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Will the 2020 Festival Season Survive the COVID-19 Scare?

by Brittany Hunter

Festival season is off to a rocky start. The Electronic Dance Music community received a shock last week when Ultra Music Festival Miami, the unofficial start to festival season, was postponed by city officials amid COVID-19 concerns. This is the first time in 21 years that Ultra will not host the festival in Miami, which was scheduled to take place on March 20-22.

The city of Miami has had a tumultuous relationship with Ultra over the years. Some even suspect that the city’s decision to postpone the event until next year was at least partially politically motivated, rather than being fueled entirely by health concerns. 

Even so, during the press conference city officials cited the CDC’s warning against holding events with more than 25,000 as grounds for canceling this year’s event. Ultra Miami typically brings in more than 100,000 attendees from over 100 counties. 

As of now, ticket holders are scrambling to readjust their plans as many hotels, Airbnb’s, and airline tickets are nonrefundable at this point. But would-be Ultra attendees aren’t alone in their plight. 

Just before Ultra made its grim announcement about Miami, the company was also forced to cancel its Abu Dhabi festival. However, unlike Miami, the region in question had an outbreak of COVID-19, making the decision more understandable from the attendee perspective. 

Ultra’s unfortunate cancellations have created a domino effect. Shortly after the news of Miami was announced, Tomorrowland France revealed that it too would be canceling its event in response to the outbreak of the virus. On Friday afternoon, the city of Austin followed suit canceling the annual SXSW festival. 

Reps for Coachella Music Festival, which is planned for early April, met last week to discuss the situation but ultimately said that the festival would continue as planned. But with California declaring a state of emergency in response to new cases of the virus popping up within the state, it’s very likely that Coachella will be the next festival casualty of the coronavirus scare. 

Like Ultra and Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas is one of the first events of festival season, attracting about 450,000 people from over 100 countries. EDC Vegas is not scheduled until the middle of May, but given the state of festivals in the era of the coronavirus, no festival is safe from cancellation.  

Music festivals aren’t the only events being canceled. Other large gatherings, like Seattle Comic Con and the annual Vancouver-based TED conference, have also been canceled. In the wake of all these cancellations, the site “Is It Canceled Yet”, has popped up to keep concerned event-goers up to date on all the events that have been lost to the coronavirus scare. 

Oddly enough, amusement parks, like Disneyland and Disney world, remain open. Disney World attracts around 56,000 people per day while Disneyland attracts about 44,000 people per day. Given that these parks stay open seven days a week, they pose a much greater threat than music festivals. The parks have taken precautionary measures to keep its visitors safe, but have not yet threatened to close their doors.

To be sure, COVID-19 has caused massive devastation and disruption worldwide. Killing over 3,000 people in China, where the virus originated. Yet, while the virus spreads easily, it’s mortality rate among younger people, the people more likely to attend festivals remains low at just .2 percent

True, festivals are not the cleanest environments. From the sweaty, often unbathed festival attendees to the atrocious bathrooms, the uncleanliness aspect is a part of the whole experience. While Ultra Miami originally planned on taking extra measures to keep things cleaner in 2020, it wasn’t enough to appease the city of Miami. But as to whether or not there is a valid reason for canceling the festivals and events in question, well, that is an answer we may never know.

One thing that is certain, the entire EDM festival industry will suffer a huge financial blow as a result of COVID-19. Most event insurance plans only cover natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and property destruction. But disease outbreaks are not included in the coverage. Yet, artists still need to get paid and there are a lot of angry attendees wondering what these cancellations mean for the possibility of a refund. 

Ultra already made the decision to refund Abu Dhabi ticket holders. If the same decision is made for Miami, it’s sure to be a pricey decision on Ultra’s end. As of now, it’s unclear whether Ultra will be refunding Miami ticket holders. The statement released on Friday said that emails will be sent out on Monday detailing “next steps”. 

In Ultra’s 21 years in Miami, nothing, not even feuds with residents and city officials, has ever caused the festival to be postponed. During the SARS and MERS scares, the festival continued as planned. While both of the aforementioned viruses had higher mortality rates, with 9.6% and 34.4% respectively, COVID-19 is extremely spreadable, which has resulted in the panic we are seeing today. 

At the moment, it’s unclear how the coronavirus will impact the entirety of the 2020 festival season, but it’s not looking good. What happens with Coachella and EDC Vegas will be extremely telling for what’s in store for EDM fans this spring and summer.

*Featured Image Via Consequence of Sound

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