[UPDATE: Rock the Garden's cancellation has been announced the day after this story published. Details here.]
Summer hasn’t been canceled yet, but the coronavirus quarantine has many outdoor music festival organizers in Minnesota and Wisconsin wondering if their shows can go on.
The Twin Cities Summer Jam, which was to feature the Zac Brown Band and Pitbull in July at Canterbury Park, has already been called off for the year. June’s Blue Ox Music Fest in Eau Claire, Wis., is looking at rescheduling for August. Summerfest in Milwaukee will be scaled back and pushed to September.
Organizers at the Basilica Block Party, Rock the Garden and Twin Cities Jazz Festival — all popular June-July downtown events — have not announced any changes in plans yet but they are clearly weighing their options, including the very possible chance of canceling for the year.
“As we all know, this situation is unprecedented, and we are digesting new information on a daily basis,” said Holly Dockendorf, special events coordinator at Basilica of St. Mary, regarding their July 10-11 event.
“As an event organizer, we will make whatever decision we deem best serves our Twin Cities community.”
The complexities of the quarantine are even worse for festivals than for other concerts, given the higher number of artists and sponsors involved, and the logistics of setting up for big outdoor gigs.
Rock the Garden organizers — who have yet to make any announcement and declined to comment for this article — would have a hard time rescheduling given the already busy docket of other summer activities at the temporarily shuttered Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
TC Jazz Fest organizers don’t even know right now if they can get the necessary permits from the city of St. Paul to carry on with their July events, which include the Lowertown Blues & Funk Fest. But they’re holding out hope.
“For now, there are no change in plans, and we will adjust accordingly,” spokeswoman Connie Shaver said.
Lakefront Music Festival's team in Prior Lake is also sticking with its plans for July 10-11 with Lady Antebellum and Styx.
Minnesota's two biggest festivals, the Soundset hip-hop marathon and the We Fest country campout, were both already on hold in 2020 for different circumstances — decisions that probably were to organizers' benefit in the end.
Some of the other major festivals around the country, including Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest, have been postponed until fall. Chicago's sprawling Lollalaplooza is still being planned for its July 30-Aug. 2 dates, but its lineup has not yet been announced.
For the Midwest's more rural music festivals such as Winstock, Country Jam USA and the Moondance rock and country parties, there’s a little more breathing room — and a greater desire from tourism-dependent local businesses for them to still happen in 2020.
One of the earliest and biggest outdoor shindigs of the season, Winstock in Winsted, Minn., is sticking to its June 12-13 schedule with Darius Rucker and Luke Combs. So are the Moondance Jam and Moondance Country Jam for June and July near Walker, Minn.
“We continue to work towards that goal,” said Winstock festival chairman Dave Danielson, but he added they are “committed to abide by all government and health directives. We must be able to assure that our fans, staff and performers have a safe environment.”
Eau Claire’s Country Jam USA is still planned for July 16-18 with performers including Combs and Chris Young, but organizers got a firsthand reminder of what’s at stake: One of their scheduled 2020 acts was Joe Diffie, who died last weekend at age 61 after contracting the coronavirus.
“We considered him a local boy, so we’re just extra heartbroken,” Country Jam general manager Kathy Wright said, referring to Diffie’s high school years in Whitehall, Wis.
Still, she added, “the community here really relies on us to drive in tourism dollars each summer, especially this summer.”
“We’re hopeful, and if we do go on as planned we can promise there are going to be changes in the way we do things to keep everybody safe.”
Housed on the same campgrounds as Country Jam near Eau Claire a month earlier, the bluegrass- and Americana-flavored Blue Ox festival has less time to wait it out. Organizers plan to announce new dates soon, although it’s likely the lineup will change as a result.
“We’re basically rebooking the entire festival, which obviously isn’t easy,” said Blue Ox co-organizer Mark Gehring, “but it seems like it has to be done.”
For now, Twin Cities fans can also hold out hope First Avenue’s big concerts outside Surly Brewing Festival Field will happen, including Ween, the National and the Decemberists.
“Everything is an unknown at this point, but I’m pretty confident that our outdoor shows will be happening this year,” First Ave manager Nate Kranz said. “We’ve been in contact with all of the artist reps on a regular basis to make sure we can react to changes in plan quickly.”