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When will music festivals restart in the age of COVID-19?

when will music festivals return coronavirus
Photo via Squirrel/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

When it comes to social outings during the coronavirus pandemic, health experts say the larger the function, the more dangerous. Because social distancing is nearly impossible at mass events, it won’t be until 2021—and possibly even 2022—until music festivals return. 

The cancellation of the South By Southwest conference in March 2020 was the first significant cancellation of the COVID-19 pandemic, but virtually every other music festival has followed suit since. Spring festivals, like Coachella, initially rescheduled for the fall. But as cases around the U.S. surged throughout the summer, any hope for a fall festival evaporated.

Billboard is keeping track of all music festival cancelations and postponements. The annual Christmas season appearance of the Rockettes at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall is the most recent cancelation for 2020. So far, any postponed festivals that have announced their new dates have slated their return for 2021. 

Some music industry experts say a 2021 comeback might be too optimistic. 

Marc Geiger, the co-founder of Lollapalooza, said he believes music festivals will not return until 2022, according to NME

“In my humble opinion, it’s going to be 2022,” Geiger said. “It’s going to take that long before, what I call, the germaphobic economy is slowly killed off and replaced by the claustrophobia economy—that’s when people want to get out and go out to dinner and have their lives, go to festivals and shows. It’s my instinct, that’s going to take a while because super-spreader events—sports, shows, festivals— … aren’t going to do too well when the virus is this present.”

Instead of an in-person event, Lollapalooza 2020 was conducted virtually on YouTube in late July with new live music combined with archival moments of the festival from the past three decades (ACL Fest also will take place online this fall). “The world needs beautiful music right now. The world needs protest music, outrageous music, and it needs love songs,” Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell told the Spokesman-Review. “I felt we as messengers, it’s our time, regardless of money, to make a statement. I saw an incredible opportunity to combine new material with archival footage.”

Yahoo reported that Michael Eavis, co-founder of Glastonbury Festival in England, said he also thinks his event won’t return until 2022, despite being postponed to 2021. 

“I’m still hoping I’m going to be running next year and I’m going to be moving heaven and earth to make sure that we do. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily happen,” Eavis said. “That is just wishful thinking really.”

Eavis predicted the virus would probably continue to worsen before it got better, but he said he would continue to work toward a 2021 festival date. 

“The only certainty I think is the year after [in] 2022, to be perfectly candid, so we might have to wait for two years maybe,” Eavis said. “But I am still hoping and we are fighting and working at it all the time to make sure it happens next year.”

But an electronic music festival held in a Wuhan, China water park raised eyebrows in mid-August. Thousands of people attended the festival in the city where the coronavirus pandemic first began, and there were plenty of scenes of people not social distancing. Chinese state media responded to people’s discomfort with the festival by calling complaints “sour grapes.”

Smash Mouth—and a variety of other legacy rock bands—also played the Sturgis motorcycle rally in mid-August, and more than 100 people connected to that concert reportedly was infected with the coronavirus afterward. A Christian rock concert outside the California capitol building in early September also worried officials. The Sacramento Bee described the attendance as “massive” with most people not wearing masks and wrote that “spectators were packed in about as tight as could be.”

Sources: Billboard, NME, Yahoo


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