No Beale Street this spring, as 2021 festival outlook remains unclear

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Organizers of Memphis’ Beale Street Music Festival have passed on 2021 and set their sights on May 2022, in another sign that hopes for the festival industry to return to normal in 2021 remain fragile.

Meanwhile, touring industry news site Pollstar has reported a global mix of optimism and uncertainty: Many feel that the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines will enable the return of festivals in 2021, but at the moment it’s hard to say when. A few festivals are on the calendar in the first and second quarters of the year, but Pollstar found uncertainty about some of these, including the Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, which has promised fans an update in January.

Organizers of the Beale Street Music Festival posted Friday that “Due to the continuing threat of COVID 19 within the presence of large crowds, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the 2021 Beale Street Music Festival and move to 2022. We gave it our best shot but found we could not replicate the festival at the level our fans and followers are accustomed to experiencing.”

The fest is part of the larger Memphis in May International Festival. Some events will proceed as planned, such as a barbecue contest and the Great American River Run. According to the Memphis in May website, the decision not to hold a 2021 Beale Street fest was made “due to the nature of the event, gathering thousands of fans in front of stages and falling earlier in the calendar. Large scale music festivals and concerts remain deeply affected by the pandemic across the globe. Memphis is no exception, and any large gatherings may not be possible until much later in the year.” The fest is giving fans the option of holding 2020 tickets until 2022 or requesting a full refund.

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Agents and other industry figures shared a range of opinions with Pollstar. One suggested that even if only a few fests happen in the first half of the year, they could play an outsize role. “(S)omebody does have to be first, and we need good examples and success stories,” he said.

Others suggested that outdoor festivals could be back in business before conventional concert tours, simply because outdoor settings facilitate social distancing. But some said it’s likely to be fall before festivals are on firm footing. (The story doesn’t address events such as Moon Crush, an April event in the Florida Panhandle that features a slate of festival-worthy performers but in an alternate format designed to avoid the crush of festival crowds.)

One potentially significant development noted by Pollstar: In early December, organizers of the BUKU Music + Arts Festival in New Orleans announced that they would not hold their usual live event in March. Instead they will hold “BUKI: Planet B,” billed as “an immersive, one-time-only, alternative take on BUKU” in October. Plans are for the usual BUKU fest to return in March 2022.

As of late 2019, Alabama’s Hangout Fest and BUKU fest both fall under the umbrella of AEG Live’s Gulf Coast regional office, also known as Winter Circle. The 2020 fest would have been the first at which the office oversaw both events. Whether BUKU’s approach to 2021 will serve as a template for Hangout Fest remains to be seen.

One talent representative told Pollstar she’d been keeping multiple routing options open for clients in 2021. “With so many unknowns as to how things will play out, having a plan A, B and C ready to go has been crucial,” she said.

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