News from festival world that might impact New Orleans' French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest.

rage against the machine press photo
Will the reunited Rage Against the Machine play the rescheduled Coachella?

Like Jazz Fest and French Quarter Festival’s organizers, we’re still monitoring the situation. There is no new news from either festival’s producers, but here is the related news for today:

- Coachella and Stagecoach postponed - The festivals take place in Indio, California, roughly a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles, in April. On March 10, organizers Goldenvoice released the following statement: 

At the direction of the County of Riverside and local health authorities, we must sadly confirm the rescheduling of Coachella and Stagecoach due to COVID-19 concerns. While this decision comes at a time of universal uncertainty, we take the safety and health of our guests, staff and community very seriously. We urge everyone to follow the guidelines and protocols put forth by public health officials.

Coachella will now take place on October 9, 10 and 11 and October 16, 17 and 18, 2020. Stagecoach will take place on October 23, 24 and 25, 2020. All purchases for the April dates will be honored for the rescheduled October dates. Purchasers will be notified by Friday, March 13 on how to obtain a refund if they are unable to attend.

Word that promoters Goldenvoice were considering this option started to spread earlier in the week when they started contacting scheduled acts to see if they would be able to make a later date. At this point, there have been no announcements about talent for the rescheduled Coachella or its headliners, Rage Against the Machine, Frank Ocean, and Travis Scott.

Coachella was to take place April 10-12 and again the following weekend, April 17-19—roughly a month away. Stagecoach is the nation’s largest country music festival, and it takes place on the same grounds April 24-26, which is the scheduled first week of Jazz Fest. 

Goldenvoice is owned by AEG Live, which partners with Festival Productions to present Jazz Fest. That doesn’t make it a fait accompli that Jazz Fest won’t run as scheduled, but it makes it less likely, particularly with Stagecoach postponed. It will be hard for New Orleans and Jazz Fest to argue that Coronavirus is a threat in the California desert but not in New Orleans. Since French Quarter Festival is scheduled for April 16-19—the second weekend of Coachella—it faces the same problem.

The problem with all these events is that they draw national and international audiences. That has been a source of pride and strength for the festivals, but it means that at a time when health officials are trying to contain the spread of Coronavirus in the United States, festivalgoers would leave their cities, fly to locations where they’re likely to come in contact with someone infected and take the virus home with them. And, visitors will unknowingly bring it to New Orleans as well. 

If Jazz Fest can't run as scheduled at the end of April and start of May, the best possible outcome is for Jazz Fest to follow Coachella’s lead and reschedule in the fall. Jazz Fest claims to have a $300 million economic impact on New Orleans, and a year without Jazz Fest would be devastating. Even a scaled down, one weekend Jazz Fest later in the year is better than nothing. Still, a postponed Jazz Fest would face some real challenges starting with where it would fit into New Orleans’ calendar. One challenge organizers would face if they pursued a postponed Jazz Fest that Goldenvoice doesn’t have to deal with in the California desert is hurricane season. Hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30, and while Voodoo is evidence that New Orleans can host major festivals during that time, hurricane season has to be considered, particularly in September, which has been an active time for tropical storms and hurricanes in the last decade. 

That aside, September is fairly open after the Labor Day weekend and Southern Decadence. If Jazz Fest tried to schedule in the first two weeks of October, it would run opposite ACL in Austin. That’s certainly not impossible, but Jazz Fest would be competing for national talent with ACL at that point, and in the second and third weekends, they would also be in competition with Coachella. The fourth weekend of October is Voodoo in City Park, and hosting two festivals in New Orleans in Mid-City seems prohibitively difficult. The first weekend or two of November are theoretically possible, but the racing season at the Fairgounds will start that month. People associate the start of the racing season at the Fairgrounds with Thanksgiving, but in recent years, the season actually started earlier than that. 

- SXSW, Ultra not offering refunds - Coachella’s announcement certainly makes it look as though Goldenvoice will offer refunds on ticket purchases for those who can’t attend the rescheduled events, but it has yet to post any details on how that will happen. Those who bought credentials for SXSW won't be so lucky. SXSW’s website states, “Any and all payments made to SXSW are not refundable for any reason, including, without limitation, failure to use Credentials due to illness, acts of God, travel-related problems, acts of terrorism, loss of employment and/or duplicate purchases,” and the festival is sticking to that policy. Instead, it is allowing badge holders to choose to use it in 2021, 2022 or 2023. 

SXSW hoped that canceling because Austin’s mayor declared a state of emergency would allow the festival’s insurance to help defray the costs but learned that their policy doesn’t cover the outbreak of infections, diseases and pandemics. As a result, the festival has had to lay off a third of its full-time staff, approximately 50 people. The financial impact of the cancellation was so serious that the best a staffer could be was “hopeful” that there would be an SXSW 2021.

Officially, Ultra Miami was postponed, not canceled, so organizers are not offering refunds. The festival has given ticket holders 30 days to decide if they would like to have the tickets they purchased honored at the 2021 or 2022 event, and they are planning a package of extras for Ultra 2020 ticket holders including an exclusive headline DJ performance in 2021, a free ticket to another Ultra or related event outside of Miami, a discount on march, a reduced price upgrade to Premium GA, entrance in a draw for 10 “golden tickets” that will get the holders and guests free entrance to Ultra events outside of Miami for life, and reduced price additional tickets to Ultra Miami 2021.  

- St. Patrick’s Day parades canceled - New Orleans canceled the St. Patrick’s Day parades scheduled for the upcoming weekend. According to Mayor Latoya Cantrell, three diagnosed cases of Coronavirus in New Orleans prompted the decision. “Being in three locations, being the hospitals, meaning they have been treated by three different sets of hospital caregivers, to be as proactive as possible, to prevent any type of community spread... to be proactive as it relates to preventing anyone else in our city from coming down with COVID-19... I've made the decision, in consultation with my safety team... I'm making the call to cancel all of them," she said at a press conference.

New Orleans is scheduled to host Buku March 20 and 21 and Hogs for the Cause March 27 and 28, and so far, there has been no determination of their status. The city plans to speak to organizers later in the week about their events.