Katja Ogrin/Getty Images – Frank Carter of Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes in his favorite place: right in the middle of the crowd.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes headlined the Download Pilot Festival at Donington Park, England, June 18, 2021.
Live Nation’s Andy Copping spoke to Pollstar about promoting a scaled-down version of the beloved UK metal and rock festival Download Festival June 18-20 to gather data for the government’s Events Research Programme.
It’s the second festival that’s been part of the program, following a one-day event at Liverpool’s Sefton Park, May 2. The Download Pilot took place under the usual circumstances, across three-days, including camping.
Courtesy of Live Nation – Andy Copping.
The promoter and booker of Live Nation’s Download Festival in the UK.
The main difference to a regular Download year was the reduced capacity of 10,000 people, who had to provide a negative PCR test upon entry, but were otherwise able to celebrate without restrictions.
The lack of distancing or mask mandated resulted in a blissful weekend of feeling normal again for everyone involved – from the promoters, crew, and stall holders to the fans and artists, who agreed to perform for free.
It wasn’t about making money, all that took part were content with making a contribution to bringing back live events. After the first festival pilot in Livepool in May, where Copping was also involved, the UK government wanted to take its research into live events to the next level by gathering data from a multi-day camping festival.
Download Festival, which usually takes place in June right in the heart of England at Donington Park, lent itself perfectly. The main event had already been postponed to 2022, Copping and his team had three weeks to realize the pilot event from scratch. Mind you, they usually begin working on the festival lineup two years in advance.
“I honestly thought there’s no way I’m going to get that done,” Copping recalls, “There’s a team of us – Sean Ryman, Kamran Haq, Dannika Webber, Jenny Cotter – and we put our heads together with a list of bands. Amazingly, we got the whole bill together, locked, confirmed and ready to announce within six days, which is incredible. We approached about 43 or 44 bands, and we ended up with 40. The three or four that that said ‘no’ had very legitimate reasons.”
Given the international travel situation, which is still severely restricted, Download Pilot ended up being an exhibition of the UK’s many great metal and rock acts. “Enter Shikari was the first act to say yes. They let me know within the hour. Once I got them as one of our headliners, it made things a bit easier. The bands didn’t get paid. There was a small amount of money to cover some of the expenses, but I have to give them all credit, they were so enthusiastic and doing it effectively out of their own pockets. It was a real real coming together of everybody.”
Live Nation lost money, too, of course, there’s just no way of turning a profit on an event of such scale, but run at a severely limited capacity. The entire production cost £2.7 million ($3.75 million) and a regular weekend ticket went for £120 ($166). “For us, it’s an investment in our business and in the overall business, getting everything back up on its feet, whether it’s our festivals or other festivals that have nothing to do with it, to get venues back up and open, anything to do with entertainment and leisure. If what we’ve done this weekend enables overall business to open, it’s good for everybody, including ourselves,” Copping explained.
Katja Ogrin/Getty Images – Walk on water, surf on crowds.
Fans clearly enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate together in an unhinged fashion.
Everyone on site had to be tested in advance, ticket buyers agreed to present a negative PCR test at the gate and to have a follow-up test at the end of this week. While the promoters are aware that no all of the 10,000 attendees will show up for the follow-up test, they’re confident that many will. The high number of people, who got a second test done in the aftermath of the Liverpool festival were encouraging, said Copping.
Despite the inconvenience of having to get tested, all 10,000 ticket for Download Pilot sold out in just over an hour. Copping said, they could have sold-out the event “ten times over. The demand was huge, because people were so desperate to get get back out again.”
NHS staff was on site at Donington Park to conduct random lateral flow tests among visitors. Once the follow-up test results are in, the UK government is expected to analyze the data and hopefully gain the confidence it needs to remove all remaining restrictions on social gatherings in the country. Under the government’s original plan, this should have already happened on June 21, but the so-called Delta variant of coronavirus caused decision makers to wait another month before lifting all restrictions. The new target date is July 19.
– Download Pilot Bill.
The event sold out in just over an hour.
Copping is “really confident that we will be able to get back to some sort of normality, and that they will open things up. Our fans, they were dancing, mingling, mixing, shaking hands, hugging, kissing. It was like the last time we were there in 2019. I know, for some people, that might sound horrific, but we need this! If we were the event that had 10,000 guinea pigs to do this test, then that’s exactly what it was supposed to be. The more human interaction, the better. As I say, I’m very, very confident that we’ll come out the other side of this with a very positive sign.”
When questioned whether he business would be able to offset additional costs caused by hygiene mandates and the need to check each ticket buyer’s health status upon entry, “the answer is a resounding yes.”
“The business changes all the time, regardless of COVID. Many different health and safety regulations are coming in on a regular basis to make sure that the fans and ticket buyers are safe. If it means extra security, if it means having sanitation, if it means more stewards to check people as they come in, the business will hold that,” he said.
After more than a year of not being able to do what he’s most passionate about, the opportunity to put on an event like this was a very emotional moment, Copping concluded.
“Although we didn’t have a lot of time to put on the event, just being on site, being around the people, putting on a festival, was very, very emotional. And it was for most of the people, the bands, the fans, the stallholders, everybody, actually physically being there and watching it all take place. It was a real sense of huge euphoria, and I didn’t want it to end. I spent Sunday, which was the last day, literally walking every inch of the site, talking to as many people as I could, just taking it all. It was very, very special, a carnival-like atmosphere, a real coming together.”