Large-Scale Fests Lead The Way Back With Onsite Vax, COVID Surveys

Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam
Courtesy Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam
– Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam
The 30,000-capacity country music Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam, taking place June 4-6 in Panama City Beach, Fla., is offering free COVID vaccines on site and taking place as the large-scale event landscape is rapidly changing – for the better.

It may have seemed like forever to get here, but large-scale concerts are taking place on U.S. soil again. Although the major, multi-genre urban-area festivals are still a few months out, multiple 30,000-capacity, ticketed outdoor events have happened or are on the brink of happening. 

The reopening of the live music business appears finally well under way.
“This one’s going to happen,” says Rendy Lovelady, whose PCB Entertainment is putting on the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam country festival in Panama City Beach, Fla., this weekend (June 4-6) after being rescheduled twice.
“The artists are in line, everyone else is in line and, man, you get to a point where this is your life. I have to get back to work.” 
The event, topped by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan and with close to 30 total artists, was postponed from September 2020 (which almost happened) to April, and now to June. 
“I haven’t had any shows since 2019, I’m a small independent promoter, I don’t have government support or stock options,” he adds. “You reach a point where you have to go back to work to survive. But we’re trying to do it the right way and be safe.”
For the event, attendees are required to each day take a short survey making sure they aren’t feeling ill or experiencing any potential COVID systems, with a positive response leading to an onsite COVID test before being let into the festival grounds and temperature checks at the gate. 
“The bottom line is, what is the safe thing, the right thing?” Lovelady says, adding that testing 30,000 people each day became logistically unfeasible, but that the festival has gone cashless and implemented high-tech sanitation methods, including sprays on surfaces that are supposed to be effective for weeks. “We’ve tried to accommodate every possible scenario that protects the consumer. but the biggest thing is it comes down to trusting their word, if they have a fever or come down with something, they have to test on site.”
The mood has changed from just a few weeks ago, thanks to more and more reopenings across the country with COVID vaccinations continuing to ramp up and daily new case numbers dropping dramatically nationwide since mid-April.
“Fortunately for us, the governor here of the state of Florida believes in opening up quickly and getting back to normal as best you can,” Lovelady says, adding that masks are optional at the event. “Our numbers are fairly good and the tri-state area is good.”  
With more and more large-scale concerts claiming to be the “first” to come back, what may have been the actual first large-scale festival of any kind took place in Texas in late April, and did its part to further the live cause by reported findings from a post-event COVID-19 study it commissioned. 
The April 24-25 Ubbi Dubbi electronic festival in Ennis, Texas, which required (or at least strongly encouraged) face masks, had a positivity rate of 3.8%, according to a sampling of more than 2,000 respondents in a study from JobSiteCare commissioned by promoter Disco Donnie Presents.  

Rave On
Courtesy Disco Donnie Presents
– Rave On
Disco Donnie Presents’ Ubbi Dubbi festival commissioned a post-event survey showing a COVID-19 positivity rate of 3.4% two weeks after the event, which the study by JobSiteCare notes was lower than the general population of Texas at the time.
The survey results note that figure is lower than the new COVID infection rate among those tested in Texas, which is approximately 3.5%-4%.
Therefore, the study concludes that “The lack of any difference even approaching significance in either symptom development or COVID positivity regardless of the length of festival attendance suggests that length of exposure in this setting did not increase risk of illness or infection and that the setting itself did not pose a threat to overall public health.” Of respondents, 16 attendees reported COVID positivity within two weeks of the event, with no staff reporting a COVID case. 
Masks were officially required at the event, which included onsite camping and had veteran promoter and founder/CEO James “Disco Donnie” Estopinal, Jr. proclaiming “we saved the rave.” 
The findings came just ahead of DDP’s Sunset Music Festival that took place over Memorial Day Weekend at the Raymond James Stadium N. Lot in Tampa, Fla., featuring AC Slater, Destructo, Lizzy Jane, 12th Planet, LSDream and more.   
For the event, DDP partnered with FEMA to set up a vaccination site outside the festival gates for both Saturday and Sunday, with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine as well as the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 available, free and with no ID required. 
Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam is also hosting an onsite vaccination clinic, with Lovelady saying it’s about doing its part to help all facets of business get back on track. 
Although maybe not the first of any kind of festival, being the first large-scale, high-profile country fest has much of the industry and community watching closely and hoping all goes well.
Asked if he feels pressure, Lovelady says, ”No question, I’ve had many sleepless nights with the what-if scenarios. I feel a burden to be responsible, a burden to be accountable, and I’ve got to get back to work. I’ve got 30 employees, and then all of the road crew, the artists, bus drivers, truck drivers, they’re all saying the same thing.” With the added challenges of new safety protocols, public health requirements and additional stress of being one of the first to do it, Lovelady says the artists and their teams have been supportive and helpful.
“The whole process has been different because it’s not just me making a decision as a promoter,” says Lovelady, who has more than 30 years of concert business experience and puts on a yearly rock festival as well.
 “The artists, agents, lawyers and everyone have all been heavily involved, especially with us as the first ones. “Everyone’s been aware and walking through the process, everybody wants to be responsible and open-minded, but the reality is everyone is ready to go back to work. I was talking with the guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd and I thought they were going to shout on the phone, they were so excited to play in front of more than five people.
“I have to throw out props to Luke Bryan and his camp, because they’ve kind of led the team with me, being the main headliner for the closing night,” Lovelady says. 
“They’ve felt a sense of responsibility, along with the William Morris agency, having conversation after conversation, statistics, activities, plans and revisions to plans. 
“Everybody is really working together, but everybody has had that same conversation in their head – where is the balance? Luke’s main quote was, ‘I’m not going to sit there and let my fans see me play and then this becomes this mass spreader.’ Everyone’s been so conscious of it.”
Importantly, or probably most importantly, Lovelady says fan demand is “through the roof,” with close to 28,000 attendees expected per day. Lovelady himself is as ready as anyone for the roar of the crowd
“I think everyone’s at a place now socially, environmentally as well as sanity-wise, they feel like we have a plan in place and everyone’s signed off on it,” Lovelady says. “Everyone knows we’re doing it, down to the baby acts, and we’re moving on.”