MILWAUKEE — Business and money are the driving forces behind Summerfest’s decision to change its COVID-19 protocols. People attending the Big Gig in 2021 either need proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to get through the gates.
Last year, Summerfest operated on less than 1% revenue. Don Smiley, the CEO of the Milwaukee World Music Festival, says they can’t face a shut down like that again. It is why they added the new COVID-19 protocol.
“If we didn’t implement something like we did, we run the risk of losing a headliner. And after the year we had in 2020 where we lost 99% of our revenue, we just couldn’t afford the potential of losing a headliner,” said Smiley.
Dejan Kralj, the bass player for the band The Gufs, which originated in Milwaukee, is playing Summerfest on Sept. 11.
“We as musicians, and a lot of people who have been out of work for a long time, are eager to get back out there, but we want to do it in a safe way,” said Kralj.
It is a feeling that Grammy-winning singer Jason Isbell shares. He will be playing the Riverside Theater in December, which now requires the same protocols that Summerfest is implementing. In order to attend his show, you must have a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination.
“All of the response that I have gotten from people in the business has been positive, because they understand that we could go back to not working at all. And a lot of these smaller venues, they aren’t going to be able to reopen if they go through another round of shutdowns,” said Isbell.
Last year, the trade industry publication Pollstar said $30 billion was lost in live events globally. $9.7 billion of that came just in box office loses.
Kralj says he lost a series of solo gigs in 2020. But since music isn’t his only career, he and The Gufs can survive cancellations and pick shows they feel are safe.
“For some people that if it’s a financial decision for bands out on the roads, I get it, you got to play a gig, you got to make money to survive. Fortunately like I mentioned, we’re not in that position. But I would be more concerned if going to Summerfest, then all of a sudden hearing through social media and the grapevine, that a whole slew of fans have become sick because of it. That would be a little disheartening and we would question why we were doing this,” said Kralj.
The Gufs play Summerfest on Sept. 11 at the Brigg and Stratton Big Backyard stage, which requires a general admission ticket.