At first blush, a canceled or postponed music festival may not seem like a big deal. It might sound like an unfortunate but necessary casualty of a global pandemic – something one might dismiss as low-ranking on our list of current crises. But the suspension of large music festivals across Texas, and the nation, has a massive impact on the economy and makes the future of the festivals themselves tenuous.
The cancellation of SXSW came as a shock. Just one week before it was slated to kick-off, city officials announced the festival would not be moving forward as scheduled. Film and music journalists, hotels, restaurants, bars, gig workers, movie theaters – the magnitude of businesses and individuals impacted by the postponement is daunting to gauge.
The SXSW film and music festival has been going strong annually since 1987. As a multimedia gathering of epic proportions, it gives artists a chance to showcase their work while networking with industry professionals. And according to the festival itself, SXSW boosted Austin’s economy to the tune of $355 million in 2019.
Summer is the season of the music festival. Warm temperatures and sunny skies see people flocking in droves to watch their favorite musical artists in wide-open spaces. But with gatherings of more than a few dozen people banned to prevent the spread of Covid-19, musical festivals were not only potentially dangerous, they were temporarily illegal.
Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour was, ironically, postponed. Journey, arguably most famous for their raucous rock anthem Don’t Stop Believing were welcome to keep the faith, but they still had to stop touring. If 1967 was the Summer of Love, 2020 is the Summer of Silence – at least when it comes to live music.
What A Cancellation Costs
The cost of a music festival or huge concert cancellation or postponement can’t just be calculated by the immediate impact. A tremendous amount of money is invested in festivals – booked venues bought merchandise, paid staff. While some festivals got creative with virtual events and engagements, experiencing film and music from their laptop wasn’t exactly what festival ticket holders had in mind.
Texas music festivals like SXSW, Austin’s Levitation music festival, and JMBLYA have all been modified in some way to curb the spread of Covid-19. More than being a drag for music fans, the significant delays in these festivals are a drag on local economies that depend on the crowds and their patronage to stay afloat.
While many businesses and individuals are still reeling from the rescheduling of these events, there’s a tiny glimmer of hope on the horizon in the form of slow re-openings and the setting of new festival dates. Some will be pushed to the Fall of 2020 while others will pick up in 2021.
Still, countless people are under crushing financial strain in the wake of rescheduled festivals. Caterers, freelancers, sanitation workers, music venues – all these and more collect a significant portion of their annual revenue during events like SXSW. Pushing the festivals to a later date is an enormous challenge for the festivals, their staff, and the entire local economy that depends on these events to come out on top.