When music festivals and conferences started shutting down at the beginning of the year due to the COVID outbreak, people knew things were getting real. One of the first events to announce its cancellation was SXSW 2020. Faced with a rapid spreading of the virus, the interactive media, music festival and conference event had no choice but to call things off.
Now, as organizers look forward to 2021, they are considering their options.
While many event organizers are choosing to go fully virtual, this option is not as simple for SXSW whose roster typically includes guests freely hopping from venue to venue to catch bands after conferences are held. However, they are seeing some potential in a partially virtual format and have announced, “The Music Festival will be curated by programming staff with priority given to showcase presenters and artists scheduled for the 2020 event.” They went on to say that there would be a similar process for the Film Festival and conference panels.
However, organizers still aren’t giving up hope on an IRL (or In Real Life) Option. “SXSW is working with the City of Austin and public health authorities on plans for a physical event in 2021. We will provide updates as more information becomes available.”
The festival launched in 1987. Since then, 2020 has been the only year they were forced to cancel.
Other major festivals are taking varying approaches when it comes to how they are handling the pandemic situation. The music and arts festival Bonnaroo, for example, will be hosting a ‘Virtaul Roo-ality’ festival this weekend which will feature a series of streams including archived performances from previous years (the Beastie Boys’ full length 2009 set will be aired) as well as newly recorded performances like a Dog Dance Party which is oddly sponsored by Tito’s Vodka.
The Farm Aid Festival is also happening this weekend and it will be entirely virtual with performances from artists and co-founders, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Willie Nelson. Nelson was quoted as saying "This pandemic and so many other challenges have revealed how essential family farmers and ranchers are to the future of our planet. Farm Aid 2020 is going to give the whole country a chance to learn about the important work of farmers and how they're contributing to our well-being, beyond bringing us good food."
Meanwhile, many music artists are moving forward more confidently rescheduling tours for 2021 while there has been no confirmation of a vaccine or any sort of treatment plan to successfully squash COVID. Elton John, Avril Lavigne and The SWANS are among artists who have rescheduled dates for as early as January 2021.
It is hopeful that these artists will be able to carry through on their plans and maybe SXSW will also be able to see their IRL vision become a reality. We can only wait and see.