Try not to U-turn just after this blog goes to print this time! 51st State are the latest to announce cashless wristbands – but why ARE festivals so keen to push this right now?

I’d better get this one written up and published as quickly as possible. 51st State Festival have a bit of a habit of changing their minds, as demonstrated on Thursday. It seems they’ve decided in their wisdom that they don’t want your money anymore. Or more specifically, they don’t want your Covid-ridden cash.

Well, that’s the narrative that 51st State Festival – and to be fair, other festivals such as Defected Croatia – are going with. They’re claiming that these cashless wristbands are easier, quicker and safer. You have to set up an account, load it up with money from your bank account and you get a QR code sent to you – and just collect your wristband after you pass security.

Simple? For a generation used to contactless payments with either a phone or debit card, quite possibly. They’re a lot like prepaid credit cards which you can give children. But why have the festivals started promoting these so heavily, and why now? And can we expect to see more festivals doing this in the future?

Let’s answer the second question first. Quite simply, yes. A source who’s worked for many festivals over the years tells me “Cash and festivals were always a pain in the arse. Most festivals take place on weekends, so there’s no easy access to change – and even on weekdays, it depends on having a bank anywhere nearby. Running out of charge towards the end of the day was always a problem. Luckily, most festival goers didn’t give a s***”.

As for the first question, Covid isn’t particularly the reason. It was something the festivals were going to look at eventually, but the knowledge that nightclubs and other mass gatherings are going to get the blame if another big wave of Covid-19 occurs has helped concentrate the mind.

It is, like so many other things, about money. Cash is easy for those spending it, not so easy for those receiving it. All that money has to be separated out into £20 notes, £10 notes and so on all the way down to 1p. That money must be counted, verified, bagged up according to the requirements of the banks and then physically taken to the bank.

When large amounts of physical cash are involved, the time and costs mount up. Whereas this? It couldn’t be easier for the festivals! All the money is in their bank account already – they know what’s having money spent on it in real time. No more trips to the bank with huge bundles of notes and the security risks it brings, no more staff rifling through tills for change!

And if you don’t spend all the money on the wristband? Well, their site says “You can claim back any unused funds online up to the value of £100 per wristband… Cashout will open at 10am on Monday 9th August and close 10pm Thursday 13th August 2021”.

Casting aside their muddle of whether they meant to write that it closes at “10pm Thursday 12th August” or “10pm Friday 13th August”, does that mean anyone who forgets to claim their unspent money back basically forfeits it to 51st State’s bank account? You bet it does!

I don’t blame the festivals for trying to think of ways to save money after the horrendous time they’ve had in the past 16 months. But I do wonder if suddenly putting this requirement on people just days before festivals take place – when they were asked to purchase tickets many months ahead of time – is the best way of keeping goodwill from a public that’s also hard-pressed.

I think I’ll leave the final word to the cheeky rascal who replied to their Facebook thread saying “Will you be able to buy drugs with the cashless wristband?”…


The Saturday Recap will be published at midday today.