• Drake Silver

Are you ready to take on the world? Festivals are gearing up for a revival in 2021.

Disco Donnie, also known as James Donald Estopinal, has been putting on electronic music shows for nearly 30 years and understands how time-consuming they are to put together. Estopinal says, "You can't start a month out." “You have to be going full bore in the end,” says the narrator. When he saw how vaccines and hospitalizations were trending earlier this year, he decided that April will be the best time to wear Ubbi Dubbi.

The start of the music festival season is usually in the spring, but things are different this year. This month's SXSW was once again an online-only event. Coachella has recently been rescheduled for 2022. There's no news yet about whether Lollapalooza can take place.

Despite this, several festival organizers are hopeful that the vaccination launch will make people feel safe enough to attend major events this year — in a non-socially distant way.

“It's going to be a real festival,” Estopinal says of Ubbi Dubbi, which is currently planned for April 24-25 at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, 40 miles south of downtown Dallas — making it one of the year's earliest music festivals. He continues, "You'll be running around, but you'll still have room if you don't feel relaxed."

Estopinal is encouraging a lower power, collaborating with CLEAR for health-tracking services, and requiring masks to ensure safety. He wants to play masking reminders about the PAs and ask artists to make similar announcements to the crowd. However, he acknowledges that enforcing the rules in such a large crowd would be difficult. “We're going to try,” he admits, “but there will be a part of the crowd that will not wear masks.”

Dr. Bijal Balasubramanian, epidemiologist and dean of the UTHealth School of Public Health in Dallas, is concerned about this. With dancing, singing, and drinking, Ubbi Dubbi is likely to attract a younger audience. “Those are the kinds of stuff where getting people to obey the rules after a while becomes even more difficult,” she says.

She warns, "It doesn't seem safe to do it just yet," then adds, "but we're so close."

Steve Adelman is the vice president of the Event Safety Alliance, a trade association that offers safety training and services. April is a little reckless, he admits, but he recognizes the need to get live events up and running as quickly as possible. “It's just an ambitious opening at a time when we know every event professional has been out of commission for at least a year and we need to get back to work,” he says.

As of March 29, Texas has made vaccination available to all adults. According to Adelman, the level of risk associated with Ubbi Dubbi will be measured by how many participants are vaccinated before the display.

Chad Johnson is also keeping an eye on vaccination rates. Furnace Fest, a punk and hardcore festival set to take place in Alabama in September, is co-founded by him. Johnson is betting that the CDC would have approved non-socially distanced live gatherings by that time.

“At least not in the way that everyone would recall loving this kind of music, jumping on each other, shouting over each other, crawling around each other's bodies,” he says.

Johnson is open to another postponement if things don't go as planned. He says, "We told all of our customers this: we'll postpone again, and we'll give you full refunds again." “Yes, it'd be awful; we'd be disappointed and discouraged. But there's a lot more we've overcome.”

The pandemic has clearly impacted the live-music industry, but so has everyone else. Chamie McCurry has been considering this possibility. Danny Wimmer Presents, which produces a variety of festivals around the country, employs her as the chief marketing officer. Some DWP activities have already been postponed until next year; others, such as Inkcarceration in Ohio, which is scheduled for September, are still on the books.

“Number one, what is the consumer's emotional state going to be coming back to large scale events?” McCurry says she and her colleagues worry about all the time. Second, what is their financial situation going to be?” she asks. Although ticket sales have been solid, it's uncertain whether attendees will be mentally prepared to throw down like they used to at DWP's festivals.

Estopinal, on the other hand, is concerned about the opposite: that people would be overextended as a result of their pent-up capacity. He says, "My problem is people partying like it's 1999."

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