The Download Pilot was an event we'll never forget. But has it saved our summer?

The Download Pilot was the rock community's first taste of normality in nearly two years. But will it be enough to save the rest of us?

The Download Pilot was an event we'll never forget. But has it saved our summer?
Sam Coare
Paul Harries, Bethan Miller and Esmé Surfleet

If there's one thing that everyone could agree on, it was that taking your first steps into Download Pilot as its doors opened on the Friday was an overwhelming experience.

With no masks and no social distancing – though, thankfully, given the infamous toilets, regularly positioned hand sanitising stations – arriving at Donington Park felt like entering some kind of reverse Narnia. Step through the door and forget the strange, confusing land we’ve been living in recently. Welcome back to the real world. Remember all this?

And remember it we did. Because it didn’t take long for those initial wobbles to dissipate and for that Download experience that’s hardwired into all of us to click back into action. The dashes between stages; the mosh-pit etiquette; the laughs and the beers and the general elation that comes from being back ‘home’. The muscle memory was instinctive.

It’s amazing, considering everything, how much this instantaneously felt like Download. How it felt like we’d never been away. For all of the well-deserved plaudits the festival’s head honcho Andy Copping and his team have received for the planning and execution of the event at barely a month’s notice, their biggest triumph was how a blueprint that by necessity was so different could feel anything but.

Credit, too, to the Download community. Let us not forget: as a government test event, there was an element of guinea pig status for the 10,000 fans that descended upon Donington. Between bands, the main stage’s video screens flashed up messages reminding people to be respectful of their fellow fans’ desire for space, and that if you wanted to wear a mask, to not feel out of place. The amenability of everyone in attendance to respect those around them was palpable, whether you desired the people in closest proximity to sweat on you in a mosh-pit, or politely take a couple of steps away.

Those fans deserve everyone’s thanks for playing their part in helping open up the live music industry. As a result of this past weekend, if you do end up at a live music event later this summer, raise a beer to them.

What this all means for the summer will soon be revealed, as those 10,000 in attendance return their post-event PCR tests and the data around any potential COVID spread is crunched.

“Getting this event away, and hopefully with no major infection issues, it will literally open things up for all those other events towards the end of the summer,” Andy Copping told Kerrang! upon the announcement of Download Pilot. “There’s a huge amount of festivals going on – literally hundreds of events big and small – and they’re all sat waiting to see what comes out of Download Pilot, which will hopefully open the door for them.

“If we can come of it without any significant increase in infection, then all of those other events will be able to take place and hopefully without too many compromising restrictions.”

In the midst of the weekend, Latitude festival – run, like Download, by Festival Republic and Live Nation – confirmed it would be going ahead, albeit with more details on exactly how to follow. Bloodstock festival will have been looking on with particular interest. Scheduled to take place four weeks after the UK’s rejigged ‘opening up’ date finally comes to fruition, it will be the major festival that closest resembles what we saw this past week in shape, size and structure (and not just because Download borrowed their main stage). Reading & Leeds – both sold out at their full capacity and set to welcome in the region of 150,000 people across the two sites on the August bank holiday weekend – will be studying Download Pilot’s playsheet perhaps even closer.

It’s over to the scientists, then. Ultimately, they will have the final say on all of this. But Download Pilot proved that, in the face of a hugely challenging year and extensive pre-event responsibilities and requirements, live music can return. It will return.

For the moment, we came, we rocked, and we all played our part. Now, we cross our fingers.

Read this next:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?