Stevie G: 2021 was crushing... but there’s hope for 2022

2021 was a devastating year for the music industry, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: 2021 was crushing... but there’s hope for 2022

Magic Nights by the Lee took place at sites including Fitzgerald’s Park and was one of the highlights of 2021.

While 2020 was an unprecedented year 2021 was anything but in many ways. It was the same story again for the music industry, with constant closures, lockdowns, restrictions and cancellations, but this year it felt much worse. At the dawn of 2021 we had many grounds for optimism, and the vaccine announcements meant we finally could see light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not sure many of us feel so confident 12 months looking ahead. But let’s park that until next week and try and make sense today of 2021, a really frustrating year for the whole music industry and everyone involved.

The whole vaccination campaign was a big success but it came too late for the summer festivals, which were already mostly cancelled by the time the Electric Picnic announced that they would be trying to proceed. Their gung-ho approach also ended up ultimately in a cancellation, and as another summer came and went, we were left picking at scraps when it came to festivals. Admirably, It Takes a Village ran in a very limited and responsible way down in Trabolgan in September, but by then there was again hope in the air.

The late August announcement that restrictions would soon cease meant that those booking gigs got busy again and the return of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival heralded some much needed gigs for many acts. By the end of that weekend, there was already a backlash by many people, who bizarrely were blaming venues that had been largely closed for 18 months on Covid cases which were starting to surge again. In the following weeks late night venues were hit with restriction after restriction and most were more or less closed by the end of November, a traditionally quiet month for the industry anyway. By Christmas, many had closed fully, and some sadly won’t open again.

The government did support some events, and Indiependence did an impressive job of getting bands, engineers, DJs, security and loads more back to work for a week in Mitchelstown, but overall, the feeling here remains of frustration. The initial novelty of online possibilities for music has largely disappeared, and though we all do loads of Zoom meetings still, most music fans aren’t that interested in watching gigs online. We want the real thing, and we celebrate those moments when the real thing can happen.

My personal highlights were the Magic Nights by the Lee series of gigs run by the Good Room in association with Cork City Council, which ran both last week and during the summer. These were fantastic events which showcased a diversity of Irish music and entertainment in wonderful outdoor settings such as Fitzgeralds Park, The Glen, Ballinlough and Ballincollig. More please!

Cork Midsummer Festival was also a success and it looks like Elizabeth Fort is another potentially good venue which we will be able to use going forward. Sadly, for our existing regular venues and promoters, it’s been a devastatingly quiet and frustrating year. It’s gonna be a long way back.

In general music continued to thrive and I spoke about this in depth last week, when outlining my favourite tunes of the year. For albums, it’s not been a vintage year really, despite some exceptions, and many of the big names in music almost seem to be gripped with fear and uncertainty too, releasing less music in uncertain times. I’m pretty positive that this time last year I would have spoken about potential albums by Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Travis Scott, Beyonce and maybe even Rihanna, but none materialised, though Kanye and Drake did get everyone talking for awhile. Kanye had a fantastic year while Travis Scott will now be forever associated with the Astroworld tragedy which sadly took the lives of 10 youngsters in early November.

In Ireland more and more youngsters are creating music which is amazing, and we have a better music industry infrastructure now too. I wrote recently about the big business deal between Ireland’s Trust It Entertainment and Atlantic UK, and there is a lot of interest in a lot of our acts now. Many will do it alone and many are creating their own labels and communities too. Self sufficiency is a lot more possible these days and the grassroots of the music industry here are very strong. We have loads of talent. Hopefully we will be see more of that talent on stage at gigs and in festivals in 2022.

All we can do is hope!

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