Should Performers Be Flying to Distant Music Festivals?

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The director of Celtic Connections questions the ethics of bringing in foreign artists to perform.

The creative director of Glasgow's renowned music festival Celtic Connections has said that air travel is "the biggest challenge" facing the festival. Donald Shaw is quoted in the Guardian, saying,

"We cannot bury our head in the sand. It’s not really enough to fly 300 artists from all around the world and justify it on the grounds that art is important. Festivals like this one are going to have to think very seriously about whether we can do that any more."
This is a fascinating statement from a director whose very job is to showcase musical talent from around the world, and yet is bravely acknowledging the same existential crisis that we're all thinking about these days. Shaw has even said that the festival will have to reduce the number of international artists that are brought in, "unless someone comes up with a solution which appeases the climate emergency." He has suggested planting trees to offset flight impact, but appears to realize that this isn't easily scaleable to the level he needs.

The Guardian reports that musicians performing at this year's Celtic Connection festival (running Jan. 16 - Feb. 2) had been asked to avoid air travel if possible, but considering that they came from as far away as Mali, Senegal, India, Canada, Guinea, Lebanon, Burma and elsewhere, this wasn't exactly feasible.

Still, Shaw's statements raise important questions about the ethics of our entertainment, and what is a justifiable use of our already-limited carbon budgets. Of course a shift toward locally-grown talent would change the tone of the festival, but it could also be an opportunity to discover new artists who might be overshadowed in the quest for bigger, international names. It brings to mind the recent decision by British rock band Coldplay not to tour their newest album until they've sorted out 'the flying side of things' and found a way to make all tours 'environmentally beneficial'.

Shaw says he intends to move forward with the reduction in international travel because it is "the right thing to do. It is the responsible thing to do."