Coronavirus Killed Miami Ultra. What Other Festivals Will Follow?

The three-day EDM festival is suspended indefinitely. Will others like SXSW, Coachella, and Stagecoach do the same?
March 5, 2020, 10:12pm
Coronavirus Killed Miami Ultra. What Other Festivals Will Follow?
Ultra Music Festival 2018 (Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images)

The Miami Herald reported on Wednesday that the annual Miami Ultra Music Festival, originally planned for March 20-22, will no longer go on as scheduled, amid concerns the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19. The three-day EDM festival, which boasted around 170,000 attendees in 2019, was expecting fans from over 100 countries to attend. For now the event is just postponed, but an announcement on its ultimate fate is scheduled to be announced on Friday.

Ultra, which had booked Flume, The Chainsmokers, Major Lazer, David Guetta, Martin Garrix, and other EDM heavyweights for this year's lineup, is the first major music festival to cancel over coronavirus fears. It's also the first time in 21 years Ultra will not go on as scheduled. Critics of decision point to nonrefundable flights potentially stranding would-be festivalgoers who are already in Miami, which is also hosting the concurrent event Miami Music Week, which has not been canceled. One tweet about the news read, "People are still going to Miami for Miami Music Week so I don't know how much canceling Ultra Music Festival really does…"

With festival season and massive events like SXSW, Coachella, and Stagecoach imminent, Ultra may signal the first of many cancellations. Several artists have already canceled tours in Asia, the region hardest hit by coronavirus, and some acts, like Sad13's Sadie Dupuis, have elected to bow out of attending SXSW this year.

SXSW organizers have been pressured to cancel, but so far the Austin event will soldier on. Austin Public Health official Mark Escott told CNN there's "no evidence that closing South by Southwest or other activities is going to make this community safer."

Goldenvoice, which puts on Coachella and Stagecoach each April, did not immediately respond to request to comment from VICE. But emails obtained by VICE through a FOIA request suggest that the city of Indio, Calif., where the festivals take place, is beginning to discuss plans of its own. "We should not take a passive position and assume the county and [Goldenvoice] have it all handled," a city official wrote. "We need to make sure all our personnel have the protective gear in case there’s an outbreak."

Rage Against the Machine, Travis Scott, and Frank Ocean will headline Coachella in April, and so far, the festival will go on as scheduled. But that could change if just one artist drops out. Just look at what happened with Lollapalooza Colombia in 2016—Rihanna bowed out over fears surrounding the virus, which led to the festival's ultimate cancellation. And even if artists don't cancel, concertgoers might opt to stay home.

A recent report by Rolling Stone, which published before Ultra was postponed, tried to survey how coronavirus could affect the upcoming festival slate. The conclusion? It's a little early to tell.

“We’re in this gray area right now where events are getting canceled preemptively—before we know how widespread the problem is,” Aaron Goldstein, a partner at law firm Dorsey & Whitney, told the publication.

But one thing is for sure: an event where people camp out for several days, staying up late, partying, not showering, and taking in live music is perfectly primed to breed a virus. In 2016, the British government warned that music festivals were "the ideal place" for diseases to spread, linking outbreaks of measles, the flu, salmonella, norovirus to these widely-attended events.