Festivals – trouble ahead?

As I sit here in my little canvas pimple of a tent, hiding from the endless Great Rains of Summer 2012 at Nova Festival, I have to wonder why. Why do we do it to ourselves?

The UK has the most diverse and plentiful festival scene per square mile of any country in the world. The Big Issue magazine’s Festival Guide (out first Monday in May annually) has over 300 festivals on its books. It really is mental how well we do outdoor events, especially when you consider the WEATHER.

Arctic warming and this summer’s sliding southwards of the Atlantic Jetstream could be indicators that we have a more tropical type of rainy season ahead – permanently. In other words, milder, wetter winters and dry-heat summers with regular intense downpourings. So we shall see just how long the UK festival bonanza lasts.

Just this summer, there has been an inordinate amount of weather-related festival cancellations. Expect much doom-laden forecasting of the deaths of smaller and independent festivals in particular at the end of the season.

Even the middle of London can’t seem to put on a festival, despite its non-field-based infrastructure – witness Bloc’s mid-festival cancellation after all the excitement of its first turn in London at the shiny new London Pleasure Gardens.

Shangri-La it ain’t.

Brits abroad

For now however, the UK festival is a strong cultural export success story, and as we speak, our audiences are colonising various picturesque corners of Europe as the formula maps ever outwards to an increasing number of international destinations.

To the delight of many a cheap airline in these punitive times, these are heavily marketed to UK audiences. It seems likely that the future for UK festival-goers lies in abandoning the UK to the rains and crossing the Jetstream in favour of more reliable warmth elsewhere. Which of course would add to the climate problem in itself.

All in all, the model needs some serious reinvention as it seems every which way you look at it, risk is über high, labour intensity is off the scale, and returns are sketchy.

And yet, on we go, each year bringing a bright new crop while fledgling and established offerings alike from previous years flounder.

It’s clear that Brits want a communal fun experience in the outdoors, it’s just a question of working out how to recreate the model so it is both environmentally and economically sustainable.


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