Celtic Connections 2022: Online and in-person shows planned under eleventh-hour salvage plans

Organisers of Glasgow's Celtic Connections music festival have revealed plans to stage a hybrid version of the event, which will see shows broadcast online and also staged before live audiences in the city.

Celtic Connectoins is due to get underway on 20 January. Picture: Gaelle Beri

A rescue bid for the event, which is being staged for the 29th time, will see a three-week digital programme of concerts rolled out alongside in-person shows.

A number of limited capacity concerts are to go ahead at the Royal Concert Hall on the opening weekend of the festival and will be filmed.

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The Scottish Government has signalled that it hopes to lift Covid restrictions on crowd capacities and physical distancing at indoor events on January 24.

Organisers hope to broadcast at least 12 hours of music from sessions, which will be recorded in venues throughout the festival in whatever form it takes.

However, they have been forced to cancel most of the planned programme over the first four days due to the Government’s 200-capacity crowd limit.

Although other shows later in the festival have already been cancelled, organisers say they are working "extremely hard" to salvage as much as possible of the remaining shows due to take place from January 24.

Celtic Connections was staged entirely online last year due to the winter lockdown at the time, but announced plans for a full comeback in October, including a return to venues like the Barrowland Ballroom, the Old Fruitmarket, the Mitchell Theatre, the Tramway and the Drygate Brewery.

The event attracted an audience of more than 130,000 when it was staged in 2020 just a few weeks months before the Covid pandemic struck.

However, planning for the event was plunged into chaos four days before Christmas when the Scottish Government imposed the 200-capacity limit on all-seated concerts and a 100-capacity cap on indoor standing shows.

Although the measures on indoor events were initially announced to run until January 17, the Scottish Government has only allowed outdoor events to return from that date, on a full-capacity basis.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she hopes the other recently-introduced restrictions on events and the hospitality sector will be lifted from January 24 and can be confirmed after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The Royal Concert Hall is one of the main venues used for Celtic Connections. Picture: Gaelle Beri

However, the Government has suggested the scope of Scotland’s Covid certification scheme will be extended to “encourage and motivate” more people to get vaccinated, as well as provide greater “assurance” to the public over the safety of returning to venues and events.

An announcement from the festival, which is due to start on Thursday, said: “We’re delighted to confirm that Celtic Connections 2022 will now include a digital programme, with more than 12 hours of unique filmed live performances available for audiences to enjoy online around the world.

"Launching on January 26, the online programme will run for three weeks and showcase performances from some of the most exciting acts spanning traditional folk, roots, Americana, jazz, soul and world music.

“The opening week of the festival will also now see a series of new live filmed sessions hosted at the Royal Concert Hall.

“These intimate gatherings will give up to 200 people the unique opportunity to see some of their favourite Celtic Connections acts recording live performances.

“A full programme including artist line-up and ticketing information for these new elements of the festival will be shared next week.

“Unfortunately, some in-person shows originally due to take place from January 20-23 were sold for capacities greater than the Scottish Government’s current event audience limit or without allowing for one metre physical distancing. These cannot go ahead and ticketholders will be issued with a full refund."

Celtic Connections said people who had booked for shows which are being filmed before audiences of up to 200 will get priority for tickets for the recording sessions during the festival's first week, with any remaining tickets being sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The festival statement added: “A small number of larger scale shows will also be rescheduled until later in the year so they can be enjoyed by audiences in the form originally intended.

“Although the festival has not been able to return on the scale initially planned, and the majority of programmed shows have been impacted in some way, we’re still working extremely hard to stage as many performances as we can.

“We’re continuing to engage with the Scottish Government regarding in-person shows due to take place from January 24 onwards and will be able to confirm our approach in line with any ongoing restrictions following the First Minister’s update next week.”

A spokesman for the government said: “We welcome Celtic Connections’ plans for substantial online activity following changes made to the programme due to the measures put in place in response to the Omicron variant.

“This is important to maintain the festival’s international visibility, provide exciting performances for audiences, and contribute towards the development of emerging artists.

“We’re working closely with Celtic Connections to plan for the rest of the festival after 24 January, following the First Minister’s update next week.”

Alan Morrison, head of music at Creative Scotland said: “Last year, Celtic Connections created a world-class digital festival that brightened our dark January nights.

“While Covid-19 has again dealt us all a difficult hand, the organisers have worked wonders to pull together a programme that continues to allow audiences and artists to share the thrill of Scotland’s traditional music.

“That high standard of digital delivery will return, but this year each gig will be boosted by the unique energy that only a live audience can bring.

"Even though crowd numbers must be reduced, the elation of being back at an in-person concert will be felt right across the room.

“There’s no getting away from the fact that gig cancellations have been a massive blow to musicians and music fans alike.

"But, against the odds, Celtic Connections has risen to the challenge and kept the spirit of the world’s best winter festival soaring for another year.”