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 and because singing has proven to be an easy way to spread COVID-19, it won’t be until 2021—and possibly even 2022—until major 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.
Some music industry experts have said a 2021 comeback might be too optimistic. The Bonnaroo festival that takes place in Manchester, Tennessee has now been postponed multiple times—from 2020 to June 2021 and now from June 2021 to September 2021. In late January, the Glastonbury festival, one of the most famous in the world, announced that the 2021 festival had been canceled, the same as the 2020 version.
The same goes for Alabama’s Hangout Festival, which was scheduled for May 2021 but was recently canceled.
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 took 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.” The founder of the Bunbury music festival in Cincinnati also is worried about the future of the industry in general.
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.”
Yet, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said in January 2021 that outdoor concerts could return in the fall after herd immunity is reached and that they’d be better than indoor shows because “If you’re out there, with the natural breezes that blow respiratory particles away, it is so much safer.”
But an electronic music festival held in a Wuhan, China water park raised eyebrows in mid-August 2020. 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.” At least one other small music festival in the U.S. popped up in October, and in that same month, China held its first classical music festival that was dedicated to the coronavirus victims.
But in Australia, festivals are beginning to pop up again, including the Feedback Festival in mid-December, Sounds Bout Right on Jan. 2, and This That on Feb. 13.
In February, the Reading and Leeds music festival in the U.K. intimated that it could return in August 2021.
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.”
In January, a judge in Texas said a woman who reportedly knew she was positive with the coronavirus went to a country music event in San Antonio, where she might have exposed hundreds of people.
There might be other good news on the horizon when it comes to listening to live music and thinking about when music festivals will return, though. A study from Germany showed that indoor concerts might actually be safer than we think, and two vaccines are currently (and slowly) being used in the U.S. as of January 2021.