Jazz Fest 2021 Has Been Cancelled. Will Governors Ball and Others Follow Suit?

Organizers face tough decisions

Jazz Fest 2019
Delfeayo Marsalis Orchestra performs during the 2019 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 50th Anniversary.
Erika Goldring/Getty Images

If you’re feeling a sense of déjà vu right now when it comes to the pandemic, you’re not alone. Case numbers are back up, people are donning masks again and the near-term status of large cultural events is back in doubt. The last of these became abundantly clear earlier today, when the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival announced that it would be cancelling its 2021 festival, citing concerns over COVID-19 as the reason.

The announcement cites “the exponential growth of new COVID cases in New Orleans and the region and the ongoing public health emergency” as specific reasons for the festival not taking place this year. And while it’s disappointing news for anyone who’d been planning to go, it’s also a very understandable decision by the festival’s organizers.

Large outdoor festivals exist in their own space, logistically speaking. While some artists and venues are implementing vaccination and/or masking requirements for entry, the size of an outdoor festival offers its own challenges. And while outdoor conditions make it harder for COVID-19 to spread, the close proximity of concertgoers at last week’s Lollapalooza in Chicago have prompted health authorities to call for anyone who attended to get tested for the pandemic.

The alarming news from Lollapalooza and the cancellation of New Orleans JazzFest also leaves a lot of questions for the fall festivals still standing. Those include New York’s Governors Ball (scheduled for September 24-26) and Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival (scheduled for September 10-12). The latter does require attendees to be vaccinated or to have tested negative for COVID-19 within the last 24 hours, and is requiring that attendees mask up. Enforcing that policy among thousands of festival-goers offers its own challenges, though.

It also remains to be seen if JazzFest’s cancellation will prompt a domino effect for other festivals. The aftermath of Lollapalooza has already raised some concern over what the coming months will look like in terms of festivals — and, more broadly, the return of live music to venues in general. And, given the importance of festivals for artists on tour, the decision to cancel or not cancel a particular event could have widespread consequences. In the coming weeks, festival organizers around the country face a series of questions without easy answers — and with massive implications.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.