On May 5, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker held a press conference detailing initial plans to reopen the state once the number of newly confirmed cases of coronavirus has decreased. There weren't set dates for when the five-phase plan would be implemented as the state still hasn't seen a significant drop in cases. However, the governor was clear on one thing: that a full reopen will only be possible when a vaccine is made widely available or an extremely effective treatment is found. Pritzker said, “It brings me no joy to say this, but based on what the experts tell us and everything we know about this virus and how easily it spreads in a crowd, large conventions, festivals and other major events will be on hold until we reach phase five."
The governor offered no answers as to whether Lollapalooza, the gargantuan Chicago-based music festival which brought in 400,000 attendees last year, would be canceled as well. "If there is an effective treatment that comes out and people can see really you won’t get that sick if you get COVID-19, then I think all bets are up,” Pritzker said.
But no vaccine is expected until March 2021 at the very earliest, and no miracle cure for the virus is readily available. So why is Lollapalooza still currently scheduled for July 30 through August 2?
Lollapalooza organizers sent an email to fans on May 6, writing, "As the festival is still several months away, we are taking careful consideration to work through our options. We are confident that we will have enough information to make a definitive decision about the path forward by the end of May." That's not good enough, and they need to cancel.
On May 6, the significantly smaller Pitchfork Music Festival, originally scheduled for July 17–19, announced a full cancellation for 2020. In their announcement, Pitchfork organizers hedged their bets on coming back in 2021, writing, “It can be pretty daunting to think about the future of live music right now, but know that we are fully committed to bringing Pitchfork Music Festival back in 2021, if the public health situation allows for it.” Such careful and sobering language suggests that there's a strong possibility music festivals may not return even next year.
Even the most optimistic projections don't see cases diminishing to such a point in late July where it would be safe to host a destination, four-day music festival with hundreds of thousands of people crowding a park for live music. With one government model projecting 200,000 new cases per day in June and the more conservative IMHE projecting nearly 135,000 deaths by August, the numbers make it clear that hosting a major music festival this summer would be unlikely under state and federal rules and recommendations, and if it were to happen, wildly irresponsible.
Lollapalooza could attempt to reschedule for later in the year, when new cases and deaths will likely be down significantly. But we're already seeing festivals originally postponed to the fall—like New Orleans' Essence Fest—cancel out of caution and logistical concerns.
Another major question remains, too: Will artists feel safe touring and performing later this year? And will fans feel safe attending?
A recent Reuters poll found that only 40 percent of people say they would feel comfortable going to arts and entertainment venues before a coronavirus vaccine is developed. Experts don't see it happening, either. "Larger gatherings—conferences, concerts, sporting events—when people say they’re going to reschedule this conference or graduation event for October 2020, I have no idea how they think that’s a plausible possibility," said bioethicist Zeke Emanuel in an interview with New York Magazine. "I think those things will be the last to return. Realistically we’re talking fall 2021 at the earliest."
Lollapalooza isn't unique in holding out. Scores of other postponed festivals—like Spain's Primavera, which is somehow still scheduled for August, and Coachella, now slated to return in October, to name just two—seem naively optimistic with their scheduling, if not outright dangerous. While the losses to the music industry are devastating all around—Live Nation, which owns a majority stake in Lollapalooza promoter C3 Presents, has lost billions—the safety of fans and music lovers is more important than forcing a slapdash and social-distancing-compliant music festival to happen.
Lollapalooza is one of Chicago's most exciting summertime events, but there is no feasible way for it to continue as scheduled in 2020, which is a shame. Organizers should have canceled it much earlier, but it's not too late to do the right thing.