Radio 1's Big Weekend in Coventry was a reminder that the BBC is about more than just TV – iNews

When you think of the UK festival season – the grass, the pints, the pervasive smell of chemical toilets – you probably think of locations like Glastonbury, Reading, and Leeds rather than Coventry. But over this past weekend, the Midlands city played fine host to what felt like the ribbon cutting ceremony on 2022’s long-awaited summer run of bands and burger vans in parks, fields, and farms across the country, as the chosen location for BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend.
Given that 2022 represents the first undisrupted summer of festivals since 2019 (and the first in-person Big Weekend since then too; 2020 and 2021’s editions were held virtually, with pre-recorded sets from previous weekends, and from artists at home, played on BBC radio and online), stepping foot into Coventry’s War Memorial Park, and seeing it full of fairground rides, families, and sunburn was genuinely lovely.
Experiences I’d have taken for granted at festivals pre-pandemic – watching Jax Jones play what I am reasonably sure was a remix of the “Cha Cha Slide” while queueing for a burrito, say – felt novel again, and even trekking between stages was a laugh when everyone in the vicinity seemed so happy to be there.
In that way, the weekend was also a bit of a reminder that in the midst of last week’s announcement of cuts to linear TV channels including BBC Four and the beloved CBBC channel, the BBC’s reach and impact isn’t just about what we watch, especially this time of year. Big Weekend began in 2003 and is often focussed on places that might not traditionally attract the artists whose tours go through large cities (recent weekends have taken place in Swansea, Middlesbrough and Hull), while local residents get priority tickets. The yearly event has brought global acts like Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna to audiences all over the country, long before the government’s levelling-up plans, Channel 4’s move to Leeds, or 5 Live’s relocation to Salford. Until 2018, tickets were free, but now cost £21.50 per day, which is a lot less than your average festival price.
As such, both Big Weekend and the BBC more broadly are intertwined not just with what we passively listen to on the radio but with in-real-life music experiences and discovery. Given the broadcaster’s focus on digital growth, it can be easy to forget this important part of what it does (and in fact, it would be good to see even more investment into this element of its offering, considering the fact that live venues countrywide are so desperate for investment post-pandemic as they contend against ever-tightening legal restrictions).
Big Weekend, along with other UK festivals including Glastonbury and Latitude, is home to a BBC Introducing stage which often gives new bands their first leg up – Florence and the Machine and Ed Sheeran are alumni – while at Reading and Leeds, BBC 1Xtra brings the grime, drill, hip-hop, R&B and UK rap acts it champions to its own stage.
This year’s event saw performances from some of the biggest musical names in the world, including Harry Styles and Lorde, whose sets closed out the main stage last night, while Pete Tong and Franky Wah played the dance stage and Foals headlined the more alternative-leaning Future Sounds stage.
Styles, clad in a sequinned, Freddie Mercury-referencing purple jumpsuit, brought the flamboyance of his much-shared Coachella set to Coventry, while Lorde showcased elements of her current tour to the stage – her setup featured a staircase up which I’d happily follow her when she’s in the cult leader mode of her latest album Solar Power.
The Future Sounds stage probably had the day’s most interesting and directional lineup, with sets from Wet Leg, Koffee, a denim clad, line-dancing Rina Sawayama, and my personal highlight, Holly Humberstone, who, having just come from a run of US dates supporting Olivia Rodrigo, played her solemnly captivating songs using onstage looping equipment, alongside enthusiastic commentary about how excited she was to finally be home.
On all stages, the day was punctuated with appearances by Radio 1’s DJs, including Greg James and Clara Amfo, and there was a real sense of the station being brought to life there in the park. After two years without festivals, it felt like a welcome return to the biggest time of year for portaloo companies, and a reminder of the BBC’s heft when it comes to sharing music and putting on a show.
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