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Miami’s Ultra Music Festival postponed over coronavirus concerns

By | Published on Thursday 5 March 2020

Ultra Miami

The flagship edition of the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, due to take place later this month, has been indefinitely postponed as part of measures designed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. The postponement of the Miami festival, so far only reported by local media, follows the official cancellation of an Abu Dhabi edition of the dance music event – which was due to take place this week – on “health and safety grounds”.

The global live events industry is following closely the spread of this highly infectious new coronavirus which – while only resulting in cold-like symptoms in the vast majority of cases – can be lethal. Different governments around the world are issuing different guidance to the events business, partly depending on the degree to which the disease has spread in any one country, and partly based on each government’s public health policies.

In the UK, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam has told the country’s live music industry that there is no need to cancel any upcoming events. However, in some countries governments have put restrictions or outright bans on events over a certain capacity as part of wider measures to limit the spread of the virus.

Some events, especially in the conference domain, have voluntarily cancelled or postponed as a precaution, even when national or local governments haven’t insisted on it. Meanwhile some artists are pulling out of tour dates and festival slots that involve international travel, especially in Asia. Others are putting off committing to new gigs and festivals, choosing to wait and see how the spread and impact of the virus pans out.

Many companies – including many of the bigger music companies – have also cancelled internal events and meetings that bring together large numbers of employees or which involve staff members having to travel internationally. Reports also suggest that Warner Music has decided to postpone its planned initial public offering because panic and uncertainty about the spread of the virus has resulted in volatile investment markets.

The Miami edition of Ultra is due to take place on 20-22 Mar at the conclusion of Miami Music Week, which also includes the Winter Music Conference from 16-19 Mar. According to the Miami Herald, the decision to postpone the festival was made during a meeting yesterday between city officials and Ultra representatives.

Although the Herald reports that the event will be postponed rather than cancelled, it does then say that the postponement might be “for a full year”, which is – of course – another way of saying the 2020 edition of the annual event has been called off entirely. The paper’s sources say that an official statement form the city and the festival’s promoters will follow as soon as certain legal technicalities around the postponement are dealt with.

Organisers of the Abu Dhabi edition of Ultra, that was due to kick off today, didn’t specifically say that they had decided to cancel because of coronavirus concerns, but its widely believed that that was the main reason for calling the event off.

Elsewhere within the American music industry, there has been much speculation as to what impact the spread of and public concern about the virus will have on the mega showcase festival and music conference that is South By Southwest, certain elements of which are due to get underway on Friday 13 Mar, with the music stuff happening the following week.

Organisers insist everything will proceed as planned, even though some participating speakers and companies – especially on the tech side – have already pulled out.

An official statement on Monday read: “SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event. As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, we are proceeding with the 2020 event with the health and safety of our attendees, staff, and volunteers as our top priority”.

Back in Europe, another upcoming showcase festival – Estonia’s Tallinn Music Week – has also issued a statement noting that “Estonia is not a risk area” and therefore “there is no need for restrictions on events and gatherings”. However, organisers added, they have been liaising with their partners and the Health Board Of Estonia to “strengthen hygiene measures” across the festival and Tallinn’s network of venues.

The Tallinn Music Week statement also said that organisers “would recommend that visitors who have spent time in risk areas – China, Northern Italy (including Lombardia, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Piemonte), Iran, Japan, Singapore, South-Korea – less than two weeks before the festival consider staying home this time around”.

Obviously, for the live music and events industry, a key question is to what extent promoters will be covered by insurance policies if events are cancelled or downsized as a result of coronavirus concerns. Of course, the answer to that question may well be different if an event is forced to cancel under government-led preventative measures.

It also remains to be seen to what extent public concern about the virus will impact on ticket sales for those shows, events, conferences and festivals that do go ahead.