The Shoe Drops: What Coachella And Stagecoach Canceling Could Mean For The Biz

AP Photo / Chris Pizzello
– Running For Hope
Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival is officially off for 2020, which could foreshadow more festival cancellations.
Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival – the highest-grossing and possibly most influential recurring North American music festival – and it’s sister event Stagecoach: California’s Country Music Festival were officially canceled by public health officials on June 10, confirming what many in the industry had believed would happen for months.
Coachella’s initial postponement on March 10 was a signal moment in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., coming after Ultra Music Festival and SXSW both canceled days before showtime. After Coachella announced its postponement to October, many other mega festivals, notably Bonnaroo and Electric Daisy Carnival, followed suit, postponing to the fall.
In those early days many were still hopeful that there might be the potential for mass gatherings in the fall and winter of 2020, but, according to Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser, that will not be the case in his part of California.
“I am concerned as indications grow that COVID-19 could worsen in the fall,” Kaiser said in a statement. “In addition, events like Coachella and Stagecoach would fall under Governor Newsom’s Stage 4, which he has previously stated would require treatments or a vaccine to enter. Given the projected circumstances and potential, I would not be comfortable moving forward.”
Sources have told Pollstar off the record no one has expected Coachella to happen for months. AEG Presents / Goldenvoice said in a statement that “as of now” the plan is to stage Coachella April 9-11 and April 16-18, and some are speculating that date may be pushed to later in the year, but no contracts or terms have yet been sent out.
Coachella and Stagecoach fill the role of major “tentpole” events that artists plan their whole touring year around. In the case of Coachella, between its marquee status and the festival’s massive radius clause, its movement is felt by venues, artists and agents throughout the industry.
“If you got a Coachella offer, then you routed everything around your Coachella [play],” says Amy Madrigali, who books the Troubadour and formerly worked as an agent at The Billions Corp and who spoke to Pollstar after the initial Coachella push to October. “If you’re a band from Baltimore like Future Islands, for example, Coachella is a big highlight of your calendar that’s going to kick off your year. So you route from March through May and then you make sure you get to California in time for your festival play. Then it’s two weekends, you get in there and work with the promoters to do your Coachella play, you throw in a Pappy and Harriet’s, you do the week in between. Let’s say then you go up to Seattle, you zip into Canada, you dip back down for Chicago and then you get yourself back to Baltimore going through New York. There were patterns that everybody did around anchor dates, they’re financial anchors, they’re tentpoles of your year as you release a record or whatever your assets are for that year.”
While the tendency may be to immediately assume everyone else in the industry will once again follow the example of Coachella, Paul Bassman of Ascend Insurance Brokerage – which was recently acquired by Higginbotham (see page 13) – told Pollstar that October is still four months away and he is hopeful that some major festivals may still take place in some form in 2020.
“In some ways, this is what our industry has always done. You have to move forward until you can’t anymore. The possibility that the event doesn’t happen will always be there … but you don’t cancel an event four months out because there is the potential for catastrophic weather. I think it’s premature to make decisions about the fall.”
“If these companies are looking to cut cash expenses, i.e. getting bands to approve a date next year to get some of their deposits back, I guess there may be financial implications and it would make sense to be moving now, but as far as public safety goes, a lot can happen in four months. The industry has not even been shut down for four months yet!”
Bandit Lites founder and chair Michael Strickland released a statement June 3 that the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd have, by happenstance, created the first examples of mass gatherings since March and, if they do not result in a spike in cases, may actually help the recovery of the live business.
“Had anyone suggested that we hold 20 large concerts, wait a month, and then see what happened, you would have been laughed out of the industry,” Strickland wrote. “But now, these over 500 large mass gatherings will give us the results of the consequences of large crowds gathering ….”