Milwaukee’s Summerfest — the largest music festival in the U.S. by attendance — has been canceled, festival organizers announced on Thursday.
Originally scheduled to take place in June, the annual festival was pushed to late September back in March as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic first hit the U.S., but continued uncertainty regarding the safety of mass gatherings has made the fall dates too risky.
Along with other major shows like Coachella and Bonnaroo, Summerfest was one of the larger festivals that managed to reschedule its dates for the fall rather than outright cancel, but such a move was uncertain from the start as it was never clear when large-scale concerts would be safe to attend again.
Summerfest brought in more than 700,000 attendees in 2019, a low number by its own previous attendance records, making Summerfest one of the largest music festivals in the country each year by attendance. Unlike previously canceled shows like Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, which currently faces a class-action lawsuit over its refund policy, Summerfest is offering a refund for the canceled dates, but ticket holders can also elect to keep their tickets for Summerfest 2021, according to the company’s website.
Before the reschedule, artists including Justin Bieber and Guns N’ Roses were slated to perform this year. Through 52 previous festivals, Summerfest has never been canceled until now. Organizers said 2021 dates would be announced in the coming weeks.
“It is our honor to be responsible for such a storied tradition. With five decades of festivals, countless legendary performances and millions of memories, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. explored numerous options to ensure the Summerfest tradition could continue in 2020, in a safe and healthy manner,” Summerfest president and CEO Don Smiley said in a statement. “Yet, given the information available today, and the uncertainty surrounding very large gatherings, we cannot in good conscience proceed with the festival this year. The immediate future presents multiple levels of risk for our fans, and we choose the side of safety.”
Summerfest’s cancellation is the latest blow in a brutal year for the live music industry — which has been almost completely inactive since March — and suggests even a fall return date for music festivals at large is unlikely. Several prominent festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo still haven’t officially canceled yet, but Coachella, which was one of the first festivals to reschedule to the fall, has reportedly asked performers to play in 2021 instead. It’s a loss for Milwaukee’s local economy, too, with the festival bringing in $186 million to the city, the festival said.
“As we all face a challenging and unusual summer and fall ahead, we sincerely appreciate all the support demonstrated by our fans and sponsors and encourage you to support your favorite musicians in the months to come,” Smiley said. “We hope you will carry the spirit of Summerfest with you until we can be together again. May the magic of music fill your life with joy and memories.”