UK music festivals at ‘critical point’ as more events cancelled

An alarming trend of festival cancellations could spell doom for the UK’s live music sector if the problem is not swiftly addressed, industry figures have warned.

Festivals including Bluedot, Standon Calling and Barn on the Farm will not take place this year due to budget concerns, while NASS Festival, Leopollooza and Long Division shut down permanently after their 2023 editions.

John Rostron, CEO of the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), is calling for “urgent government intervention” to better support events struggling with the cost of living crisis, debts incurred during the Covid pandemic, increasing supply chain costs, and slower ticket sales.

“We really are at a critical point for the UK’s festival sector,” he said. “Five years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that promoters would have to endure something as damaging as the Covid-19 pandemic – but many of them did, without passing the inevitable cost onto the consumer.

“To think that, since then, they have had to manage the effects of Brexit, war in Ukraine, inflation and an energy crisis is staggering. That festival-goers were able to enjoy some of the fantastic events they did in 2023 is testament to the resilience and passion of those promoters.”

Despite that resilience, 36 festivals either folded completely or were postponed last year, according to the AIF. Around 100 have disappeared since the music festival scene peaked in 2019, when there were around 600 events taking place around the UK.

The Big Moon perform at Standon Calling Festival (Amy Smirk)
The Big Moon perform at Standon Calling Festival (Amy Smirk)

The AIF has now launched a new campaign calling for a VAT reduction on festival tickets, which it says would save many event promoters from closures in 2024.

The 5% For Festivals campaign seeks to inform festival-goers about the problems that music festival promoters have faced over the last five years, and encourages them to ask their local MPs to lobby for the VAT reduction.

Jamie Tagg, a director at the popular Mighty Hoopla festival in London, said the latest report shows that organisers “have to start working and talking more collectively”.

“Suppliers know they have the upper hand when it comes to quotes in this market,” he told The Independent. “A lot of suppliers went under during the pandemic so some (not all) are using that to their advantage to hike their fees up.

“If we can break down those walls and have some transparency on costs, that would be a huge help. All too often festivals are gazumped at the eleventh hour if a better offer comes in down the line, and it's forcing the small and medium festivals to really suffer.”