US music festivals are canceling or postponing due to coronavirus concerns, costing millions

By: Joseph Lyttleton
Reading Time: 4 minutes



With the continued spread of COVID-19, music festivals and other major cultural events are being forced to cancel, at great financial loss. The list of festivals that have now been canceled or postponed include California’s Coachella and Texas’ South by Southwest (abbreviated as SXSW).

While the decision to cancel or postpone these events is considered prudent considering the virus’ spread, local economies are suffering as a result. 

Coachella postponed

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of the biggest annual music events of the year, has postponed its two-weekend festival until October due to the risks associated with COVID-19. The festival was originally scheduled for April 10-12 and April 17-19 in Indio, California. Coachella was attended by nearly 100,000 people last year.

This year’s festival was to be headlined by rock group Rage Against the Machine, rapper Travis Scott, and singer Frank Ocean. Other musical acts that were to appear included Weyes Blood, Thom Yorke, Run the Jewels, Lil Nas X, and hundreds of other artists.

Goldenvoice, the organizer behind Coachella, cited concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in an Instagram post announcing the postponement. They also announced that Stagecoach Festival, its country musical festival slated for April 24-26, would be moved to October 23-25.

Information about refunds will be announced on Friday, March 13, while details about who will perform at the postponed festivals remains uncertain.

The Coachella festival has been held annually in Indio since 1999, though it wasn’t held in 2000 due to financial difficulties.

SXSW canceled

The decision to cancel the SXSW film and music festival was made by the city government of Austin, Texas, where the annual event is held. Once again, the reasons cited were concern over the spread of COVID-19.

In their March 6 press release, the festival organizers said they were “devastated” that for “the first time in 34 years…the March event will not take place.” 

The organizers were looking into rescheduling the event, but no immediate dates were provided.

SXSW, which was to take place March 16-22, mixes musical acts with film premieres and other types of performances in venues across Austin. The thousands of acts expected this year included independent music artists like Soccer Mommy, Ezra Furman, and Kid Koala. 

The film festival was scheduled to be headlined with films from Judd Apatow, Michael Showalter, Kitao Sakurai, and David Lowery.

The cost of cancellations

The first major music festival to cancel over coronavirus fears was Ultra Music Festival, originally scheduled for March 20-22 in Miami.

In the wake of the cancellations, people who had bought tickets for Ultra Music Festival and SXSW are finding out that they will not be receiving refunds. Organizers for Ultra Music Festival have said that ticket holders for this year’s canceled festival will have credits for 2021 or 2022 passes.

Similarly, SXSW has always had a strict no-refund policy for tickets, which includes “failure to use Credentials due to illness, acts of God, travel-related problems, acts of terrorism, loss of employment and/or duplicate purchases,” as stated on the festival’s website. Ticket holders will also receive credit to purchase tickets for 2021, 2022 or 2023.

However, that assumes there will be a festival in the future. As Fortune reports, SXSW in particular is struggling with financial solvency in the wake of the cancellation. Organizers have indicated that next year’s festival may not be possible due to the financial losses realized this year.

The loss of income doesn’t just hurt the organizers, but the entire city, as SXSW brings in more than US$350 million to the local economy.

The cancellation of SXSW means that many people lose out on the money the festival would have brought in, including sound technicians, bartenders, security staff, and anyone else directly or indirectly involved with SXSW. 

On March 9, it was reported that a third of the SXSW staff, at least 50 employees, had been fired as the festival organizers faced the possibility of losing millions of dollars.

Similar issues will are expected to crop up around any festival or major event that is forced to cancel in light of the current environment. Even though Coachella is insured, its cancellation could cause a considerable financial downturn for the Coachella Valley as potential visitors stay away. Tourism in the Coachella Valley accounts for US$7 billion each year and one in four people employed there work in a tourism-related industry.

Other cancellations and postponements

Outside of the US, concerns about COVID-19 are having an effect on tours for American bands. 

At the end of February, pop punk group Green Day postponed nine tour dates throughout Asia as a result of the virus. Dates included shows in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra also canceled performances in Asia.Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, California, the annual Korea Times Music Festival has been postponed indefinitely. The festival, which is in its 18th year, draws roughly 19,000 people each year.