A world without music festivals: how a multi-million dollar industry is changing before our eyes

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Coronavirus Free Crowds Roam at Lollapalooza Argentina.

Amid the ongoing global pandemic, regular music festival attendees wonder if their newly rescheduled events will seem at all familiar to them come spring 2021, because music festivals are added to the list of entertainment industries to lose big time. 

It’s been over six months since the Center for Disease Control declared COVID-19 a pandemic and our world moved largely online. Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were imposed worldwide, hitting the economy hard. There’s no denying that the lasting effects of this shift will be enormous.

One of the most affected industries, the entertainment industry, is starting to feel the heat. Live theatre is non-existent in the United States’ typical format, resulting in months of lost revenue. Filming of television shows and films have resumed, but not without the loss of six months of development and production. The concert industry, more specifically, the music festival industry, is no exception.  

Coachella, the festival made popular by social media influencers and celebrity attendance, originally announced in April that they would reschedule their festivities for this coming October. As the pandemic worsened, they made the decision to cancel the 2020 event altogether, promising their ticket holders a spot at the 2021 festivities.

Bonnaroo, a four day festival originally scheduled for June, followed suit. The event had originally been postponed for September 24-27, but was canceled when the organizers saw the circumstances unfit for their crowds of 80,000+ people. The organizers offered refunds and rollovers for this coming year. 

Bonnaroo announced their new dates for the festival on Wednesday, pushing back nearly a year to September 2-5, 2021. 

But will ticket holders be made to wait again when this new date arrives? Or will crowds of shoulder to shoulder party-goers be safe by simply donning a mask?

Back in August, the world watched as the United Kingdom debuted a new format for live performance attendees, with 2500 guests grouped onto 500 raised platforms, six feet apart, with five guests each. Pictures from the event left the world reeling. Was this the future for concert-goers? 

Pictures from Coachella and other similar festivals seem to make that an unlikely possibility. Festivals like this are notorious for their packed grounds and overwhelming crowds. Splitting up attendees into smaller groups may take away from the culture of the festival, or cost too much in ground expansion costs. It may cost less for the festival companies to eat their losses and miss a year of revenue than to completely renovate their grounds for an event that may turn out to be a disappointment and safety hazard to many. 

So what do music festivals look like going forward, or, at least, what do music festivals look like for the time being, in lieu of a vaccine?

Lollapalooza Chicago, a highly attended annual summer festival, took the lead with digital programming this season, refusing to let quarantine put a damper on the festivities. The weekend kept its original July date and left out the guests, streaming the full weekend on YouTube for free.

Despite the joy this virtual event no doubt brought to festival-goers around the United States, it wasn’t cheap. Canceling the event cost Lollapalooza over $750,000 in just renting fees, per their contract

with the city of Chicago. Not to mention, a completely free live stream means 400,000 unsold tickets. When Lollapalooza tickets range from $300-$4,000+, those losses add up quickly.

There’s no question about it, this alternative doesn’t offer much for longevity. 

Festival holding cities will continue to take hits with each cancellation, and the music industry continues to look forward to the next season, planning the day they can resume celebrating their favorite artists. Until then, Lolla, Coachella, and other festivals have released exclusive online content to tide over their buyers. Check it out here.