Is this the reopening of live music? Download pilot festival 2021

This weekend saw the return of the first full festival in the UK in over 15 months. 10,000 of us packed into the sacred grounds of Donnington Park for three days of live music and good times.

Once inside the gates, there was no requirement for wearing a mask or distancing, a true feel of normality. A few people did choose to wear masks around some parts of the site, as well as one guy in a full hazmat suit I saw walking around.

The main requirement for entry was proof of a negative lateral flow test on arrival. The test must have been completed and registered that day, with the name on the test matching your ID and ticket. Everyone also was asked to do a PCR (lab) test either the night before or on the day of the festival, and a second 5 days after the event.

The event was also overseen by researchers from Public Health England, who will be monitoring the effect large crowds, mosh pits and crowd surfing has on the spread of the C Word.

Anyway, onto the actual festival.

This year’s site was much smaller than normal for Download. Operating at about 10% capacity meant parking, camping and arena was all in the space that is normally just stages. Size-wise, think 2000 Trees.

We decided to set up near to the entrance/exit, and although it was pretty empty when we got there, the place soon filled up with the familiar site of tents and gazebos. Although space soon became a bit tight here and there, everyone was friendly and happy to help out.

Only 2 stages and no clashes meant that, if you wanted to, you could see every band’s set – and lots of people did that. We decided that we would rather just hang around at the main stage for day 1. Hot Milk, Boston Manor and Neck Deep all killed during their sets, and aside from a bit of barrier crushing and muddy wellies in the face, we had an awesome first day.

Friday’s headliner – Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes absolutely blew me away. A phenomenal band, words cannot do justice to just how good their set was. During his set, Frank was joined by Joe Talbot (IDLES), as well as up and coming artists Cassyette and Links. I have to mention the awesome female only mosh pit, as well as Frank stopping mid song to make sure someone who fell down was OK.

Day 1 was seen off by the return of the silent disco’s rock/pop-punk/emo night. Part of the reason I have no voice left today.

Day 2 saw the worst hangover imaginable, but also featured more brilliant artists. I didn’t manage to catch them all, but Wargasm, Vonaka, A, Creeper and Enter Shikari all played some amazing sets. The silent disco was running again, but as Nu-Metal isn’t my scene I opted for beers by the tents. A special mention has to go to Jason Perry from A for coming out with a Deliveroo rucksack on. I still have no idea why.

The final day saw some of my favourite bands (both of the festival and ever) play. Chubby and The Gang (who also play Dot To Dot later this year), Jamie Lenman, Elvis Fronted Nirvana, Massive Wagons, Trash Boat, The Wildhearts and Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls all did first-class sets. A few of us even had the pleasure of hanging with Frank, The Souls and the crew during their soundcheck. That might also be the reason I have no voice left.

So, did it feel safe?

Yes

10,000 people did 20,000 tests before the festival, there is not much more that can be done to make sure events can go ahead safely. There was plenty of hand sanitizer around to use, especially around the food and drink stalls.

What about those who might not feel comfortable being in a festival?

Throughout the whole weekend, there were plenty of staff and security on hand to help if anyone needed it. If you wanted a bit of space, there was always loads of room at the back of the crowds, as well as sealed off areas if it all really did get to be too much. I did also see security help pull people out of the mosh pits when it did get a bit too much for them.

All that is left to do now is wait to see what the results from this trial show us. Let’s hope that it won’t be too long before we are all back in the pit with each other again.

And finally, a massive thank you has to be said to everyone who made that festival happen. Bar staff, security, stage crew, sound techs, camera operators, medics, chaplains and welfare staff, cleaners, catering crew, bands and anyone else I’ve missed off who help make these events happen. Without you people, music would not be. And of course, a massive thank you to every single person who came to Download to do their bit to help live music reopen.

Until the next festival, and hopefully will be seeing a few of you there.

Words by Ted Stargatt

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