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Cancellation of SXSW ushers in flood of more festival closings

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, SXSW 2019

The virus that causes COVID-19 began spreading from China in late December to approximately 120 countries. The United States first encountered the virus in late January. It quickly became clear that along with detrimental impacts on public health, various industries were also going to suffer. Music festivals are no exception.

The unprecedented spread of the virus has led to the cancellation of South by South West music festival, which was scheduled to run from March 16 to March 22 in Austin, Texas. This year’s SXSW festival would have featured 2,000 artists. On March 6, for the first time since the artistically intersectional music and film festival started in 1987, it was announced that the festival will not be occurring.

SXSW is a platform for various artistic mediums with music at its core. After also incorporating immersive art and film, SXSW embedded itself into the vast music festival industry. It highlights genre diversity and curates a display of distinctive sounds. SXSW plays a quintessential role in artist exposure, as it directly facilitates a platform for artists that are still on the rise. Several major labels utilize festivals to pool new talent and gain clarity on what the general public is gravitating toward.

This year, the lineup had an auspicious group of talent including Phantogram, Tomberlin, Girl Pool, Betty Who, Pom Pom Squad, Sudan Archives, LAUNDRY DAY, Shygirl and many others.

he day before SXSW announced the cancellation, two of the most expansive electronic festivals in the world — Ultra music festival in Miami and Tomorrowland in Belgium were also canceled, ultimately setting the precedent for SXSW’s cancellation. The decision to call off the festival was made by Austin’s mayor Steve Adler and Austin Public Health, whose sole intention is to protect Austin’s citizens.

Because the coronavirus is spread through contact with someone already infected, regardless if that person is showing direct symptoms, allowing a festival with hundreds of thousands of people in one place to happen could spread the disease at a rapid rate. According to CNN, there were approximately 290,000 attendees at the festival last year. Ticket sales increased in 2020, which would mean more individuals could be exposed to the virus. It was just too severe of a risk.

The direct repercussions of SXSW’s cancellation resulted in one-third of the festival’s staff being cut. Essentially, SXSW is now standing on shaky grounds. Artists and attendees are also left in financial tribulations. According to the detailed regulations of the festival’s ticket sales, there will be no refunds for any ticketholders. Billboard indicated that in the previous year, the festival has generated an upwards of $356 million for Austin. Therefore, such a substantial financial loss will impact Austin’s economy.

Several musicians plan out their tours and festival appearances in accordance with new music releases or as promotion for a recent album. For some artists, this plan is starting to crumble. Additionally, SXSW draws together a loyal community that yearns to invest their time into an artist whose performance moves them. Bands and musicians are now missing out on this experience to expand their fanbases. 

Furthermore, artists must now take into consideration how touring and ticket sales might be affected by the coronavirus in general. Postponed or canceled tours, typically holding the center of an artist’s income, might be leaving them in financial ruts.

As every day goes by, more and more cancellations and postponements are announced. On March 10, Goldenvoice, the subsidiary behind the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that annually takes place in April, announced that it is postponing the festival to the weekends of Oct.9 – 11 and Oct. 16 – 18.

Regardless of the virus, the world of music has always spun on the axis that is live performance. The next few months will be hitting the festival industry hard, which can lead to more innovation and future crisis aversion for festivals. At the end of the day, health is of utmost importance and music will always be just a few clicks away. As for live music, the next few months will indicate the toll of COVID-19 on the industry.

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