Coronavirus Will Create Overcrowded Fall Season for Live Music

The Lone Bellow at Old Settler’s Fest (photo: Brad Coolidge)

At this point, finding a live music performance on the calendar in March is as hard as finding a roll of toilet paper for sale, and any date in April is tenuous at best now too. Some May festivals and tours have also been rescheduled or postponed, and it’s likely some early summer plans could be interrupted as well due to COVID-19.

For some events like SXSW, Miami’s Ultra Fest, and the UK’s massive Glastonbury Festival, there was no opportunity to reschedule to a later date in the year due to the logistical nightmare these events present. But many spring events, especially those in locales too hot to host events in the dead of summer, are circling dates in weekends in the fall for rescheduling, while many music tours big and small see September through November as the time to make up cancelled plans.

But this is bound to create a problem in the already-crowded festival and touring space. Even before Coronavirus concerns, we were seeing many festivals cancelling or postponing 2020 plans due to the inability to secure talent or due to competing festivals moving into their markets. Now that you will have spring festivals competing with fall ones, and sometimes centered around the same genres and in the same geographic region, this could create an unprecedented squeeze on talent to fill out lineups, let alone finding fans to fill up the fields and VIP sections.

Along with the mega festivals of spring like Coachella and Stagecoach in California, the Tortuga Fest in Fort Lauderdale, and Jazz Fest in New Orleans which have all now moved to the fall of 2020, you have many regional festivals doing the same thing. This week, Old Settler’s Fest just outside of Austin, TX set to happen in mid April said they will reschedule to the fall. The massive Texas music-based Larry Joe Taylor Festival near Fort Worth also in April says it will now take place October 19-24th.

UPDATE: Tennessee’s mega, multi-genre festival Bonnaroo has also just announced they’ll be moving from the originally-scheduled date of June 11th-14th, to September 24-27.

These new fall festivals will go along with regular tour performances by national acts that now have a backlog of commitments to ticket holders due to early 2020 cancellations, as well as larger events like the recently-rescheduled performance by Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson, Jamey Johnson, and Yola at the new Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX. It was originally set for March 14th, and now will happen on November 21st. Even major awards shows like the ACM’s originally scheduled for April 5th are looking towards the fall to finally get their event in, moving to a TBD date in September. The Billboard Music Awards have also been postponed with a new date yet announced, and all of this will come in the midst of the fall football season when television slots are at a premium.

Still these reschedules are a better option than some events that have been forced to cancel outright, including Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion as part of SXSW, and North Carolina’s bluegrass-oriented MerleFest that was scheduled for late April. With such large and omnivorous lineups, coordinating schedules for a different time proved difficult or impossible. If May ends up being affected by cancellations, you could have even more of a crowded fall, with events like Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama set for May 15-17 being forced to move.

So along with long-established fall events like ACL Fest, AmericanaFest, Bristol Rhythm and Roots, and a host of others, there will be a myriad of rescheduled events fighting for space on the calendar come the fall of 2020. Ultimately we may see some spring events that moved to the fall being forced to cancel after all.

Also expect to see a lot of rescheduled dates for tours landing on weeknights. We’ve seen this with many of the new dates on the Sturgill Simpson / Tyler Childers arena tour (some of which in April are likely to be rescheduled again). With so many dates being postponed, trying to find time to host events, especially in arenas which will also be hosting NBA and NHL games is already creating a logistical nightmare, and headaches for ticketholders who can’t make the rescheduled performances.

Of course, these concerns pale in comparison to the health concerns COVID-19 is presenting, but even when life returns to normal, it may take a year or more to unwrinkle the live music map and calendar, while some events may choose to permanently move to the fall as opposed to attempting to produce multiple events six months apart—something that will be difficult for many of the independent promoters who put on these festivals, especially as talent continues to come at more and more of a premium.

To ensure the health and well-being of the live music space, festival promoters, booking agents, and venue owners are going to need to coordinate more than ever to make sure they’re not stepping on each other’s toes, or inadvertently (or purposely) siphoning fans, artists, and dollars away from each other by rescheduling their events too close together. Bigger promoters like LiveNation and AEG who are known for their predatory practices of setting up rival events to local and regional promoters must be especially guarded against.

Similar concerns should be considered for album releases. Though the to move to postpone an album release to the fall will be compelling for many bands and artists so as not to compete with Coronavirus news, this could also lend to an overcrowded marketplace where your album might get buried, while right now many music fans are looking for new music as they spend time at home in isolation or self-quarantine.

Right now a lot of concerned fans are wondering where to put their music money for artists, venues, and promoters who will be struggling to make ends meet without the ability to present live music. Though tips for streaming performances from the living rooms of artists can be important bridge through this difficult time, fans with the means might want to leave open a slush fund and vacation time for the swell of performances in the fall that will invariably be flooding the calendar, and will need fans to continue.