Rhythm and Vines axed; rescheduled for Easter 2022

By Will Trafford

Tairāwhiti’s Rhythm and Vines New Year's festival has been postponed after calls from Gisborne locals and iwi mounted to scrap it amid fears it could serve as a Covid-19 superspreader event.

The new date for the festival is Easter Weekend 2022. It will run from Friday, April 15 to Sunday, April 17.

Some 24,000 people, 40% of whom were from Tāmaki were expected to attend the event, and although they were required to be vaccinated, statistics from the Ministry of Health reveal just 67% of whānau Māori in Tairāwhiti are fully vaccinated.

Vaccinated visitors can still contract and transmit Covid-19 (albeit at a lower rate than the unvaccinated) but the primary concern is they are also less likely to exhibit symptoms, meaning they could transmit the virus to locals without knowing.

More than 3000 people had signed a petition to cancel the event, with iwi leaders and health officials saying they feared the region’s health system could be overwhelmed. There are just six intensive care beds in the rohe, with only three set aside for Covid-19 patients.

"Local iwi have taken the initiative and cancelled annual events such as the Ngāti Porou Pa Wars and Hikurangi Mountain Dawn ceremony because they believed that was the responsible thing to do and R&V should follow suit." Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou chairman Selwyn Parata said last month.

Health Minister Andrew Little weighed in on the controversy earlier this week.

'Terrified of a horde'

"There's a lot of concern in the community at the moment about Rhythm and Vines because people are terrified of a whole horde of people, a lot of them from Auckland coming down and crowding out a reasonably confined space," he told NZME.

In a statement, Rhythm and Vines chief executive Kieran Spillane said the decision to reschedule the event was made alongside Iwi and the region’s district health board.

‘Rhythm and Vines' mission has, and always will be a safe and secure festival for all involved and believes this decision will allow us to keep delivering the best festival experience that over 400,000 young kiwis have enjoyed since 2003.’ he said.

Refunds are being offered to ticket holders with 2500 tickets having been returned so far according to organisers. The refund window closes on December 16 at 5pm.

Ticket holders and Iwi had slammed the festival's communications over the past few weeks, demanding to know if the event would go ahead and citing unclear communication.

"Can you at least release the lineup," one concertgoer commented on one of the event’s social posts. Another added."every other festival for New Years has months ago and you seem to think rnv is one of a kind".

Rhythm and Vines owners and management admitted they had initially been slow at engaging with iwi and said the lack of certainty on if the event would proceed was because they were seeking clarity on the region’s transition to the new ‘traffic-light’ Covid-19 management system.