury's decision was understandable as bringing fans together "in just a few months looks very difficult to make safe".

The government was "looking at problems around getting insurance," he added.

This month, Austria launched an insurance scheme to cover events that cannot be rescheduled, including music festivals. Germany's finance ministry recently said it has plans to start covering cultural events, but Britain has a similar scheme only for film and TV shoots despite pressure from politicians and musicians.

The decision to cancel Glastonbury again has caused concern across Europe, where music festivals have an almost mythical status. British politicians often like to be seen at Glastonbury, a sign of its importance in the cultural calendar.

"It's sent a very bad signal," Mr Olivier Garnier, a spokesman for Hellfest, one of France's largest events, said in a telephone interview.

Hellfest hosts about 60,000 heavy metal fans each year and its 2021 iteration, scheduled for June, is already sold out.

On Monday, Hellfest sent a three-page letter to France's culture minister Roselyne Bachelot, asking for certainty on whether the event can occur and suggesting that the festival could test attendees for the virus upon arrival. On Tuesday, Mrs Bachelot dismissed the idea that testing would be enough to allow festivals to occur.

"It's fanciful," she told a French parliamentary committee, adding that festivals were an obvious potential site of transmission with people singing, drinking and dancing together.

The picture is not entirely downbeat across the continent.

In Denmark, festivals are preparing to go ahead, said Mr Esben Marcher of Dansk Live, a body that represents festival organisers, in a telephone interview.

"Of course Glastonbury's news is a big signal to the rest of Europe," he said, "but my sense is that building its site is a much larger and longer process than for others."

Glastonbury takes months to prepare its fields to stage the event, Mr Marcher said. Danish events could be set up in a few weeks.

In December, Roskilde, Denmark's biggest festival scheduled for June, announced rapper Kendrick Lamar as a headliner. Ms Signe Lopdrup, Roskilde's chief executive, said in an email that she was "cautiously optimistic" about it going ahead.

Mr Marcher said he had "good discussions" with Denmark's culture ministry about "how festivals can proceed" and hoped for an insurance scheme similar to those in other countries.

Festival organisers are also pushing for the creation of a digital passport that would allow people to attend events if they have been vaccinated, have Covid-19 antibodies or have tested negative for the virus within 72 hours of an event, he added.

But Mr Marcher said politicians had been reluctant to discuss that proposal at a time when Denmark is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.

"No one wants to talk about how to open up society, when we're still closing it down," he added.

Several other major European festivals, including Primavera Sound, held in Barcelona, said in emails they did not want to comment on Glastonbury's move.

On Thursday, organisers of Belgium's Dour festival - scheduled to be headlined in July by rapper ASAP Rocky - said in an email they were surprised by Glastonbury, but "stay confident" about their festival.

Even if some European festivals do go ahead this year and get government support, it is too late for Glastonbury.

The festival will have to take "an enforced fallow year", the Eavises said in their statement. The main sounds on their farm this June will have to come from the cows.