The 2020 Coachella Festival is still officially scheduled for two weekends in October, as announced on March 10. But it has long been blindingly obvious that short of some unforeseen coronavirus-quashing miracle, there’s no way that the festival will take place this year at all, at least not with an audience. California Governor Gavin Newsom said in mid-April that large mass gatherings are not likely to resume until sometime next year at the soonest, and sources have said for weeks that the only reason Coachella promoter Goldenvoice has not officially announced another postponement is because it hasn’t yet confirmed whether even April, the month the festival traditionally takes place, will be safe enough for the kind of tight crowds the festival draws.
A source close to the situation confirms to Variety that Goldenvoice is still weighing whether or not this year’s Coachella — presumably with headliners Travis Scott, Frank Ocean and Rage Against the Machine — will be bumped to April 2021 with a reduced crowd, or October 2021 with a full crowd. That news was first officially reported by Billboard.
Dan Beckerman, president of Goldenvoice parent company AEG Presents — which, after a three-month delay, was forced to announce layoffs this week — noted the dire situation the live-entertainment industry abruptly found itself in when the virus took hold in North America in March.
“It is clear now that live events with fans will not resume for many months and likely not until sometime in 2021,” Beckerman wrote in a memo to the company’s staff. “When we are able to reopen, it will take time until we see our fans, partners and sponsors fully return,” he said, noting that it is likely to be some time before people feel safe gathering closely, even outdoors, with thousands of fellow humans. Some furloughed AEG employees have been told officially that their expected return date is in October, but realistically some time in 2021.
Coachella, which sprawls across two weekends, regularly sells out its 125,000 per day tickets immediately. Sources say that 40% of this year’s ticketholders have requested refunds, and Goldenvoice is said to be still considering whether to hold the festival in April at 60% capacity. However, multiple sources stress that no decision has been made, and the ultimate decision lies with Coachella cofounder and Goldenvoice CEO Paul Tollett, who is known for playing his cards close to the vest. A rep for Goldenvoice did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
And while the U.S. and much of the world is slowly “reopening,” what exactly that will mean for the future of the concert industry remains to be seen. Governors and mayors regularly say that concerts and major sporting events are among the last public gatherings that will return to pre-Covid status, and the immediate future is so vague that Recording Academy chief Harvey Mason jr. told Variety on Tuesday that the organizers of the Grammy Awards, scheduled for Jan. 31, 2021 at the 20,000-capacity Staples Center in Los Angeles, are actively planning for three show scenarios: one with a full audience, one with a reduced audience, and one with no audience.
By that metric, a Coachella festival rescheduled for October 2021 doesn’t seem like such a conservative projection.