All the big summer music festivals still on for 2021

Many festival organizers are still trying to make summer 2021 happen.
Many festival organizers are still trying to make summer 2021 happen.
Image: Reuters/Bernadett Szabo
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The Covid-19 pandemic decimated the live music industry in 2020. Now organizers of some of the world’s biggest festivals think concertgoers will be ready to descend on venues as early as the summer.

Major music festivals including Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) and Bonnaroo in the US, Tomorrowland in Belgium, and Reading & Leeds in the UK plan on holding events again this year following their 2020 cancellations. Though many have delayed their typical dates to late-summer or fall, some, like EDC and Poland’s massive Pol’and’Rock Festival, are sticking to their early- to mid-summer starts.

If all goes according to plan, the summer will be a significant boost to a live event industry that lost $30 billion in revenue in 2020, according to Pollstar, a concert trade publication. The industry generated about $12.2 billion in revenue last year, but was expected to reach close to $40 billion. Live Nation, the biggest live-event company in the world by ticket sales, reported $1.5 billion in concert revenue last year compared to $9.4 billion in 2019. Both Live Nation and AEG, the world’s second-biggest live music presenter, were forced to lay off or furlough hundreds of employees. (Some of AEG’s furloughed employees returned to work this month.)

How summer music festivals plan to return

While other live events like sports and moviegoing have returned with audiences in recent months, concerts have been slow to resume operation. The nature of a concert—and large, multi-day festivals especially—makes it difficult to return safely. For many, the communal experience of cramming lots of people into tight areas to listen to music and dance together is part of the appeal.

Some big festivals decided trying to come back this summer was too much of a stretch. Coachella in California will not return until 2022, Variety reported. Ultra in Miami and the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England, are among the notable festivals to skip the 2021 summer season. Whether or not a festival can go ahead this year depends a lot on the health guidelines of its local jurisdiction. In Florida, a state with lax Covid-19 rules, for instance, major music festivals have already returned, with more planned for late spring.

Those that are returning this summer will probably look a lot different than what concertgoers were used to prior to the pandemic. Masks will likely be mandatory at many events. Timed entries (to reduce long lines) and contactless payments will be the norm. Some, like the Exit festival in Serbia, might require ticket-holders to either provide proof of vaccination or agree to a rapid Covid-19 test before entering.

EDC, the Las Vegas-based electronic music festival set to be one of the first big US music events of the year, will have Covid-detecting dogs on site, but doesn’t currently have plans to mandate social distancing. Its plan has not yet been approved by the state of Nevada.

Others haven’t specified what their health and safety measures will be. Bonnaroo, which is planned for Labor Day Weekend (a popular date for festivals this summer) in Manchester, Tennessee, has a Covid-19 warning on its website, but does not say what precautions it will take. “An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public space where people are present,” it says. “By attending Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”

Though not every scheduled event will likely go on exactly as planned, it’s clear festivals will return in some capacity this summer. The UK plans to lift all restrictions on outdoor events by June 21, which will pave the way for festivals like Reading & Leeds a few months later. If live events like music festivals are able return in earnest, with their hundreds of thousands of screaming, dancing, body-rubbing attendees doing what they do best without risk of infection, we’ll have entered something akin to a post-pandemic world.