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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

InternetDecember 1, 2021

The small festivals trying not to break the Covid rules

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

With summer comes festivals, and with festivals come vaccine mandates. Josie Adams looks into how the alternative community is addressing Covid-19 for IRL

Last summer set an unstoppable standard. We sanitised and scanned our way through Rhythm and Vines, Northern Bass, and Bay Dreams. We bumped ankles instead of shaking hands and used disposable cups rather than leaving our virus-filled lip stains for someone to clean.

This year is different; not just because of delta, but because of the vaccines that hope to stop it. This year, the vaccine pass will be the most important ticket you have. Under the new traffic light system, gatherings of over 100 people can only go ahead under the orange or green settings. At the orange setting, vaccine passes are required for any gathering of over 100 people. The prime minister has ruled out any region’s move to green before January 17.

It sounds easy enough: get your vaccine pass and go to your summer festy. But some alternative festivals are struggling with the idea of excluding the 25% of New Zealand’s eligible population that are not yet double-vaxxed. 

Relish, a South Canterbury-based festival, has cancelled its 2022 event citing uncertainty about the spread of delta. Kiwiburn has been cancelled out of respect for the concerns of local iwi, and also because it falls in a red zone. Golden Bay-based festival Twisted Frequency, which is expecting around 2,500 people, will be going ahead in compliance with the orange level rules.

On the other, less legal, hand some festivals may flout the traffic light system altogether. Earth Beat, which is meant to take place next March in Auckland, has an attendee asking their fellow festival-goers delete the vaccine pass from their phones. “Watch as the Passport system crumbles nationwide [sic],” a Facebook post reads.

A member of the Earth Beat festival group calling for attendees to delete the vaccine pass from their phones. (Screenshot: Josie Adams)

Aroha Essence Festival will be going ahead in Loburn, Canterbury, and “will not be asking attendees what their medical choice is”. However, they will have hand sanitiser and sign-in sheets available.

Fight Against Conspiracy Theories (Fact) is an independent organisation dedicated to prevent the spread of misinformation in New Zealand, and many of its members – including doctors, scientists, and educators – find some overlap with the alternative festival community. Earlier this year, said a spokesperson, Fact helped NZ Spirit to implement pandemic health guidelines and discussed with Earth Beat organisers how to avoid platforming anti-vaxxers. “It is disappointing to see that there has been an increase of conspiratorial content and concerning dialogue on their social media,” they told the Spinoff.

“As larger new-age festivals are businesses, reductions in attendee numbers due to the vaccine passport regulations would reduce their profit margin,” they said. “It’s understandable that festival organisers cancel events if the surveys that they conducted showed it’s now not viable to run them. But to see it framed as an act of inclusivity is disingenuous when it furthers the division and radicalisation within these communities. Real inclusivity means social solidarity towards vulnerable communities that are most affected by Covid-19.”

Communities that can’t gather – or refuse to gather in keeping with the traffic light system – may only become more divided from their vaccinated loved ones. “There is a potential for some festival communities that feel they cannot gather this summer to become more open to disinformation and more united in their stance against the pandemic measures or the government, isolating them further and opening them up to manipulation from charismatic influencers and new leaders,” said Fact.

Aroha Essence Festival “will not be asking attendees what their medical choice is”. (Screenshot: Josie Adams)

Convergence, another Cantabrian festival, is weighing up its options. It’s expecting around 300 people, and sent out a poll to determine the crowd’s mood: would they like the festival to go ahead, requiring a vaccine pass? Fifty-four percent said yes. Gordyn Hamblyn, a spokesperson for the event, called this a “clear, but not super-strong majority”.

“It shouldn’t be too difficult if we decide to go that way,” he said. “In the past, we’ve had gate sales, but if we go book online only and the vaccine certificate is part of that process, then nobody can pop up unvaccinated and have any argument about getting in.”

However, part of Convergence’s ethos is community and inclusion; naturally, some members are struggling with the vaccine pass mandate. “There’s been a raging debate on Facebook,” said Hamblyn. However, he said, the arguments weren’t just pro-vax versus anti-vax; they were also around inclusivity, which is one of the festival’s founding values.  If they’re unable to accommodate the unvaccinated, it may be better aligned with the festival’s ethos to cancel it. 

Last year, Convergence cancelled its event. “This year we’re struggling with ‘will we or won’t we?’ because we’ve always been a very inclusive festival,” he said. At the moment, the festival will go ahead in line with the orange alert level rules; but the team is still considering pulling the plug.

Only time will tell if Convergence happens, and if our summer will be unstoppable.

Update: since publication, the Convergence festival has announced its cancellation.

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