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Bluesfest’s last-minute cancellation renews calls for insurance scheme

Live Performance Australia (LPA) has urged the government to implement an emergency business interruption fund after Bluesfest was cancelled the day before it was scheduled to kick off.

The peak industry body warned the last-minute cancellation of the festival’s 2021 edition would cost the organisers upwards of A$10m in losses.

The sudden move comes after the New South Wales government announced new COVID-19 restrictions following the detection of a local case of the virus.

The Byron Bay Bluesfest is an annual Australian music festival that has been held over the Easter long weekend since 1990. The festival features a large selection of blues and roots performers and is one of the world’s leading contemporary music festivals, welcoming some 101,000 punters each year.

The NSW Government had approved the festival’s COVID safety plan, which states that it would have been about half the size of previous editions, be fully seated and only feature Australian artists.

LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson said the cancellation “will destroy” Bluesfest.

She added: “One case of community transmission has shut down a major regional event with a A$10mi plus loss that will destroy a business with a 30-year trading history owned by someone who is risking everything to run his event in a COVID-safe manner.”

The organisation has been calling for a business interruption fund since the onset of the pandemic, stating that the recent development makes it a “matter of urgency.”

Richardson also said the issue should be “top of the agenda” at the next National Cabinet meeting on April 9.

She said: “This has cost hundreds of jobs, musicians who were about to perform their first gig in a year have been shut down, thousands of people who were attending the seated, COVID Safe-approved event have been turned away, and the local regional economy has been severely impacted.

“We call on the NSW government to step up and provide support to Bluesfest to ensure it survives a second shutdown due to public health directives.

“This is irrefutable proof that a business interruption fund is critical to the survival of live entertainment events in an environment where no promoter or producer can get insurance.”

Richardson also said that the industry requires “certainty that we’re not going to be shut down and that our governments can respond and manage community transmission”.

Bluesfest announced the cancellation in a statement that said they are “devastated”. It added: “The site is being taken down after having just yesterday been completed and ready for patrons and artists to arrive today.

“We feel deeply for all of our stallholders. This loss is immense, and we are working on creating a safe space where we can share stallholders contact details and local patrons can support them by purchasing their unused produce. Please dig deep and help them through this tough time.”

The calls in Australia echo sentiments felt in the UK, with live music industry umbrella group LIVE (Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment), being among the organisations lobbying the government to support festivals with an insurance scheme.

The current lack of such a scheme has led some of the country’s largest festivals to cancel their summer events, including Glastonbury. According to research by the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), 92.5 per cent of its members cannot stage their events without an insurance scheme.

Insurance schemes have been set up by Germany, with a €2.5bn (£2.14bn) fund, and schemes by Norway (€34m/£28.1m), The Netherlands (€300m/£257m), Austria (€300m/£257m) and in Belgium (€60m/£51.4m).

Image: Evan Malcolm /  Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported / Edited for size