Fringe by the Sea will transform the East Lothian town of North Berwick in August for 10 days under plans to bring the event back in a “Covid-secure” format that has been backed by the Scottish Government’s own events agency.
Award-winning Scots comic Janey Godley, American disco legend Candi Staton, electronica outfit Basement Jaxx, Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman Huey Morgan, Hebridean rockers Peat & Diesel and Scottish folk favourites The Poozies will be spearheading the line-up.
Fringe by the Sea is the first major Scottish arts festival to confirm plans to stage outdoor events with social distancing this summer.
Many events have been called off completely recently while others, including Edinburgh’s main events, have said they are “optimistic” about being able to go ahead with in-person events. Tickets for a reduced-cacacity Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle esplanade have been on sale since October,
Fringe by the Sea, which is normally staged at indoor Spiegeltent venues brought into the harbour, is planned to expand into a series of marquees and tents around town, including the Lodge Grounds, Anchor Green, the Marine Hotel and the library car park.
Although audience numbers at each venue are expected to be strictly limited, organisers hope the extra venues will allow them to attract around its usual attendance of around 20,000. Acts to appear in previous years have included Mica Paris, Badly Drawn Boy, Jerry Sadowitz, Arthur Smith, KT Tunstall and Tommy Smith.
Other backers of the rebooted event, which is normally worth around £1.5 million to the local economy, include East Lothian Council, Belhaven Brewery and Glenkinchie Distillery. The majority of its audience is usually drawn from the Lothians.
The festival, which will be run under the theme "open arms, open spaces, open minds” this August, will feature talks from climate change and wildlife experts, chefs and distillers, as well as showcases for local artists, craft-makers, and food and drink producers.
Organisers of the festival, which is expected to run from 6-15 August, are preparing for “a number of eventualities” on how the event is delivered, depending on coronavirus restrictions at the time, including the possible need for up to two-metre social distancing.
Festival director Rory Steel said: “We have got to be optimistic. We have a lot of contingencies and caveats in place, but we are positive that if the vaccine roll-out continues on the path that it is on and we can get to the kind of place we were in last summer, when drive-in events were happening.
"We don’t have too many outgoings until the summer and we have incredibly good local support – there is a willingness to make the event happen. Half the high street is closed at the moment and businesses are desperate to get their tills ringing again.
"We’re being incredibly sensible in our approach and there’s nothing we will do that will put local health, wellbeing and safety at risk.
"By spreading things out across the town, we won’t have everything condensed into the one space at the harbour. We’ll still have events there, but they will managed in a way to ensure there is social distancing.”
Paul Bush, chief executive of EventScotland, which is providing £25,000 in funding, said: “Events are a force for good as they sustain livelihoods and bring social and economic change.
"Through creative thinking and innovation, the organisers are designing a festival for both artists and the audience to come together in a safe and fun way.”
East Lothian provost John McMillan said: “It’s great news that Fringe by the Sea will be going ahead this year and in a format that will allow this to happen safely.
"Events and festivals really help to put East Lothian on the cultural map and are a great draw for both local residents and those coming from further afield.
“Fringe by the Sea will be a great asset to our destination offer and will be a boost to East Lothian and its residents in many ways.”