Festival 411: Elements Festival Plots Labor Day Comeback With Two-Tier Testing System

– Timothy Monkiewicz & Brett Herman

When Pollstar last spoke with Elements Festival co-founders Brett Herman and Timothy Monkiewicz in September, the two were organizing their second “In My Elements” retreat, a small-scale gathering using the Elements brand to try to pioneer ways to safely organize small events in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Herman and Monkiewicz organized three such events with a two-tiered COVID testing process that required guests to take one test approximately one week before showtime and another, rapid-response test onsite before entrance. This method has prevented any occurances of COVID-19 from being transmitted at their events.

They are now using the same method for the return to their main festival, which is to take place Sept. 3-6 in the forest of northeastern Pennsylvania with a lineup including Diplo, Chris Lake, Bonobo, Ganja White Night, Bob Moses and many more.

Prior to the first allotment of tickets going on sale Feb. 8, the duo talked about what it has been like to plan this long-delayed edition of Elements and some of the steps they are taking in COVID prevention.

POLLSTAR: So how do you decide what the capacity for your event is going to be as we are so many months out?

Brett Herman: In a normal year we would be expecting 5,000 to 7,000. We are a boutique, smaller-scale festival, but quickly growing. We expect to reduce capacity somewhat if necessary, but it will be hard to say exactly until there is further guidance, closer to the event.

The vast majority of ticketholders from last year elected to keep their tickets, so the gates will be opened slowly. We hope to increase capacity as time goes on, rather than reduce. Timothy Monkiewicz: And it’s a 150-acre property, there’s room for a lot of people, everyone can have their own huge spot, the main issue will be regulations. 

So we totally understand there is a possibility [that capacity gets suddenly reduced due to regulations]. We saw capacity limits go up and down all the time last year. 

So we are going to have to tackle that challenge if and when it presents itself, because the conditions will be very specific to that time, but we have already offered two refund windows for guests who couldn’t make postponed dates in the past. We have been doing events and festivals for 12 years and it is very important that we make things right by fans.

How do you decide whose ticket gets returned if capacity is reduced?

Monkiewicz: Buying early is always the safest and smartest move, for this industry in general. But, again, onsite capacity isn’t going to be an issue. You could fit five football stadiums on this property. It is massive. It’s not about the number of people that would fit. But of course, priority goes to the earliest buyers.

But it is the perfect site and size for distancing. If you want to distance [and not get close to anyone onsite] you can do that.

How are you going to adapt your two-tier system to let people be admitted if they get vaccinated?

Monkiewicz: Vaccines are great as it helps reduce transmission, but we can’t count on that. Even if someone is vaccinated, we may still require an additional test, and I really don’t think people mind.

We did this last year and they were grateful for it, that we go the extra mile and provide the service at no extra charge. It obviously costs us a lot, but we see it as a social need, to try and get the world back open. 

We are independent, we don’t have unlimited funds to burn through and all this testing and pioneering these protocols really is massively time-consuming and expensive. We are constantly calling doctors, EMTs, working with the venues, setting all this stuff up. It feels like none of these things have ever been done, there is no road map for it and, of course, it’s way more expensive the first time you do anything.

This has taken a lot of time and effort. But we are from Brooklyn, New York, and we feel like a lot of the world looks to New York for leadership. I feel like it’s our duty to be leaders and pioneers, even though its going to cost us a lot of time and energy to get the industry back open.

What are some protocols you are going to implement?

Herman: Implementing safety protocols is difficult to speak about right now, since the world may look different come August/September .Based on everything we learned last year, and how many times our crew had to adapt and face challenges as they came, we are confident that, whatever comes up, we will be able to tackle. 

It would be our greatest hope that by Labor Day, everybody coming that wants to be vaccinated, is. 

And hopefully that would be the bulk of the population. But nobody can predict or count on that until closer to the date. So our policies will adjust based on the climate and the technology and protocols available.

Do you feel like you will be better prepared if, God forbid, there is another pandemic-type situation in the future?

Herman: Absolutely. Hopefully, this will be the last thing like this that we see, but there is always the possibility of a resurgence or something else and we will have to take everything we’ve learned in 2020 and improve safety protocols across the board.And so must the entire world, moving forward, so we never have a repeat of this. 

At every level of government mistakes were made, and nobody has a crystal ball at any time. 

We can only look back in hindsight, but hopefully, moving forward, we will all be better educated to react quickly and we can act based on fact and reason. 

And hopefully – if there is some sort of new challenge – there will be less social and economic devastation for everybody.

So you managed to mostly preserve the 2020 lineup. How hard was it to book this festival amid so much uncertainty?

– A COVID Oasis?
Elements Festival, a festival taking place in the Northeast wilderness, has adapted to the COVID era with a two-step testing system for participants before entry.

Monkiewicz: Some things were easy and some were hard. I think we built a lot of trust over the last year because we put on these small events, and an event of our size, with experience, I think people do believe we are one of the most likely to actually happen. So that helps.

We do have some big names, so that also helps. But it was still tricky. 

I think there is a lot of fatigue in the industry, you know, everyone has been working for free for about a year and a half now. 

We booked a festival once, then we pushed it, then it got pushed, and this has happened with every festival. Everyone has pushed several months, pushed again, to a year. It has been exhausting. But music industry agents have a lot of capacity, an amazing amount of energy. 

They are saying, “OK, let’s do this, let’s go at it again.” It was definitely frustrating, because it does feel like we’re all working for free still, but at least we’re all in it together. That was a real nice feeling. 
And we’re not arguing over money as much. Some of the other festivals that normally would have a radius clause competing with us have been a lot friendlier.  This situation has brought the industry closer, in that way. 

So what is the onsite experience going to be like at Elements Festival?

Monkiewicz: We’re just planning some really special stuff. I feel like people have been pent up for so long we really have to bring it. We do have seven months to plan this, whereas normally we would have three from when we go on sale. So we are making new stages, thinking about what we can do to give people mind-blowing experiences they haven’t done before and I think we have some really cool ideas. 

Herman: We are getting things done that have been on the backburner for too long and taking more time to create those weird, unusual experiences you just don’t have time to finish in the heat of getting a big production done on a shoestring budget. 

So the guest experience, those weird moments in the forest, bizarre installations you stumble upon, have always been at the heart of is what makes Elements special and what inspires us to keep growing the festival, so that we can provide more of these wondrous happenstances. 

This year, with even more time to plan, it’s going to be one for the ages. You’ll want to say “I was there.”