So the not entirely unexpected news came last night that Black Deer, a festival now synonymous with the heart of Americana music in the UK, has been cancelled – for the second year in a row, and third date in a row. Announcing the cancellation on social media, the organisers wrote: “We can’t quite put into words how we’re feeling right now… The delay by the Government on the easing of restrictions means we’re unable to bring you Black Deer Festival 2021. It’s devastating news for all connected with Black Deer.”
— Black Deer Festival (@blackdeerfest) June 14, 2021
The silver lining for festival-goers is that they do intend to go ahead with the festival in 2022 – but how many other festivals will be able to carry over losses into a third year and survive? The thing about this which must rankle, if not infuriate, organisers is that this has been potentially avoidable. The Delta variant running riot through the country right now is almost certainly connected to the decision to not close our borders earlier because Boris Johnson wanted to seal a trade deal with India as part of his vision for “Brexit Britain”. 110 direct flights from that country, where the strain originated, landed in the UK in the three-and-a-half weeks after it was placed on the travel red list.
More broadly, we still have a benefits system in place so inadequate that for many people, isolating for 10 days will be the difference between eating or paying their rent, and the terror there is with that for large swathes of the population means that people are quite understandably frightened to get tested if they’re experiencing symptoms. Our test and trace, farmed out largely to the private sector, is an ongoing joke, at an unimaginable cost. People travelling to amber list countries are faced with a random list of over 300 potential private providers which, says Which, puts them at the mercy of rogue testing firms with no track record in this area, and who may not even give accurate results. The single thing which has gone well during the last 15 months is the one thing the government has not had any part in – the NHS vaccination roll-out.
Right-wing populist governments are notorious historically for not giving a shit about the arts – and true to form, we are led in the UK at the moment by a government of philistines for whom music has no value, even on their own terms of the significant income it generates for them in taxes. There is still no insurance scheme for festival promoters meaning that while other sectors have received in some cases generous support, the live music industry has largely been left to fend for itself, and accordingly in many cases has barely kept its head above water. Musicians who have had very little support from this government since the start of the pandemic were rightly looking forward to the return of live music to in some way alleviate the huge financial pressures many have been under. You can continue to support them via Help Musicians UK here.
Black Deer will rise again next year – for now, our thoughts are with everyone involved in trying to make it happen. Your bravery and positivity have been an inspiration. But seriously, as we say up here in Liverpool, fuck the Tories.