In what many in the music industry fear is a harbinger of things to come, Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam, a major country music festival set to go down Labor Day weekend in Florida, has been called off for this year due to record-breaking COVID spikes in the state.
Chris Stapleton, Brooks & Dunn and Old Dominion were slated as headliners for the three-day fest that would have gone down in Panama City, Florida Sept. 3-5. Organizers are characterizing it less as an outright cancellation than a postponement until next summer, although the “new” dates align with those that the city had already announced for the 2022 festival, next June 3-5.
“Due to the ongoing public heath emergency caused by the current growth of Covid-19 cases in Bay County, Florida and across the country,” said a statement from festival organizers, “the 9th Annual Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam, scheduled for September 3-5, 2021 in Panama City Beach, has been moved to June 3-5, 2022. Fans who have already purchased passes have the option of retaining those passes until next year’s Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam. For those interested, refunds will be made available in seven days. … Organizers encourage everyone to follow guidelines and protocols instituted by local public health officials.”
Florida has been reaching all-time highs in COVID cases. Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 23,903 new coronavirus cases in the state for the day, Florida’s highest single-day total since the pandemic began. One out of four hospital beds in Florida at this time has a COVID patient.
Most festivals set for late summer and early fall are sticking with their plans, so far. But this past weekend, Jazz Fest, aka the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, led the way for possible dominos to follow in canceling its Oct. 8-17 gathering this fall and announcing new dates for April and May of 2022.
Lollapalooza went on as scheduled in Chicago July 29-Aug. 1, despite nervousness about spikes related to the Delta variant. Eyes are falling on the next major multi-day music festival, Bonnaroo, set to go down in Tennessee Sept. 2-5 with the Foo Fighters, Lizzo and Tyler, the Creator as headliners. Following the lead of many other upcoming concerts and events, Bonnaroo just announced that proof of vaccination will be required for entry at its Labor Day gathering.
The cancellation of Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam is especially notable given that Florida has notoriously been an “anything goes” state when it comes to public gatherings and events during the pandemic, and country music artists and fans in particular have been less risk-averse than others when it came to resuming touring before the pandemic coast was clear.
Naturally, not everyone who’d bought tickets for the festival was pleased about the festival being called off, and some on the event’s Facebook page accused organizers of giving in to allegedly liberal concerns.
“What a joke. When did PCB become so liberal?” wrote a user named Chris Pinkerton. “Orlando is holding Halloween horror nights and we can’t have a music fest?” “Way to cave in to the political fear control,” wrote another, Adam Richardson. “You can bet I’m getting a refund this year! I’m just sick of all this Covid S**t and the people pushing to take our rights away! Y’all may have lost a customer for good!” posted Lora Lee Braswell.
Not everyone was suspicious. “Thank you for helping to keep our community safe!!” wrote Debra Mettille Goines.
Some believe Panama City forced the festival’s hand by denying a permit based on the surge in infections, following guidelines put in place in May 2020 governing special events, though there has been no official word from the city.
The cancellation — or postponement, depending on your view — is especially notable given that Florida has notoriously been an “anything goes” state when it comes to public gatherings and events during the pandemic, and country music artists and fans in particular have been less risk-averse than others when it came to resuming touring before the pandemic coast was clear.
Somewhat confusingly for those following the festival, a Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam had already taken place in Panama City this summer — but it was the 2020 edition, which had been kicked back several times from its original Labor Day 2020 dates before finally landing June 4-6 as what had been billed as “the first large-scale music festival to play in the U.S. since March of 2020.” The so-called 2020 festival held two months ago had Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley and Lynyrd Skynyrd as headliners.
In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis visited the previous edition of Gulf Coast Jam on its last day and declared that the festival was possible because “because Florida chose freedom over ‘Faucism’,” referring to Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser. “Open your states. Open your schools. Let people live their lives, (and) don’t make them wear masks. You know Florida is always going to be open. We love having y’all here. God bless everybody, and God bless the United States of America.” Combined attendance for the June event was reported to be 70,000 over three days.
One of the headliners at that June edition of the festival, Lynyrd Skynyrd, announced just Monday that it would have to postpone upcoming dates due to the COVID infection of one of its members, guitarist Rickey Medlocke.