Live Shows and Festivals are “Back,” But at What Cost?

Festival Crowd Festivals
Photo Credit: Yvette de Wit

Many in the scene are excited to get back to live shows and festivals, but there are valid concerns that need to be addressed by promoters.

I’ll be the first to admit that I want to go to music festivals more than anything. This weekend would have been my second Electric Forest, and I still can’t believe I won’t be running through Sherwood Forest with my friends for the next few days. As heartbroken as I am, the recent spike in new COVID-19 cases in the United States is a sobering reminder that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Florida, Texas, and California have each reported over 20,000 new cases in the past week and Arizona is not far behind with 16,000, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 Tracker.

Despite the recent spike, certain states are permitting shows and festivals to resume. GILT Nightclub in Orlando hosted Dirt Monkey on June 8, and video footage showed a lack of masks and social distancing. The club later announced that three staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 after a false claim had sparked a frenzy on social media days prior.

With club shows back, music festivals are slowly announcing their return. This week, Sacred Hive’s Sound Haven Festival released the first phase of their lineup, featuring artists like Jantsen, Shlump, and Prophet. The festival, slated for July 30 to August 2 at Jaceland in Gruetli-Laager, Tennessee, has taken a number of preventative measures. Aside from capping capacity at 1,000 fans, they are checking temperatures upon admission and turning away anyone who reads higher than 100.4ºF. They are also increasing sanitizing stations and pledged to frequently clean high-touch areas like porta-potties.

Even with many measures in place, one of Sound Haven’s policies has raised concern.

Sound Haven is undoubtedly concerned about patrons’ safety, and their policies reflect that. However, the festival’s organizers have chosen to NOT require masks inside the venue. While they are distributing reusable masks upon entry, it is only encouraged for patrons to use them and won’t be enforced if they elect not to. As the video previously linked shows, GILT’s request that patrons wear masks went largely unheeded. Given that members of the staff tested positive for COVID-19 following the event, it’s not unreasonable to assume that patrons may have been infected as well.

Recently, I voiced my concern about Sound Haven’s mask policy on my personal Twitter account, at which point the festival contacted me to address some of them. This is not meant to disparage Sound Haven in any way, but rather to share my exchange with them on Twitter and directly address their claims with further information that supports wearing masks at the venue.

Despite not tagging the festival in my tweet, Sound Haven’s Twitter account sent me a DM shortly after I sent it.

“We just wanted to reach out regarding your tweet,” the festival wrote. “Unfortunately, TN in July can get upwards of 90-100 degree heat. It would be unsafe to make masks mandatory for this reason. Luckily though, there are several studies showing that COVID-19 is extremely less contagious and weakens at the temperature of 86 degrees ‘farenheight’. We also have several other precautions in place to make it a safe experience for all involved. We hope you reconsider and join us.”

Their response raised some questions immediately, and red flags soon followed.

From a quick Google search, I learned that the CDC does not know if weather or temperature impacts the spread of COVID-19. In fact, a study conducted at MIT’s Sloan School of Management confirmed the opposite. I sent these sources to Sound Haven and asked them to send me the studies that they referenced in their original message. For 24 hours, I didn’t hear back from them. The next day, I asked for the studies again. They responded quickly, but only included one link to an article from the South China Morning Post.

I found it a little odd that Sound Haven chose an article with a title that included “don’t bank on summer killing it off” in the title, but I read on. The article, which was published all the way back on March 8, is based on a study performed by researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou Province, China, which examined the spread of COVID-19 at different temperatures. Their research concluded that, to an extent, temperature could affect the spread of the virus, but heat alone was not enough to curb the spread of the virus. A study from a separate group of researchers cited in the same article even said that the virus spreads in a number of different climates, from cold and dry to hot and humid.

The study failed to confirm Sound Haven’s claims that the virus severely weakens at 86ºF, nor that the virus is less contagious at higher temperatures. In fact, the second study specifically said that the infection rates will not drop without further preventative measures like masks and social distancing. Concerned and confused, I asked Sound Haven to share another of the “several studies” they claimed to have.

Sound Haven then sent me another article from the University of Georgia College of Public Health .

Before I even clicked on the article, I became suspicious. The title stated that “Heat is the key to killing coronavirus on surfaces”, but did not mention anything about human-to-human transmission which is a far greater threat at an event like a music festival where guests are in close proximity. The article, published on April 26, cites comments from UGA environmental science professor Travis Glenn. He suggested that heating surfaces could rapidly kill the virus. However, Glenn’s comments failed to corroborate Sound Haven’s claims in a variety of different ways.

Firstly, the research centered on SARS-Covid-1, a different virus from the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19. Secondly, Glenn recommended heating surfaces to between 130ºF and 150ºF, stating that it could take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes of constant heating to completely kill the virus. The record high temperature for the state of Tennessee is 113ºF according to the University of Tennessee, a far cry from the recommended 130ºF and an even further cry from Sound Haven’s claim of 86ºF.

Sound Haven’s behavior has raised further concern among the community.

This past Saturday, Sound Haven posted the first phase of their lineup to their Twitter account. While most seemed elated to see a real life festival lineup, multiple people demonstrated concern. “Facemasks not required? Why?? How are you going legitimately going to sanitize high-touch areas throughout the whole festival itself,” one Twitter user asked. “Why aren’t you doing mandatory testing like Elements?” asked another. Rather than address their concerns, Sound Haven hid the replies. Though they later unhid them, it showed a blatant lack of transparency on the festival’s part.

Fans aren’t the only ones concerned about their safety either as artists have spoken out on social media as well.

G Jones took to Twitter earlier today asking Sound Haven to reconsider running a 1,000 person festival without mandatory masks in a state with cases on the rise (Tennessee has reported over 5,000 new cases in the past week according to the CDC). While many supported his message, others brought up the fact that artists are struggling to pay their bills and that festivals offer much-needed financial relief.

Some artists in the scene like Bleep Bloop have also spoken out on Twitter as of late to express their own concerns about the return of shows and festivals, with others including Nitti Gritti canceling scheduled shows as well. Others, like rising techno star Sara Landry, have been opening in addressing concerns and communicating with fans about how they plan to keep their show safe for attendees.

We can’t put shows and festivals on pause forever, but we also need to be safe.

Everyone wants to return to normalcy, but the reality is that nothing exists in a vacuum. On one hand, one COVID-19 carrier at Sound Haven could infect hundreds of others if proper measures aren’t taken. On the other hand, we can’t stay locked down forever as promoters and artists need to earn a living. As festivals come back, everyone involved needs to be transparent and honest with their fans to ensure everyone’s safety.

While Sound Haven has put many extra policies in place, their claims about mask use are not backed by facts. In fact, there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary. I urge Sound Haven to read the studies cited in this article and reconsider their mask policy. I also urge them to prioritize transparency and honesty on social media, which includes addressing fans’ concerns instead of silencing them. It may seem like an overreaction, but with people’s lives on the line, it’s better to overreact than under-react.

Update June 25: In a Facebook update posted yesterday, Sound Haven has announced that the festival will be postponed to October 2020. All tickets will be valid for the rescheduled date, and those who cannot attend will be able to request a refund starting on July 1st. Fans can also sell their tickets via the Sound Haven Ticket Exchange. Read the full update below:

Born and raised in Morristown, NJ, Alec’s EDM journey started back in 2014 when he saw Flume during his first tour of North America. It wasn’t until college, though, that Alec really developed a love for EDM after attending Moonrise Festival in 2018. His tastes span all genres, ranging from drum & bass to downtempo to trance. If you can’t spot Alec in the crowd, you can usually find him on the lacrosse field or whipping up something delicious in the kitchen!


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