Electric Picnic: ‘No reason’ why 2021 festival can’t go ahead

Music promoters say big events, with full Covid testing, should be possible by summer

There is “no reason” why this year’s Electric Picnic festival shouldn’t go ahead, according to its organisers.

Melvin Benn of Festival Republic, which runs the annual music festival at Stradbally Hall in Co Laois, said recent pilot concerts that the promoter hosted at Sefton Park in Liverpool showed big events could be run safely from this summer onwards.

“I can see no reason why the Irish Government wouldn’t be saying you can be back to normal in August,” he told Morning Ireland, on RTÉ Radio 1. The event in Liverpool “felt extraordinarily similar” to a pre-Covid concert. “It felt incredibly safe and normal. You were able to chat to people, you were able to hug them.” He added: “Literally everybody is tested: the staff, the workers, security, bar staff, food traders, as well as the festivalgoers themselves.”

Before the concert everybody had a rapid lateral flow test at “an approved NHS test centre, and that was uploaded on to the NHS platform”, he said. “That gave them the green light that they were Covid-free and allowed them through a soft-entrance, soft-ticket check to come into the event, and their ticket was valid then. They were all retested five days afterwards, and the results look really positive at this point.” Concertgoers had not been vaccinated, as they were too young to qualify for inoculation.

Denis Desmond, managing director of MCD, Ireland’s largest concert promoter, also said today that he hopes large gigs will be possible in Ireland by late July or early August, and that his company would be “very happy to contribute” to the cost of Covid testing before and after events.

“Next week they open up in the UK with 50 per cent capacity, to a maximum of 1,000 people. Ideally we should be looking at doing something like that, probably mid-June. And at the same time looking at doing some full-capacity test events,” he said, adding that “the priority has to be outdoor”.

“We have to save at least part of our summer this year, not just for concerts but sporting events, marathons, the ploughing championships, you name it. We can’t have a second summer with nothing. Ideally we’d like a situation where we’re up and running by August.”

MCD has organised two sold-out Westlife concerts at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, in Cork, over the third weekend of August, with 70,000 tickets sold, he said. “That would be my target.”

This comes after yesterday’s cancellation of Longitude, the music festival that had been due to take place in Marlay Park in Dublin over the first weekend of July, headlined by Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator and A$AP Rocky. MCD said it was “absolutely devastated” that continuing Covid restrictions meant it could not go ahead.

Desmond said: “Our industry, mandated to close, has been standing still for 14 months. People forget the commercial sector contributes a huge amount to the economy at no risk to the exchequer. Promoters, venue operators, we don’t get support or funding and we take huge risks” and employ thousands. “We want to get the industry back up and running.”