The Jazz Fest 2021 is canceled. And the other festivals?


If you are feeling a sense of déjà vu right now when it comes to the pandemic, you are not alone. The number of cases is back, people are putting on masks and the short-term status of major cultural events is in question. The last of these became very clear earlier today, when the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival announced that he would cancel his 2021 festival, citing concerns over COVID-19 as the reason.

The announcement cites “the exponential growth of new COVID cases in New Orleans and the region and the ongoing public health emergency” as specific reasons why the festival will not be held this year. And while this is disappointing news for anyone who had planned to go, it is also a very understandable decision on the part of the festival organizers.

Large outdoor festivals exist in their own space, logistically. While some artists and places implement vaccination and / or mask requirements for entry, the size of an outdoor festival presents its own challenges. And while outdoor conditions make the spread of COVID-19 more difficult, the immediate proximity to spectators at last week’s Lollapalooza in Chicago urged health officials to call on everyone who attended to get tested for the pandemic.

The alarming news from Lollapalooza and the cancellation of the New Orleans JazzFest also leaves a lot of questions for fall festivals still standing. These include the Governors Ball in New York (scheduled September 24-26) and the Chicago Pitchfork Festival (scheduled September 10-12). The latter requires that participants be vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 within the past 24 hours, and requires that participants hide. However, applying this policy to thousands of festival-goers presents its own challenges.

It also remains to be seen whether the cancellation of JazzFest will cause a domino effect for other festivals. The sequelae of Lollapalooza have already raised some concern on what the next few months will be in terms of festivals – and, more broadly, the return of live music to theaters in general. And, given the importance of the holidays for touring artists, the decision to cancel or not to cancel a particular event could have widespread consequences. In the coming weeks, festival organizers across the country face a series of questions with no easy answers – and with massive implications.

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