The Big Issue’s guide to virtual festivals

COVID-19 may have made Glasto a goner but there are plenty of other organisations keeping live music alive online – and some are even doing it to support good causes

Glastonbury is cancelled, hundreds of tours are cancelled and music venues are closing – but that doesn’t mean COVID-19 should stop you enjoying live music.

Anti-austerity collective We Shall Overcome (WSO) has responded to the coronavirus crisis by arranging a virtual music festival, Isolation Fest, to be held on Facebook between 12pm and midnight on Saturday April 11.

Political folk singer-songwriter Grace Petrie, no stranger to the Glasto stage herself, tops the bill of musicians and poets set to put on a show for people tuning in from the safety of their living rooms.

Donations made by online punters will go directly to Pauline Town, a pub landlord at The Station in Ashton-under-Lyne who does crucial work to help feed and house homeless people in her community.

She feeds 60 people a day by handing out packed lunches at the pub and has helped nearly 400 people into housing since 2013, paying their deposits and first month’s rent using money raised at WSO gigs held in The Station.

But the virus outbreak means her pub will likely have to close, putting her life-saving operation under threat.

“What she does is unbelievable. She’s one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met,” Matt Hill, a critically-acclaimed Derbyshire singer-songwriter and one of the brains behind We Shall Overcome, told The Big Issue.

“Pauline needs our help and we’re all stuck at home, so we thought about what we could do to get people to donate some money. I know she has also been struggling to get supplies for packed lunches because supermarkets are so crazy.” The online fundraiser has already drawn more than £2,000 in donations, weeks before the event.

Many of the dozens of artists involved on the bill will have concerns about the future of their own incomes as much of their industry goes into shutdown, but they’re more concerned about the people who could be left sleeping rough during this global crisis. “It’s pretty bad for everybody. But let’s be realistic – it’s going to be hard for me personally but isn’t going to put me out on the streets, and that’s the danger for a lot of people,” Hill said. “Pauline’s at the sharp end of that. We have to keep her going and that’s why we’re doing it.”

People who want to get involved can join the Isolation Fest Facebook group, where 1,000 people have already registered their interest. On the day, the musicians and poets will either perform using Facebook Live at their allocated set time or have pre-recorded videos made live in the group during their slot.

Hill said: “We’re making it up as we go along. If this works then we have a template and we can spread that out. We hope we’ll be able to create a sense of community – people being able to comment should help that and show everyone watching at the same time that they’re not alone.”

WSO launched in 2015 in response to the general election results after the network of musicians was left deflated by the promise of another five years of austerity. People all over the UK are encouraged to hold gigs and events under their banner and put all proceeds directly into the local community causes they feel are most important.

Around 1,100 WSO gigs have been held in the past five years, raising an estimated £500,000 for community projects and groups hit hardest by austerity measures.

Also playing

We named Gig Buddies a Big Issue Changemaker for 2019 and they are still working hard to give people with disabilities access to live music. Their Stay Up Late project saw them pair up gig-goers with carers to ensure that they didn’t have to bow out before the encore. COVID-19 may have put the brakes on physical gigs but Gig Buddies are now turning their Facebook page into a venue for Coronavirusfest, opening up an 8pm and 9pm slot every night for anyone to fill with their musical talents.

Stranded abroad and forced to cancel a string of tour dates, Yung Blud wasn’t having it. Instead the eccentric Doncaster star decided to turn the negative into a positive with his eclectic This is The Yungblud Show. Around 40,000 fans tuned in for the variety show featuring not only performances but also that essential segment for every gig: a cookery section. It was wild and Yung Blud enjoyed it so much that he wants to do more. Keep an eye on his Twitter account to see when the mood strikes.

If you’re feeling the music drought, Defected Records plan to fill the void with 12 hours of music to be livestreamed from Ministry of Sound with Joey Negro, The Shapeshifters and more on the decks. The Glitterbox crew will be accompanying to help you turn your self-isolation space into the club nights you remember from back in the days before the coronavirus. Watch it on Facebook here and YouTube here on March 20 from noon to midnight.

If that’s not enough dance music for you, there is always SiriusXM’s Ultra Virtual Audio Festival going head-to-head with Defected on March 20. After the US station were forced to shelve the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, they are featuring exclusive DJ sets from artists like Armin van Buuren and Major Lazer instead.

And if you want to keep up with all the hottest gigs hitting the internet, US non-profit advocacy group Fight for the Future are setting up Stay at Home Fest, an online what’s on calendar to keep you connected to the music world even while you’re stranded at home. It’s still in the beta testing phase but their handy calendar is worth a look.