Quarantine Thoughts: I Was Set to Work the Festival Circuit, Now I’m Delivering Groceries

I was preparing to spend the spring and summer working music and comedy festivals — then COVID-19 killed my dream gig.

By the time the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, I had six festivals lined up — five music and one comedy.

Six became seven, which quickly became eight, then nine. By the start of March, it looked like I would have ten festivals to carry me through June. Heading into my third calendar year as a full-time festival worker, this was my strongest start yet. I had also been booking more gigs on artist hospitality teams  — a personal goal that I was excited to finally be reaching. 

After returning to San Francisco from Costa Rica — where I had worked Envision, my first music festival of 2020 — I attended a few concerts, reviewing one for my blog, Sweet Sound Bites, and taking in the others just for fun. Then it was off to Florida for the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. As the show went on, speculation started swirling about Coachella’s imminent cancellation along with rumors that all music festivals in California would follow suit. 

Three days after returning home, news broke that Coachella and Stagecoach were postponed until October. In that moment, my world was shattered.

In a scramble, I reached out to my managers at Great American Music Hall and Another Planet Entertainment where I still worked part-time in between festivals. I let them know I was available to work in March and April. I was grasping at straws, which ended up disintegrating faster than compostable ones. By March 17, the entire Bay Area was under quarantine. Before long the whole state was on lockdown — then the entire country.

In the weeks that followed I woke up to a new nightmare every day, facing immediate unemployment as every music festival was postponed.

Unfortunately, postponement isn’t as great as it sounds. With springtime festivals being condensed into an eight-week timeframe in the fall, I have to make tough choices about which events to work, when I originally might have worked all of them. And what about all of the festivals that are regularly scheduled in the fall? Furthermore, if festivals that are usually held in April, May and June get moved to September and October 2020 will they go back to their regularly scheduled dates in 2021? 

A lot of people don’t know, or don’t think about, how much work goes into a music festival, and how many people it takes to make each one happen. That’s part of the magic of production. People don’t understand what it means when I tell them that I am a food vendor coordinator, which is different than being a food vendor. Both are a lot of work.

I, like so many others in this line of work, found myself with very few options as the novel coronavirus ravaged the festival circuit. I had worked out of state a lot in the last year, so I couldn’t file for unemployment online. By the time I called the EDD they had closed their phone lines due to an overwhelming amount of calls they were receiving.

Without a printer of my own and more than ten different W2s to sort through, I finally found a way to mail in my documents and successfully file for unemployment benefits. I found part-time work as a Whole Foods shopper for Amazon Fresh and have been putting in 15-20 hours per week for what feels like forever but has only been for the last month.

Before I found my calling working festivals, I struggled to survive. I lived paycheck-to-paycheck while juggling multiple part-time jobs. Being a full-time festival worker allowed me to not live paycheck-to-paycheck for the first time in my life. It allowed me to travel and introduced me to so many like-minded people. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only taken the job I loved, it has taken my sense of belonging. 

You could say that live music was my life. 

I used to go to about two to four shows on a good week. I review music, mainly concerts for my blog. I also review cupcakes — yes concerts and cupcakes — but even that is now difficult, because confectioners are not considered essential businesses. I’m also a gym-rat and I have been working out at home, but like streaming concerts, it’s just not the same. 

The light at the end of the tunnel has started to flicker. However, as a festival worker, my life won’t be returning to normal anytime soon. There is some solace in knowing that we will slowly begin to inch towards the day when we get to make magic happen for the masses again.

As my thoughts start to shift to life after lockdown, I have no idea what I am going to do and I’m not the only one. There are tens of thousands of people in the live music and events industry, and my heart breaks for each and every one of them.

Quarantine Thoughts is an ongoing personal essay series focused on how the coronavirus, social distancing mandates and the economic fallout of COVID-19 is impacting locals. Read more essays here.

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