In early 2020, the coronavirus pandemic halted the world leaving no industry untouched. While some music artists continued performing club shows and regional hot spots, the music industry at large relied on streaming, digital activations, and virtual performances to stay afloat as its biggest events were canceled.
One year later, a warm ray of hope ignited by access to vaccines, and a shrinking amount of COVID-19 cases was cast over the country. Restaurants and malls attempted to go back to normal. Sporting events and graduations returned to in-person audiences. For the music industry, fans were eager to return to their favorite hobby of concert-going, and artists and organizers were equally amped to return to performances and profits.
Festival and tour announcements began rolling in, and by summer 2021, Rolling Loud Miami initiated the return of large festivals for mainstream hip-hop and pop music fans in the United States. Thousands of people flocked to Florida despite the continuously mutating coronavirus growing as a threat to public safety. From July 23rd to July 25th, music lovers gathered shoulder-to-shoulder to enjoy performances from headliners across four different stages.
While there was a vaccination pop-up site at the event, there was no confirmed COVID-19 protocol to enter the Rolling Loud Miami venue. Local 10 News reported organizers did not respond to questions regarding safety measures and any procedures for the event are no longer listed on the website. The state of Florida—currently lead by Gov. Ron DeSantis—issued an executive order on May 3rd that restricted local governments from initiating a mask mandate or social distancing regulations. (As Fat Joe exclaimed when he recapped the historic Verzuz battle between Dipset and The LOX, “COVID was in there!”)
After Rolling Loud, performer Dess Dior shared she had tested positive for COVID-19. Actress and influencer Alexa Leighton also shared she had the virus after attending the music festival. Across social media, various people confirmed that either themselves or a family member tested positive after or during the two-day event.
Update: I tested positive for Covid & everybody who’s been in contact with me should go get tested asap. https://t.co/58rRj8DFhG
— DESS (@1dessdior) July 27, 2021
Upcoming Rolling Loud Festival dates in New York City and Los Angeles will require attendees to be inoculated against COVID-19 or present a negative test before entering the venue, in accordance with state laws. Lollapalooza Chicago was scheduled a mere two weeks following the party in Miami, and residents feared a similar conclusion.
During the week of Lolla, organizers moved to require all attendees to either be fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID test within 72 hours of their attendance. During the outdoor gathering of hundreds of thousands of people, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot took to one stage and thanked the crowd for its compliance.
“The rate of vaccination in this crowd is off the charts,” she said according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The newspaper reported the data shared by the festival’s organizers, noting that 90% of attendees had shown a vaccination card at the front gates and an additional 8% provided proof of a negative COVID test. According to the Associated Press, 203 attendees (about 0.05% of the 385,000-person crowd) tested positive after the concert.
As the delta variant—and now the mu variant—continues to drive coronavirus cases and anti-vaccine propaganda has resulted in a new wave of vaccine hesitancy, some festivals are still moving forward with plans as we enter the cooler seasons. Festivals such as The Buku Project and Broccoli City have decided to wait until 2022 while organizers at Afropunk and Day N Vegas hope that implementing strict COVID-19 protocol can keep concertgoers, artists, and hope safe.
As the late summer and early fall festivals began to go live and boast the most star-studded lineups across the country, event planning teams have moved to incorporate rules either on their own accord or in alignment with local laws, if still happening.
As of August 20, New Orleans cultural event BUKU Music and Arts Project canceled its October 2021 festival due to the spread of coronavirus in Louisiana and beyond. The lineup boasted performances from the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, Kaytranada, Flo Milli, and more.
Day N Vegas—scheduled for the weekend of November 12—has issued a vaccine requirement. Goldenvoice, the company behind the festival as well as Coachella, released a statement on Aug. 12 after tickets sold out, mandating all guests be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The decision was made to ensure the festival would not be canceled.
“For the show to go on, we have updated our vaccination policy to ensure the safety of fans, artists, and live event workers,” wrote Day N Vegas organizers on Instagram.
The Day N Vegas lineup is stacked with heavy hitters in hip-hop and R&B and all subgenres in those categories. Headliners and top-billed performers include Kendrick Lamar, Tyler The Creator, Travis Scott, Ari Lennox, Lil Baby, Doja Cat, Saweetie, SZA, and YG. Other names on the lineup include Thundercat, Tinashe, Isaiah Rashad, SiR, CHIKA, Victoria Monet, BIA, Blxst, and more.
AFROPUNK decided to bring the live event back to Atlanta on a smaller scale last weekend (September 24 – 25), but the notable lineup came with rules. The festival, with origins in Brooklyn, has evolved from smaller communal gatherings of alternative Black punk artists and fans to include a wide array of Black musicians with crowds of thousands across the globe.
In its first event since the start of the pandemic, ticketholders enjoyed performances from Wale & The Ppl, Smino, Foushee, Dungeon Family’s KP The Great & Friends, as well as lively sets from Rico Nasty, Yung Baby Tate, Tems, and VanJess on the exclusive all-woman UNCONTAINED stage.
“We are taking every measure to ensure that our participants are able to enjoy the AP experience safely,” said Anthony Maddox, executive producer of AFROPUNK in a statement to VIBE. “We are working within the guidelines of the state and local municipalities to ensure our show is elevating Black Joy in a meaningful way.”
Enhanced community safety protocols were planned to be in place throughout the event while making use of RFID technology. Measures included ID verification of wristband holders, a health status questionnaire, and proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours (3 days) of attending the event. Masks were mandatory at all times for patrons and staff, except when actively eating or drinking and there were sanitization stations, frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, and signs encouraging social distancing.
The festival was also completely outdoors which the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention says is lower risk. For those who were unable to attend, the festival was live-streamed on Twitch.
Organizers of AFROPUNK confirmed the changes in audience size and festival practices were created to fight back against coronavirus instead of bowing out for the second year in a row. The best efforts were being made to hold an event with no sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, fatphobia, transphobia, hatefulness, rules, labels, and last but not least, no COVID.
“We didn’t cancel because we have guidelines to keep attendees, talent, and staff safe. This is our first year back and the show is a scaled-down version of our original festival, and the lower number is a direct response to COVID,” a festival representative shared in an emailed statement. “We made the footprint smaller to keep people safe, and it’s completely outdoors. With Target being our partner for the third year, we are excited and hopeful to welcome everyone back in a meaningful way.
Broccoli City Festival is an impactful Black-owned event held in Washington, D.C. that centers around community service and empowerment. Its annual concert brings over 100,000 people together to watch their favorite hip-hop and R&B acts. BC Fest also fosters “creative and community growth by building innovative experiences that intersect music, art, and social impact.” As festival organizers planned for an October 2nd event, the coronavirus pandemic ultimately prevailed.
Despite best efforts, last Tuesday (Sept. 14,) Broccoli City Festival announced its 2020 return was no more. Those who purchased tickets were informed their money would be returned. Its impressive lineup included performances from Moneybagg Yo, Snoh Alegra, Lil Baby, Rubi Rose, and Lucky Daye. Prior to cancelation, all guests were required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours or provide proof that they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. A mask mandate, requiring face-coverings in all indoor festivals spaces, was also in place.
Brandon McEachern, the founder of BC Fest, shared the factors that influenced the tough decision. “The thing that was most striking to us is the vaccination numbers [for] African Americans under 30, it was like under 30%.
“If you think about what Broccoli City is built on…which is community, which is us, in terms of the African American consumer, we just didn’t feel good doing that,” McEachern told VIBE. “And, we were good. VIP was sold out, you know. We were cooking. We easily could have went on with the festival. I just didn’t want to be that person to be hearing about COVID cases a week or so afterward. It just didn’t sit right with our spirit.”
As of Sept. 13—according to Washington D.C.’s vaccination data—of the entire population eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, only 45.1% of residents are fully vaccinated. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported as of Sept. 7, Black people of permitted age in the District of Columbia have received 44% of available vaccinations. In the same area, Black people make up 56% of coronavirus cases and 71% of coronavirus deaths. In total, Black residents account for 46% of the total population in the nation’s capital city.
Still, McEachern hopes to triumphantly return in 2022 to celebrate 10 years of Broccoli City building better communities. In fact, most people who had hoped to attend have expressed respect towards the organizer’s decision to move forward with the festival’s cancelation.
“We’ll be right back and in May 2022, hopefully, you know, bigger and better. So it wasn’t the end of the world,” McEachern declared. “I believe that it’ll be good by then… hopefully! And hopefully, people’s mindsets [are] ready for the change that needs to take place.
“As soon as this happened…we’re already back working on ’22, and what we can do from a cultural standpoint. We’ll still be doing our conference this year digital, and that’s exciting. Just still trying to stay as active as we can.”
While the verdicts ordered by each festival were as different as their respective audiences, they all relay the same message: the coronavirus is here to stay, and learning to live with pandemic adjustments will continue well into the future.
If choosing to attend a concert, festival, or any public gathering, be sure to adhere to CDC guidelines, including getting vaccinated if able and willing, wearing a mask over the mouth and nose, and remaining socially distant from others and crowds as best as possible.