Updated August 20, 2020 - 3:26 pm
The beats are hard — as was the decision to silence them. At least for now.
When Electric Daisy Carnival announced this month that it was bumping its planned October dates to May, it wasn’t for a lack of trying to make things happen this year.
“We were working hard to implement a two-step COVID-19 testing program, free of cost, for all attendees,” says Pasquale Rotella, founder of Insomniac, which puts on EDC. “The program would have consisted of an at-home test to be completed ahead of the event and a second test upon arrival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Festivalgoers who had two negative test results would have been granted access to the event.
“Unfortunately, the FDA just released guidelines for the rapid at-home self-administered viral tests in the beginning of August, and by the time the FDA approved the tests and nearly 200,000 of them were manufactured and shipped to all fans and staff, we would’ve been out of time,” he continues. “These initial rapid at-home tests were key because we couldn’t have thousands of sick people showing up to Las Vegas.”
So EDC will return next spring instead, the vast majority of the 150,000 fans expected to attend each day in 2020 rolling their tickets over to 2021, the few passes available from those who didn’t hold on to them snapped up almost instantly when they went on sale Aug. 7.
Still, nothing is certain in these decidedly uncertain times, especially when it comes to mass gatherings in the coronavirus era.
All of which begs the question, what will it take to get music festivals back in action? Even nine months from now?
“Two words: a vaccine,” says Steven A. Adelman, an Arizona-based attorney and vice president of the Event Safety Alliance, a collection of more than 300 music and event industry professionals looking to provide a road map for live music’s return. “That’s it. There’s nothing else to say.”
A shot in the dark — literally
He was ahead of the game in April.
He may prove to be the same in August.
Four months ago, event founder Tom Ingram’s Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekender, the city’s longest-running music festival at 22 years and counting, was the first local fest to postpone its 2020 edition because of coronavirus concerns, setting off a chain reaction with events such as Punk Rock Bowling, Life is Beautiful and Psycho Las Vegas following suit.
Recently, Ingram took the next step and decided to push his 2021 event from April, when it usually takes place, to September, just to be safe.
“The way things are going, if they get a vaccine by the end of the year, you’ve got to look at how long it’s going to take to get everyone vaccinated,” Ingram says. “That’s probably not going to happen by April, but there’s a strong chance that enough people could be vaccinated by September. So that’s what we sort of went by. We just try to look ahead and think, ‘Well, what’s the situation going to be?’ You can either be realistic or hopeful.”
Ingram took the former tack, his decision underscoring the reality that there is no guarantee that fests will be able to resume next spring when the concert calendar for large-scale events resumes.
Yes, a vaccine remains imperative, but Adelman notes that it doesn’t end there.
“It’s going to take a widespread vaccine,” he says, “which means we’re going to have to overcome anti-vaxxers and people who have a political reason not to believe that the vaccine is good for them.”
Fuzzy boots and clean hands
Skimpy clothes, robust hygiene protocols.
This is the duality that will probably define EDC 2021.
“It’s difficult to say what sort of medical advances will be available by May, as things are constantly changing, but we’re staying up to speed on everything and exploring the latest and greatest options,” Rotella says. “One thing that will remain true no matter what is the importance of making things more hygienic for our fans.
“There are many different ways to do that, whether it’s increasing the amount of hand-washing stations or cleaning the restrooms more frequently,” he adds. “Educating fans on what they can do for themselves will also play an important role, which means more messaging on our part reminding fans of proper sanitation practices.”
Rotella says that he has until around March to make the final decision on whether EDC can take place as scheduled May 21-23.
“The issue in terms of timing is not so much about us being prepared, because we’ll be ready no matter what — even if it’s on short notice,” he says. “It’s more about the fans being able to plan and make travel arrangements, so I believe we need to make a definitive decision for their benefit around two months before the show.”
When EDC does return, it won’t be doing so in a void, as Las Vegas has increasingly become a destination market for festivals catering to a variety of sounds, from hip-hop to metal to reggae.
One of the biggest outside of EDC is the multi-genre Life is Beautiful, which takes place downtown in September.
After skipping 2020, Life is Beautiful founder Justin Weniger outlines what needs to happen for fests like his to get back in action.
“There’s steps that have to be taken,” Weniger explained in May. “We have to think about health and safety, obviously, and what will need to change for mass events, just in general. We have to think about the community, the destination, getting back on track, just so we have enough flights and hotel rooms online and people around have the means and resources to be able travel to Las Vegas to attend a music festival. It’s just one foot in front of the other.”
For Rotella, the party will resume when multiple parties are satisfied that it’s safe to do so.
“Between the speedway, the city, Metro, fire, Gov. Sisolak and, most importantly, the fans, everyone needs to feel comfortable,” he says. “We have to check a lot of different boxes to make sure we can move forward and that we feel good about it.
“Even after everyone else says ‘yes,’ ” he continues, “we as a company that organizes mass gatherings have to feel good about it, because we care very much about every single person who comes through the door.”