Bonnaroo lovers held onto hope that the festival would take place on its rescheduled September dates — a hope that was shattered as the severity of the COVID-19 situation became more clear and the festival was canceled.
But now there’s something new to hope for.
Organizers are busy planning next year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival with plans to bring many of the artists scheduled to play in 2020 to “The Farm” next year.
“Everybody is grappling with this very unusual, unknown situation that nobody’s been in ever before,” Bonnaroo co-founder Ashley Capps told Knox News. “June’s almost a year away, and so we have to be optimistic.”
The 2021 Bonnaroo would be the 20th anniversary of the Manchester, Tennessee, festival. It would be the 19th event, however, after this year’s cancellation.
The festival is scheduled to return June 17-20, 2021.
‘We’d been hoping for the best’
Capps stepped back from his role as AC Entertainment president earlier this year to become senior director, coinciding with Live Nation’s full purchase of the company.
“And a lot of that focus will be on maintaining the thread and continuity of Bonnaroo’s culture and the threads that have been integral to the success of the festival,” he told Knox News at the time. “It will really free me up to be more creative and explore new opportunities.”
Capps said the 2020 festival was on track to be the biggest Bonnaroo yet. Tickets sold out in record time, and the diverse lineup was met with praise from old-school Bonnaroovians and new festivalgoers alike.
When it became clear that welcoming more than 80,000 people to the festival site in June would not be possible, organizers pushed the dates back to September.
“Like everybody else, we’d been hoping for the best,” Capps said. “And then when you do realize that that’s not going to happen and you have to cancel, there’s a lot of ducks to line up.”
Coordinating a cancellation
Fans on social media seemed surprised that Bonnaroo held onto the September date for so long before canceling. But canceling involves coordinating the announcement with roughly 150 artists, preparing the staff and planning for refunds.
“All of that has to be planned for so it can take place as smoothly as possible and so that no one that’s directly involved in the event is surprised and discovering that they’re not working that weekend because they’re reading about it in the press,” Capps said.
It began to dawn on organizers in late May or early June that the September date would not be possible after turning to experts and government officials for guidance.
“I wish it was as easy as just deciding and letting everybody know and ‘poof,’ you can do it in an hour,” Capps said. “But actually, it takes weeks to get it all coordinated, especially for something that size.”
You can’t just flip a switch
AC Entertainment puts on a handful of other festivals in the Southeast. Capps is heavily involved in Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival, which is planning to move to two weekends in March 2021.
The move from Big Ears will allow 2020 artists to reschedule for one of the two weekends while introducing new artists already booked for 2021.
“For the next few years, I don’t see any festivals generally making that kind of move,” Capps said. “It’s going to be more about what it takes to just build back to what once was because no one knows what the other side of this is going to completely look like. And it’s going to take us all some time to adjust to whatever the new reality might be.”
For the festivals that do survive, he said, it’s not going to be like “flipping a switch.” A lot of factors will come into play.
What does planning look like?
For now, Bonnaroo organizers are planning to bring back the festival in 2021.
“A lot of the planning for Bonnaroo in June is talking to artists, letting them know our intentions and getting everything lined up in the hopes that we’ll all be able to work again,” Capps said.
Capps is hopeful that “most, if not all” of the artists scheduled for 2020 will be able to play the festival in 2021.
“You have to have goals, and I think the word out there is there is a lot of progress being made on a vaccine,” Capps said. “There’s potential progress being made on various cures or things that mitigate the seriousness of the impact of the virus.”
Nobody knows for sure, he said, when this progress will begin having a positive impact on the situation everyone is living in.
“But we’re all very hopeful,” he said.