Major Country Music Festivals Face Latest Rash of Cancellations

It’s not a good time to be throwing a country music megafest, or making your plans around one, at least not for some promoters and festival goers. With Live Nation continuing to monopolize the live music space, and so many major tours and festivals filling up the map and calendar, it has become time for a market correction, and we’re witnessing a major one heading into 2019. Just in the past few months, we’ve seen some significant cancellations and announcements for non-returning events for the next year, and don’t be surprised if more are on the way.

Leading the charge is one of the oldest, and biggest country festivals in the United States. Once dubbed the Super Bowl of country, the 41-year-old Jamboree in the Hills located in Morristown, Ohio was put on hiatus by LiveNation in November, sending many annual attendees into panic and shock, worried one of their region’s most important country music institutions might be going away.

“Jamboree in the Hills will be on hiatus for 2019 while we consider options regarding the future of the Belmont Country, OH festival site,” the organizers announced. “We will provide an update when more details are available. We are grateful for the community support since the festival’s inception.”

The 4-day mid July festival has been a mainstay to local and regional country fans and the local economy since 1977, and attracts nearly 100,000 attendees annually. Unlike many new festivals, Jamboree in the Hills has its own set of traditions, including the “Redneck Run” where fans run through the gates to get the best seats in the field every morning, festival goers often camp out on site, and the festival even has its own theme song. Festival attendees say it’s not just about the music, but about the camaraderie in the campground, and many of the traditions the regular attendees uphold.

The 2nd Annual Party in the Pines Festival that was scheduled to occur in White Springs, Florida October 19th and 20th at the Bienville Plantation was abruptly cancelled just 10 days before gates were set to open, leaving fans and artists in the lurch and looking for refunds and explanations. Performers included Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town, Luke Combs, and Kip Moore.

“It is with a heavy heart that we inform you that Party in the Pines Music Festival has been cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control,” Bienville Entertainment said. “We are working on a plan to compensate ticket holders and sponsors. Details will be posted to our website and social media pages soon. We realize this impacts people in many different ways. We apologize to our supporters and team members who have worked hard to bring this event to our community.”

The last minute cancellation left many ticket holders, performers, and festival goers in the lurch, and the organizers scrambling to fulfill financial obligations.

Another Florida festival was canceled even before a lineup could be announced. There will not be a 4th Annual Country 500 at the Daytona International Speedway in 2019, the speedway announced on November 28th. Held on Memorial Day weekend, and promoted by the same company who organizes the New Orleans Jazz Festival, this was one of many events promised to justify a $400 million renovation of the speedway in 2016. Jason Aldean, Kid Rock, Willie Nelson, and Florida Georgia Line are just some of the headliners the festival has featured in the last few years.

“Daytona International Speedway will continue to explore new opportunities to host non-traditional events such as music festivals and develop a business model that can be successful for all parties involved,” the Speedway said in a statement. “We are in the midst of negotiations right now for a new music opportunity for the future.”

Perhaps the messiest of the recent cancellations has been the fiasco in Oregon with the Country Crossings Music Festival. Announced just a couple of days before the Country 500 cancellation in Florida, the 3rd annual festival was scheduled to occur at the Jackson County Expo in Central Point Oregon next summer. Not only has the event been canceled, there are multiple vendors and contractors who have been left unpaid from the previous year, and festival goers who already purchased tickets are waiting for refunds.

“We are sorry to announce that the 2019 Country Crossings Music Festival will no longer be taking place,” said a spokesperson for the event. “This was a difficult decision, but we ultimately determined that the festival team would not be able to deliver the quality experience our Country Crossings community expects of this event in 2019.”

Operated by Willamette Country Music Concerts, and owned by global promotions firm IMG, the company fell on tough times when former festival president and event manager Anne Hankins left the company last summer. Headliners of the 2018 festival included Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, and Eric Church, but smoke from nearby fires put a damper on the festivities. Now not only has Country Crossings been canceled, but The Mountain Home Country Music Festival held in Idaho by the same company will also not move forward next year, and the company’s main event, The Willamette Country Music Festival also remains up in the air for 2019.

Though not exclusively country music related, Sam Hunt’s multi-genre “Nashional” music festival was also cancelled this March.

The pattern feels very similar to 2015 when the country music festival bubble burst, and major festivals such as Thunder On The Mountain, Country FanJam, Cross Country Lines, Country Life Music Festival, and others were cancelled. 2016 saw the cancellation of the Dega Jam at Talladega Motor Speedway, The FarmBorough Festival in New York, and the Big Barrel Festival in Delaware.

Though some of these recently-cancelled festivals are newer and can be chalked up to nothing more than a course correction for the industry, with established festivals such as Jamboree in the Hills or the multiple festivals in Oregon, it comes at the cost of communities of fans, and at a loss for the locations that host the events that help bring economic stimulus to a region. All the cancellations can also make fans leery of pulling the trigger for tickets to festivals they may worry will fail, or be cancelled last minute, leaving their money tied up in ticketing drama.

With the soaring costs for headliner talent, a finite amount of fans to attend an increasing amount of festivals and tour stops, and a general downturn in the popularity of mainstream country in the post Bro-Country era, don’t be surprised if more major country events are canceled heading into 2019.