HebCelt music festival abandons plans for full-scale comeback this summer

One of Scotland’s most high-profile music festivals has been forced to ditch plans to make a full comeback this summer due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
HebCelt has been valued at more than £2 million to the economy of the Isle of Lewis in previous years.HebCelt has been valued at more than £2 million to the economy of the Isle of Lewis in previous years.
HebCelt has been valued at more than £2 million to the economy of the Isle of Lewis in previous years.

The Hebridean Celtic Festival, which has brought the likes of Van Morrison, The Waterboys, The Proclaimers, Runrig and KT Tunstall to the Isle of Lewis, has called off its postponed 25th birthday celebrations in favour of a “hybrid” format.

That may see a scaled-back form of the festival, with social distancing measures in place, take place in Stornoway, where it has been staged since 1996, if restrictions on travel and live events are eased.

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Organisers said they it was looking “increasingly likely” that the vaccine roll-out would not happen in time for the full four-day festival to go ahead safety.

They have warned fans that if even live performances are able to be staged in Stornoway “the event will not be the HebCelt our audience has come to expect.”

The absence of the full-scale festival will be a huge blow to the local economy as HebCelt has attracted an overall audience of more than 17,000 across its four days and was valued at nearly £1.9 million in 2019.

Government agency EventScotland said it would be support organisers of events across the country to deliver them in new ways through “virtual and hybrid” formats to help them retain their audiences before they go ahead in their previous format again.

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The Edinburgh International Book Festival this week announced a relocation to a new site and said it hoped to stage a hybrid programme of online and in-person events if restrictions allowed. Belladrum, the biggest festival in the Highands, told fans this week that it was “optimistic” about being able to go ahead on its site at Beauly, near Inverness, at the end of July.

HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said a “key consideration” in the planning of what to go ahead with this summer would be the safety and protection of the local community.

HebCelt, which had postponed its 2020 event last March, will be offering refunds to fans who had already snapped up tickets to see the likes of Robert Plant, Texas, Colin Macleod, Seasick Steve, Tide Lines and Julie Fowlis.

Specially-created online performances are expected to be broadcast as part of this year’s event, after organisers said it was vital to find a “bridging solution” to the pandemic ahead of a planned full-scale comeback in 2022.

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Live music events were staged at Stornoway’s arts centre, An Lanntair, which is deployed for HebCelt each year, before Christmas, after restrictions were eased in the islands, but have been halted again in areas with the lowest infection rates under the latest lockdown measures.

Robert Plant was due to appear with his band Saving Grace as part of Hebcelt's 25th edition.Robert Plant was due to appear with his band Saving Grace as part of Hebcelt's 25th edition.
Robert Plant was due to appear with his band Saving Grace as part of Hebcelt's 25th edition.

Ms Maclennan added: “It is with deep regret that due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic we have been forced to make the decision to cancel the rolled-over HebCelt from 2020.

“The HebCelt team continues to work hard to plan for an event in 2021. The ideal situation would be a return to the kind of music and live performances that we have all come to enjoy.

"However, as everyone will likely know, Covid-19 and its restrictions continue to pose unique challenges which we have been working to mitigate.

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“While vaccinations may bring some return to normality at some point this year, that is looking increasingly like it will not happen in time for us to safely put in place the kind of HebCelt we recognise.

"We are therefore planning for a hybrid event and are considering how that can be realised, including exploring a mixture of live performance and the creation of unique digital content.

"HebCelt is a vital part of the local economy and has showcased many of the best attributes of our culture and what the Outer Hebrides has to offer. This is why it will be important to find at least a bridging solution that ensures an event of some kind takes place in 2021, with hopes to return fully in 2022."

A spokeswoman for EventScotland said: “We understand this continues to be a difficult time for the events industry especially with the ongoing uncertainty around when restrictions will be lifted and the impact this has on planning for events in 2021.

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"When planning events, event organisers should follow the Scottish Government's event sector guidance on the safe re-opening during the coronavirus pandemic and continue to abide by the restrictions in place at the time of their event, monitoring updates on changes to both the guidance and restrictions.

"Through the ongoing work of the event industry advisory group, we also continue to focus on the development of a route map for the return of events.

"We’re also supporting event organisers to deliver events in new ways through virtual and hybrid events, which have provided a platform for the industry to continue to engage with audiences until events can return in full.”

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