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‘We’re giving it a crack’: Music festival organisers dreaming of summer

Hamish Skermer has worked at music festivals in the UK this northern summer.

Hamish Skermer has worked at music festivals in the UK this northern summer.

“I had three major events cancel in the first week an a half, then I’ve had a bunch of little ones spring up. The first weekend I had six events.”

Skermer says patrons had to prove they had been fully vaccinated or take a COVID test as a condition of entry and that once inside there was a “bubble attitude”.

He plans to proceed with Folk, Rhythm and Life this year on a site near Beechworth on the first weekend of December and prioritise his ticket sales of up to 3000 to those who are vaccinated. “We’re absolutely planning on going ahead,” he says.

“We are going to prioritise vaccinated people. The first ticket batch is going to vaccinated people. There’s children who are not vaccinated who come to our festival and they need to be protected.

“If the government’s not going to make it [mandatory], I’m up for businesses doing it.

“[The unvaccinated] will be the ones staying at home, we’re the ones going out and going to the party. If you want to come to the party, get a vaccination.”

Orvis, who usually hosts 10,000 punters but will run at significantly reduced capacity, and admits to wanting to “bang [his] head against the desk repeatedly at the moment”, is also supportive of attendees providing proof of vaccination or a COVID-negative test.

“If that is a mechanism that gives government more confidence that our events can be safe, as an industry … a good majority would be supportive of that push.

”[But] we’re 20 per cent vaccinated a the moment. That means 20 per cent of ticket-holders can come. Until we get to higher rates it’s going to be tough.“

Julia Robinson, general manager of the Australian Festival Association, says the unpredictability of lockdowns means the most immediate problem is organisers can’t get insurance.

“We’ve seen really heart-breaking cancellations, when everything is up and running, ready to go … all that money goes down the drain,” she says.

The association is part of a group of industry organisations that on Friday called for a government-backed event insurance scheme similar to that announced this week by the UK government, in which the government guarantees policies issued by commercial insurers for events including festivals.

Robinson says if that certainty is in place organisers can get planning. “If [insurance] was there we’d have a whole lot of events on sale,” she says.

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“This industry are a real hopeful bunch, they’re problem-solvers if nothing else … If they can open up, they’ll always find a way.”

Robinson also believes a health pass and masks indoors will be mandatory for large events later this year and that Victorians reeling from Lockdown 6.0 will need to let their hair down.

“It’s where the community comes together. For the last 18 months a lot of musicians and artists have been creating, they’re going to have some special creations to share. It will be a great recovery when it happens.”

Orvis agrees that Victorians need something to look forward to and that when festivals can get going again, and we can once again gather en masse, it will be the ultimate antidote to lockdown angst.

“Apart from all of the massive economic benefits for everyone involved, the local cafes, the petrol stations, accommodations, the people going, some of us have had 18 months or a couple of years of no live music, no social gatherings. I’ve grown up going to festivals and it’s part of the fabric of people’s beings.”

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