After a year in which nearly every Michigan music festival was canceled, COVID continues to cast doubt on 2021 events, even though more than 40 festivals currently are scheduled to move ahead.
When the 2020 COVID pandemic pulled the plug on nearly every Michigan music festival, it left a gaping hole in the fraternity that binds musicians, fans, promoters and volunteers.
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“People are starving for live music and the community it breeds,” said Eric Raby, who stages the late August Willowsong Music Festival outside Sidney with his wife, Jo.
“From our interactions, some folks are perhaps realizing the times we took it for granted. We believe that whenever it becomes safe to gather in a carefree fashion again, live music will be attended at unprecedented volumes.”
With so much uncertainty still surrounding the pandemic’s continued impact, most festival organizers didn’t even respond to Local Spins inquiries about how they plan to handle 2021 events and how attendees have reacted to last year’s cancellations. Some experts and fans have speculated that summer festivals are unlikely in 2021.
But more than 40 Michigan festivals optimistically have scheduled dates for 2021 and you can find a full listing in the Local Spins Michigan Music Festivals 2021 Guide published today.
Of course, all of these events come with a wary caveat that the pandemic and its tentacles could once again force cancellations, delays or major changes in the way these festivals are presented.
Already, the early March Kalamazoo Fretboard Festival has announced plans to proceed in 2021 as an online, streaming event rather than an in-person gathering, and other early season festivals are expected to follow suit.
For the second year in a row, the Michigan Music Alliance will stage a multi-day, live-streamed event featuring Michigan artists — the “Spread the Music Festival” — at the end of March, raising money for its Michigan Artist Relief Fund which provides financial support to Mitten State musicians in need.
Even summertime festivals can’t yet predict how 2021’s coronavirus battle might play out, affecting the safety of concertgoers and even the dates when organizers might be able to stage their annual gatherings.
WAITING ON THE VACCINE AND LIFTING OF RESTRICTIONS
Electric Forest in Rothbury posted a mid-December update on its website saying that “while we are holding our typical June time frame (June 24-27), we have to consider health and safety guidelines as well as artist, infrastructure and vendor availability. These all play a part in confirming a date for summer 2021.”
So much depends on the success of vaccines and a reduction in COVID cases.
“At this point we are waiting for the vaccine and herd immunity to take effect before we hold another festival,” Raby conceded. “Obviously, we hope that can happen in time for a Willowsong 2021, but for the same reasons that we canceled in 2020, that decision hasn’t been made yet. We just feel that managing festivarians and performers in the midst of a pandemic would detract too much from the festival experience to make it viable.”
The Upper Peninsula’s Porcupine Mountains Music Festival, scheduled for Aug. 27-29, remains under capacity restrictions for Wilderness State Park where the event takes place.
“The changes needed are still in flux,” said chief festival organizer Cheryl Sundberg. “The state park in which our festival is held still has restrictions on gathering sizes, so that will be our first hurdle to clear. We remain hopeful.”
Like other festivals with a devoted fan base that returns year after year, Sundberg said she’s confident attendees will come back whenever it’s safe to do so.
The same is true for Willowsong and many other festivals. “All of the people we have talked to have been really supportive and we believe that whenever we are able to hold Willowsong again, attendance will be better than ever,” Raby said.
That means many folks who purchased passes for last year’s festivals agreed to simply roll those over for use in 2021 — often at the encouragement of organizers who cautioned that issuing lots of refunds could strap them financially.
While some smaller festivals handled and issued refunds on a case-by-case basis, others did not and that didn’t go over well with ticket buyers who were also facing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. For instance, on the Facebook page for Gaylord’s Big Ticket Festival, many fans have complained bitterly about the refund situation. (The festival didn’t immediately respond to Local Spins inquiries.)
A NEW FESTIVAL AMID THE PANDEMIC
In spite of the COVID crisis, Michigan even managed to launch a brand new festival in 2020, with plans for expanding the event in 2021.
The Forest Trail Music Festival, slated for Freesoil Aug. 27-29, staged “a small socially distanced event” that went “super well” last summer, according to organizer Noah Cameron. The 2021 event already has announced a lineup that features Michigan acts such as The Real Ingredients, Lynn & The Moonshine Runners, Full Cord Bluegrass, Third Coast Swing, Lighting Matches, Steel City Rovers, Plain Jane Glory, Shawn Butzin and more.
“We are obviously hoping for clear skies as far as social distancing and safety measures, but if needed we will use all the safety measures we had at the 2020 fest — social distancing, checking temps at the gate, frequent sanitization of touch areas and stage equipment and more,” Cameron said.
“We are capping attendance at 300 weekend passes and limiting 200 per day for day passes, so no more than 500 at any one point on the grounds.”
See the full list of scheduled 2021 Michigan music festivals at Local Spins online here.
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