Illinois River Jam

Campers at Peyton's Place sheltered under a tent as they watched musicians perform at the 2018 Illinois River Jam. Organizers of large music festivals are either canceling the events or figuring out how to host them safely as the country reopens from the COVID-19 shutdown.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit musicians and the venues they play in pretty hard. Full-time musicians found themselves with no gigs and no pay, so many are eager for bars to open and music festivals to be on the calendar.

But the coronavirus may keep some people home for a while longer, and organizers of large-group events are struggling on how to host them in safe ways. Some large festivals have already been canceled for the second half of 2020.

WickedPickle Productions founder Joe Mack is starting to book bands at The Branch again, as well as playing shows himself.

“Some artists are ready to get back out there. Others, who are a little bit older, are hesitant,” said Mack.

Festivals with which Mack has assisted or played at for years are still figuring out if they should happen, and some have already canceled. The Fayetteville Roots Festival isn’t until late August, but it has been postponed to 2021. Mack said organizers of the September Illinois River Jam are still debating on having one.

One of the largest events to draw in people to Cherokee County has been Medicine Stone, a September weekend of live music at Diamondhead Resort. No updates have been made to the Medicine Stone social media pages since November 2019, and the website is not working. The public relations company that had been in charge is no longer representing the festival. With co-creators Turnpike Troubadours canceling right before the 2019 festival and the band on indefinite hiatus, an email was sent by the Daily Press to the manager of the other co-creators, Jason Boland & the Stragglers. A response was not received by publication time.

Over the years, the Green Country Roots Festival has had a couple of locations and was held in various months, but usually it was in August. The nonprofit board has decided to cancel this year’s event.

Ty Wilson said CBIHP depends on volunteers to work the event and sponsorships from local tribes and businesses to fund the festival.

“With the financial hardships our local businesses are going through, we feel this is not a good time to ask for donations. Also, the bulk of our volunteers are retired and fall in the high-risk categories for COVID-19,” said Wilson. "CBIHP has decided it is better to play it safe and keep everyone out of harm's way. But GCRF will be back next year bigger and better.”

He and some business partners are in the early stages of planning a free concert for this summer.

Organizers of the Blue Note Festival had to cancel the Earth Note Festival planned for April. Kathy Tibbits said they are working on strategies for putting on the 32th annual Blue Note in September.

“Over the years, the Blue Note has been large and small, hot, rainy, cold, dry, but Blue Note attendees are seasoned veterans at adapting to changing conditions, so I don't have any doubt that we'll just work out a path for doing it again,” said Tibbits. “I'm looking forward to it, especially since we were disappointed by not being able to hold our first spring, local musicians' all-volunteer, two-day concert at Hanging Rock.”

She said there are many linguistics to figure out to have a fun, safe gathering.

“This is different – figuring out how we can keep a stage going for 10 hours with various musicians, while keeping the microphones sterile and keep everyone far enough apart that we're not spreading germs,” Tibbits said. “We're rethinking the Musicians' Kitchen, too, and deciding the best way to keep it safe. We might switch to all paper [goods] and have cooks plate everything, instead of serving a family-style buffet as we've done in the past. We'll do whatever it takes to be safe and gather for the fun.”

Jana Jae is still planning her fiddle camps and two festivals in Grove.

The American Heritage Music Festival, including the Grand Lake National Fiddle Fest, is set for June 11-13 and will be outside at Snider’s Camp and Wolf Creek Park.

“It’s organized for social distancing,” said Jae.

Jae hopes they are able to hold the July Fourth Cajun festival inside the Grove Civic Center.

“We’ve talked about if we can go forward with the fiddle camp that happens Labor Day weekend,” she said.

Information about the festivals and Jana Jae’s Fiddle Camp can be found on grandlakefestivals.com or by calling the office at 918-786-8896. Jae said the office is open Thursday-Saturday, but she hopes to reopen to normal business hours.

John Fell heads the Tahlequah group DocFell & Co., and he is no stranger to music festivals. Having played online for free for a couple of months, Fell is ready to get back on stage. He is playing with some friends this Saturday night on the Diamondhead Resort campground stage.

“Diamondhead will be outdoors and they are limiting access around the stage, so I feel fairly comfortable performing,” said Fell, who is also a practicing physician. “I’m slowly trying to confirm dates moving forward. I know a lot of venues are struggling to get back to business, and most major festivals have been postponed.”

Fell thinks this is an opportunity for smaller artists to thrive.

“Personally, I just really want to play music with my band, and if we have an audience, all the better,” said Fell.

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