How New Zealand’s festival and music scene is thriving amidst a global pandemic

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As much of Europe and the US continue to navigate life in lockdown, internet-searching festival scenes in New Zealand is a bit like getting a glimpse into a glorious parallel universe. Thanks to extremely low Covid rates, the nation has been enjoying a festival season in full-swing for some time now; one where social distancing isn’t necessary. 

While it’s impossible to tell what the coming weeks and months might hold for New Zealand Covid-wise, the scenes of positivity within its borders give precious hope to those currently locked down – hope of life returned back to ‘normal’. 

New Year’s Eve, for example, saw 20,000 people come together at the nation's largest festival, Rhythm and Vines. Attendees at the two-day event, which saw Fat Freddy’s Drop, Benee, and BROODS perform, weren’t required to wear facial coverings or socially distance. And in the true spirit of New Zealand’s #unstoppablesummer campaign, the festival also saw Director of General Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, deliver a public service announcement on-stage to a dub-step beat. 

New Zealand has been praised for its fast-acting approach to the Covid-19 crisis, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern taking the most drastic measures in the world early on in the pandemic. By being the first to completely close all borders when there were still only a few thousand Covid cases worldwide, Ardern set in motion a bold cut-off strategy. It’s one that we’re seeing the full effect of today, as New Zealanders gather in droves to socialise, dance and celebrate at a plethora of incredible festivals. 

Rhythm and Vines’ sister festival, Rhythm and Alps, also saw 10,000 people congregate to bring in 2021 in the most spectacular way. And the Northern Bass festival in Mangawhai threw an epic NYE celebration spanning three days and nights. 

There’s been some recent tightening of New Zealand border restrictions because of anxieties about new Covid variants overseas, and a handful of emerging new cases within New Zealand. But the nation’s festival scene doesn’t show any sign of slowing down for now, at least. As long as New Zealand’s Covid alert level stays below 2, summer events will continue to be able to thrive. 

Some upcoming festivals include Aotearoa’s “coolest little independent music festival”, Welcome to Nowhere, which promises that “festival goers will be able to dance to bands from all over Aotearoa and listen to award winning poets, all while lazing in the swimming hole.” With the festival set to take place in early February, its website does communicate a Covid-cancellation contingency plan. But at this stage, it’s looking unlikely it’ll be needed. 

It’s not just festivals that New Zealanders have to look forward to either. Patti Smith, Tame Impala, Crowded House, Guns ‘N’ Roses and Netsky are just a few of those with NZ gigs planned across the year. 

At Ticket Tailor, we’re seeing tons of amazing New Zealand concerts and tours popping up all the time, which are scheduled in – business as usual – from now until the end of 2021. Like duo music act Reid & Ruins (from the band Tiny Ruins), who plan to hit the road in New Zealand’s spring for an 11-date tour. And award-winning country artist Delaney Davidson and Barry Saunders (The Warratahs), who are mid-tour as we speak.

All of this speaks of a nation that wasn’t afraid to strike out on its own and to go against the grain just under a year ago. One that’s proven how a meticulous test and trace system combined with strict border closures was an appropriate tactic for enabling the country to thrive within its own secure bubble amidst a global pandemic. Of course, New Zealand has to contend with the economic strain of the measures it’s taken, just like other nations around the globe. But the country is able to do so in the knowledge that its population can enjoy freedoms not many others on the planet currently can. 

More than anything, though, scenes of New Zealand’s festivals and concerts give the rest of the world hope. Those on the other side of the pond can surely at least begin to look forwards; to feel the potential for balmy summer nights, where music can be played into the early hours and crowds can come together freely, and without worry. Locked down nations might not be there yet, but with New Zealand leading by example, we can hold onto the fact that it’s a matter of when, not if.