Culture and Cadence: Coexistence of Music Festivals and COVID


Silly Goose Performing. Source: Emily Harman (@e.harmany on Instagram)

Sam Kuramoto

You know you miss how things used to be. The trampled and muddy fields, rampant dehydration, outfits that looked perfect at the beginning of the day turned to rags. You’re there for one reason: live music. We explore and indulge in something primal within our human nature at music festivals. Now over halfway through 2021, we’ve witnessed epic triumphs and failures as music festivals nationwide are coming back amidst the pandemic. The fact of the matter is that we’ve had to settle for what we can get as far as the festival experience goes, leaving fate up to hands that aren’t ours. Hands that we give our money to in order to receive some semblance of normalcy.

The music festival tycoons of the US have had to walk the line very carefully in how they set up restrictions respective to each festival. The people who attend these events, namely young people, are generally not concerned about restrictions, whether that be because of vaccination status or overall youthful confidence. If the boards of these festivals were to put up too many restrictions, you automatically lose interest because people are looking for the experiences they cherished pre-pandemic. This summer, Lollapalooza saw about 100,000 people daily, resulting in mass media featuring seas of unmasked young people that’s sure to knock your grandma out of her porch chair. Shane Quick, the founder of Rock the South music festival in Alabama, told the Guardian that, “in this state, in this part of the world, people don’t react well to being told what to do”. Being from the South, I feel all too familiar with the backlash that comes with COVID restrictions.

I had the liberty of being the drummer for a nu-metal band by the name of Silly Goose (@sillygooseatl on Instagram) back home in Atlanta, and this also granted me the opportunity to see firsthand the inner workings of major music festivals during COVID. Silly Goose’s claim to fame is their performances outside of music festivals, usually garnering crowds of festival goers who are coming and going. While this is definitely an unorthodox approach to performance that usually ended in police interaction, it perfectly encapsulates the longing for normalcy that bands and attendees both share. Last weekend, the band flew me down to Orlando to do a set outside of Rebel Rock Festival after we got some attention from Machine Gun Kelly’s band during Music Midtown in Atlanta. Halfway down to Florida, we get a call saying the festival had just been cancelled for inclement weather which immediately struck me as suspect. Like anyone going to an outdoor festival, we had checked the weather and it was clear all weekend long. Not long after we heard the news, Loudwire had already released an article also claiming weather issues, but the attached comments screamed otherwise. It was then clear to me and everyone else that this was a COVID issue disguised as meteorological complications. We started direct messaging bands on Instagram and eventually heard back from MGK’s bassist explaining that they were going to stay in Orlando, giving us somewhat of a reason to continue our travels. Long story short, we never heard anything back from his team and ended up playing a street show in downtown Orlando that was quickly shut down by Orange County PD.

With all of this being said, there really is no clear solution or coherent coexistence between our urge to attend music festivals and simultaneously live mindfully in the world as we know it. The beauty of the situation is that we as fans and artists have the opportunity to dig deeper and give more attention to the smaller scenes that mean so much to us. We’re forced to get creative and seek out more grassroots opportunities within our own communities. In the meantime, go see local shows, get innovative, support individual artists and build up your anticipation for the festivals to come.