The Year In Festivals: Going Digital, Downsizing & Making Plans For 2021

Okeechobee 2020:
Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage
– Okeechobee 2020:
No social distancing in sight (though one fan is majorly masked up) during the Okeechobee Music Festival at Sunshine Grove in Okeechobee, Fla., March 7, 2020. The festival was one of the last major events to take place in person this year.
The pandemic’s first major blow to the music industry was the halt of two major U.S. festivals because of coronavirus concerns: Miami’s Ultra’s Music Festival and Austin’s South by Southwest were called off March 6, along with Tomorrowland’s Winter edition in France March 5. The news also started the avalanche of layoffs in the live business, with the March 9 announcement that SXSW had laid off approximately a third of its full-time staff. With only a few hundred confirmed cases of cononarvius in the U.S. at that point, to some people the cancellations seemed overly cautious. 
Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, produced for the first time by Insomniac in partnership with founder Soundslinger after taking 2019 off, went on as planned in Okeechobee, Fla., March 5-8.

“Our number one concern was always the health and safety of our ticket holders, staff and artists. COVID-19 had not really hit the State of Florida by the start of the festival, but we scrambled to get our hands on as many hand sanitizing dispensers as we could. We also disseminated safety precaution tips focused on personal hygiene and hand washing through our communication channels to our community,” Okeechobee organizers told Pollstar in a statement. 
“The show went off without a hitch, and the energy was electric. For those four days, what happened outside of OMF stayed outside, as we lived by our motto ‘Be Here Now.’ … We feel incredibly lucky to have been able to gather one last time and successfully pull off the show, and we believe that sentiment was shared by everyone present. As far as we know, to this day there have been no reports of anyone contracting the virus at the festival.”
But the shocks to the live business kept coming in March, with Coachella – long seen as a barometer of the industry – and Stagecoach postponed to October, followed by the announcement that Bonnaroo was being pushed back to September. The Tokyo Olympics were postponed and Glastonbury was also forced to nix its 50th anniversary. Tours and festivals were scrubbed from calendars worldwide and Okeechobee would become the last major festival that took place in person in 2020.   
By June, Goldenvoice announced that the rescheduled Coachella and Stagecoach would not take place in October and “as for now” the events would be moved to April 2021. Media reports in October claimed that Coachella would be moved once again to October 2021, but the announcement has not yet been confirmed. 
With fans still stuck at home, many festivals shifted to digital editions, including Bonnaroo’s three-day Virtual ROO-ALITY, featuring new performances and archival content such as The White Stripes’ set from the band’s final 2007 tour, Godfather of Soul James Brown’s 2003 performance and the Beastie Boys’ 2009 Bonnaroo headlining set. Austin City Limits Music Festival also offered up broadcasts of favorite performances from throughout the years, while Lolla2020 featured more than 150 performances and appearances with a mix of past Lollapalooza performances and new livestreamed sets. 
Tomorrowland earned props for its ambitious digital festival Tomorrowland Around The World, July 25-26, which attracted more than 1 million viewers and featured more than 60 artists recording performances in four large green screen studios located across the world. Rolling Loud’s debut “Loud Stream” festival streamed online via Twitch drew more than 4.7 million total live views over the Sept. 12-13 weekend.
But not all festivals went digital. Who could forget the polarizing Sturgis Motorcycle Rally held in Sturgis, S.D., with 466,769 in attendance over nine days, with concerts including Smash Mouth, Trapt, Lita Ford, Reverend Horton Heat, Lit and others. Some rejoiced in the freedom of gathering in mass once again, while others feared the Aug. 7-16 festival would become a super-spreader event.
Coalition Entertainment founder Peter Gross managed to safely host in-person events this year, working with a New York-based client called BangOn! NYC to put on smaller, COVID-safer versions of Elements Music & Arts Festival in Pennsylvania called In My Elements. 
“It’s super limited capacity, 250 people, it’s a contained retreat. So it’s mandatory that people get a [COVID test], I think it’s 48 hours before or maybe 24 hours. And then they get a test post-event,” Gross said. “Those have been really successful; they’ve sold out. There’s been no issues, no COVID cases.”
Looking to 2021, Gross says, “I think there’s some light at the end of the tunnel and it seems a lot of people in the industry see and feel it as well. I feel like Q3 will definitely be back to normal for many states in smaller events. … I think we will definitely see larger events in states like Florida, Georgia, Texas.”
As we are closing this issue, vaccines are being rolled out and dates are already on the books for 2021 including Bonnaroo, Lockn’, Outside Lands and Riot Fest, along with several others in the States and Primavera Sound in Barcelona. And Osheaga is all set for its return to Montreal July 30 – Aug. 1, with Foo Fighters, Cardi B and Post Malone just announced as headliners. Debut events include Slipknot’s Knotfest in Brazil.