Sadly, we have had to postpone Long Division Festival once again, meaning there will now be no event in 2020. Our new date is set as June 5th 2021 with the usual various events around the main Saturday. Most of the headliners from this year have followed us across and all tickets are still valid. We’d ask, if you can, to keep hold of those tickets as they are part of our lifeline into 2021.
Due to us having lost vital income for 2020, we have launched a Crowdfunder campaign. We think there are some great rewards in there that you will like and every pledge at any level gets entered into a prize draw, with a top prize of lifetime entry to Long Division Festival and all affiliated events. We hope you can help us ride out 2020 – if we make it, we’ll be guaranteed not one, but at least two brilliant years of Long Division Festivals and more.
That’s the basic details and I know for many, that will be all you need to hear. But for those who are interested, I wanted to share more about our reasons for postponing and offer more transparency as to where we are at right now, what challenges we face and how things look for live music and festivals going forward.
Why cancel now?
It was becoming more and more clear to us that an event in November was unrealistic. Of the few events still planned around that time, most have postponed (Focus Wales, Thought Bubble) which would leave us fairly solitary. Some would argue this could be a positive, giving us a wider audience, but that would mean the decision was being led by economics rather than wellbeing.
Normally we would be beginning to promote an event – spending money – five months out and that was why we had to make a call now. We awaited with hope some flash of support or guidance may come from this week’s government announcements, but live events / mass gatherings / music were not mentioned, the only guidance to Theatre and Concert Halls being they can open but not host live music. As we’ve now hit our crunch point, the decision was made.
Won’t live music have returned by November?
It’s certainly possible but we have no idea what restrictions will be in place. Consider that Long Division Festival predominantly takes place in 100-150 cap venues. If a system working either to a % of capacity or one person per 2 metre square was in place, we’d be looking at events with a cap of between 10-15 people – including the performer, technical staff and bar staff.
We strongly considered a stripped back festival for 500 people, but that isn’t what Long Division really is. Either way, we’d be in a situation where artists and audiences would be travelling from across the UK to spend time in very confined spaces. The idea of a backstage area may seem mythical and rock and roll, but 9 bands sharing one green room for an all dayer is anything but glamorous and in this new context – dangerous.
Imagine if just one person attended Long Division with Covid-19. If they visit ten venues, think how many people they interact with. And then imagine all those people heading home to different places around the UK. We can’t even consider creating that scenario.
Can’t we put more measures in place?
There is growing traction for more robust measures to combat these kinds of concerns. Festival Republic has shared plans that are focused on making sure festivals in Summer 2021 are safe (a good six months after what would have been our 2020 event) based around audiences needing to buy a test, take it, post it off for results, then bring those results to the festival. This would run alongside the test and trace app (currently scheduled for September, but who really knows) and temperature checks. Leaked upcoming government guidance backs this up.
This level of logistical challenge is beyond what we can deliver as a team. As a small city centre festival, we’d potentially be looking at getting ten temperature checkers on site, training staff to use them, which we do not have a budget for.
Is it worth the risk?
This is the key question really. If we went ahead in November and we weathered the stress and concerns, what have we achieved? We will have achieved normality, a regular festival. There would be some benefits – local businesses will see a boost in income, artists will get paid. But it isn’t worth it on balance.
Another way to look at is it; if you were getting married, would you be booking your ceremony for November? And not just booking a venue, but paying to have invites printed, paying a deposit on the wedding band and catering? Would you be happy for your friends and family to be booking hotels and flights? Or would you hold on a little?
I’d rather make this decision now and be proved to be wrong, rather than make the decision to go ahead with November and be wrong.
What are the financial effects?
Annoyingly, it would make the most sense for us to put on the next festival in November. Alot of our funding and sponsorship is based upon us delivering a Long Division in 2020. The move from June to November allowed this, but the move forward another six months means we aren’t doing what we said we would, which is the basis of our financial support. This, alongside the sunk costs from 2020 is why we’ve decided to setup a Crowdfunder.
However, even running in November comes with huge risks. Current data from both the “After The Interval” survey which focused on arts venues and The Music Venue Trust showed that though audiences were eager to return to live events, many were very cautious about returning to venues. After The Interval in particular showed a caution in buying tickets for events that take place in 2020.
There’s a chance we could risk November, the health situation remains manageable, but a persisting fear from the public means our ticket sales drop off. Financially, we exist on a knife edge with regards to ticket sales. If 300 people less than expected show up, that’s a big hole to fill. That loses us a future headliner, or an education programme. We could be sunk in December.
But it feels like everything is returning to normal?
This is why I wanted to write a more detailed response beyond a press release. We all want things to return to ‘normal’. The opening of pubs is a massive symbolic representation of that. It depends on the circles you exist in, but to many this will now ‘all be over’. The idea that an event in November is being cancelled after the ‘great news’ this week will seem crazy.
I can tell you that I know of multiple local authorities who are looking at events in February / March 2021 with concern. I know of educators who are planning on students not having face to face contact with teachers until Spring 2021. I know of employers planning to keep their staff at home for another 12 months. The festival industry is working hard to ensure events in July 2021 can safely go ahead. It’s far from over.
I’m fearful we will now see a rush of the return of live music before it is safe. It won’t be the venues that are involved in the Save Our Venues campaign. They care about their punters, the artists – they get it. Though government guidance appears to restrict performance and gatherings of more than 30 people, we may see the smaller pubs and bars, desperate to draw in revellers, pushing back against this. As soon as one jumps the gun, others will follow. I don’t anticipate a strict approach to managing it; the government seems to have a free market approach to public health. As long as they can distance themselves from any negatives, they are happy to take credit for the positives.
Should we be optimistic?
Yes. Despite what I’ve said, things are moving in the right direction. It’s great that businesses are re-opening. A second wave may come and if it does, the blame for that will fall on many, but it’s important that it does not fall with Long Division or those organisations acting ethically and with the public interest at heart. In absence of sound government leadership (remember the government’s “Cultural Renewal Taskforce” does not contain anyone from a music background) those are the types of grassroots organisations that really need your support.
For us, the postponement to June buys us time (assuming we survive the next 6 months) to really address who we are and what we do. We hope it leads to a greater appreciation of the arts, of culture and of events that bring us closer together as communities. I also hope it leads to a greater transparency in the sector – the openness with which some organisations have approached fundraising is very positive. The music industry especially is about projecting some image of being the best, the coolest, being world-beaters and of a glitzy, aspirational, untouchable edifice. It’s not; it’s real people and that is good enough.
Assuming our Crowdfunder is successful, we will use the free time to ensure live music returns with a bang. If it turns out we completely misjudged the situation and the UK finds itself Covid-19 free by November, we’ll look to work with local promoters and venues to host an event that celebrates live music across the city. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
Thank you for reading.
Dean & Team Long Division