Michelle Behr had just taken her phone off airplane mode as she arrived in Cancun for the first weekend of Dead and Company’s “Playing in the Sand” resort shows when she got a one-word text from a friend: “Canceled.”
The rumors about the shows’ cancellation were circulating on various Facebook pages throughout the day. About an hour after receiving the text, the band shared that with the Omicron variant surging, show organizer CID Presents canceled the event. Now Behr, a 50-year-old with terminal cancer who was looking at “Playing in the Sand” as a bucket list event, is one of many Deadheads down in Cancun figuring out their plans as they flew thousands of miles for a show that won’t happen.
“The organizers have created a shitshow. I don’t know the right way to do this during a pandemic, but it wasn’t this,” Behr says. “CID fucked up. The show should’ve been canceled days ago. I’m not surprised they canceled, just that they did it so late. I’m confused why they’d let thousands of people fly in, then finally make the call.”
Dead & Company and CID canceled both weekends of their resort series on Thursday — a day before the event was slated to start — in light of rising covid cases among staff. They were planning on pushing on despite John Mayer pulling out Wednesday over a positive test, as well as Grateful Dead founding drummer Bill Kreutzmann’s announcement that he couldn’t play because of a heart condition.
A rep for Dead & Co. pointed Rolling Stone to an email the band and organizers sent to ticket holders, highlighting rising covid cases among the working crew. “It is with very heavy hearts that we must cancel both Dead & Company Playing in the Sand 2022 event weekends, due to additional COVID-19 cases amongst multiple artists and staff,” the email said.
“Dead & Company and CID Presents tried everything possible to bring normalcy and to deliver a great experience and amazing music, but with each day it became increasingly clear that canceling is the correct thing to do for the fans and for our crew,” the band said in a statement.
The surge in cases presented numerous challenges for the band as they looked to keep the show going. Before Kreutzmann and Mayer’s announcements, Deadheads who bought their tickets last spring had pushed the band and CID for weeks to change a strict no-refund policy and offer refunds or postpone the show, noting the increased spread of the Omicron variant.
The event had strict Covid protocols in place, with attendees required to show proof of vaccination alongside a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours of their check-in when they arrived. To head back to the U.S., they needed another test taken within two days of their departure.
Still, ticket holders who spoke with Rolling Stone cited several unnerving factors about attending, including the higher likelihood of flights getting canceled and the possibility of getting stuck quarantining in Mexico if they caught the virus at the event. (Attendees who test positive for the virus can’t return to the U.S. for several days and would have had to quarantine in a complimentary room supplied by the resort.) The band and CID reversed the refund policy last week, allowing fans to get a refund upon request. They also recommended that concertgoers not leave the resort for the event after they arrived to avoid exposure to the virus.
Ticket holders will be refunded for the show, and Jonathan Fordin, an executive at CID, tells Rolling Stone that any attendees who flew into Cancun prior to the show’s cancellation will be given a full refund and their stay in Cancun will be comped. That deal covers the show and lodging package, but not airfare, which concertgoers purchased separately. Fordin declined to comment on why the show didn’t get canceled until Thursday.
Some ticket holders took to the concert’s Facebook groups commending organizers for their decision, while others describe it as the bare minimum for those who they brought into Mexico for a show that didn’t happen. Several Deadheads in Cancun have told Rolling Stone they’ll likely stay a few days or the full duration they would have before in Mexico. They all noted they wouldn’t have come had they known the show was canceled.
“I’d heard about Playing in the Sand for years; this was a bucket-list item for me,” Behr says. Other concertgoers helped pay for her ticket package when she shared her story. “I came here for Dead & Company; Cancun wasn’t the first choice. Had I known the show wasn’t happening, I’d have gone to some other tropical country.”
(In the days since the cancellation, Behr and other Deadheads who received the free trip have been making the most of their time with dance parties, gatherings and other pastimes that come with an all-inclusive stay at a beachside resort.)
Maureen Maillard, another ticket holder who got to Cancun a couple hours before the cancellation and was originally planning to stay for two weeks, says she was frustrated that news was often coming through unverified leaks in Facebook groups rather than directly through the band or promoter.
“I was willing to take the risk of quarantining in Mexico for this show,” Maillard says, noting that she’ll likely leave after the weekend. “Not just for a vacation during the middle of the pandemic. I could’ve just gone to Florida. I had travel insurance, and I flew Southwest and could have canceled my flight until ten minutes before boarding. Where’s the compensation for that? Stranded, that’s the word I would use here.”
Shane Huffman, who went down to Cancun with Maillard, previously had few reservations about attending the show while other fans were looking for refunds, but he notes canceling the event would’ve been the wiser choice. While he’s disappointed and frustrated with how the event was handled, he also notes some solace in finally knowing what’s happening after several weeks of uncertainty.
“It was definitely a punch in the gut, but there was also some relief to have some answers and finally know what was happening.”