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Governors Ball 2017
Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

This is what music festivals in NYC will look like this summer

SummerStage, BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival and Governors Ball are all doing things a bit differently.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

Remember the euphoric feeling of singing at the top of your lungs with thousands of people? The high you get when you lock eyes with a singer on stage? We're getting these glittering moments back this summer when NYC's major music festivals come back to the boroughs.

SummerStage (June 17-September 21), BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival (July 31-September 18) and Governors Ball (September 24-26), among others, have all announced their return and lineups and like everyone, we're ready to put on our flower crowns and head out for a full day of music under the sky.

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The return of music festivals is a much-needed "normal" activity after a year of being shut in, but in order to return, these festivals have to adhere to health guidelines, meaning they'll physically look different than we're used to.

We spoke with organizers from NYC's big music festivals to find out what it'll be like when you walk into their shows so you know what to expect when you finally return to the magic that is live music. 

One thing is for sure for everyone—the excitement is real and anything these festivals need to do to herald their return, they will do.

"I had been hoping to do something in person since last summer and have been pushing for this for a year now because being outdoors is safer," said Heather Lubov, the executive director at City Parks Foundation, which heads up SummerStage. "When the guidelines finally came out, I was thrilled. It meant we could really start planning and actualize a season."

Lia Camille Crockett, the BRIC's director of performing arts, said she has looked forward to this day when festivals could return, even if it does feel unreal right now.

"Just like with all of us coming out of the darkest time of the pandemic, it's not like turning a switch on," she said. "It's been this sort of very incremental process we're still not fully out of. There were several times when we really didn't know if doing this in person was going to be possible. It feels really amazing now that we are going to be back in the park—back in the community. Just knowing we all will be together feels good."

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn
Photograph: Courtesy Ryan Muir

How will ticketing work? Will they check vaccination status?

As of mid-June, these three music festivals will not be checking vaccination status but that could change based on health guidelines.

According to New York State regulations, they could ask festivalgoers for proof of vaccination via the state's Excelsior app or by simply asking people to show their paper vaccination cards. Doing so would allow them to skip social distancing requirements and return at 100%, full capacity.

SummerStage is not going to ask for proof for now, so it will be keeping people distanced with lower capacity, assigned seats and free tickets, similar to what Shakespeare in the Park does.

Governors Ball, which isn't asking for vaccination status at this time, has actually moved from Randall's Island to the Citi Field parking lot in Queens in order to spread out, which we reported last month.

BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival wants to keep its shows as accessible as possible, according to Lia Camille Crockett, but it is considering asking for proof of vaccination.

"We are drilling into the details...and considering using the Excelsior app and other options as well," Crockett told us. "For us, we want to be as flexible and as accessible as possible. We are definitely planning on using the app but it will not exclusive of other options as well [like simply showing a vaccination card]."

Like SummerStage, Celebrate Brooklyn! will require free tickets, or rather, RSVPs to help with contract tracing and capacity monitoring. This is the first year it'll be doing ticketing this way. RSVPs will open online and via a call-in number four weeks out from opening night and two weeks out from each show on a rolling basis.

Photograph: Merissa Blitz, Courtesy SummerStage

What will seating and the stages be like?

Celebrate Brooklyn! wants to accommodate as many people as possible so it is waiting to see what is necessary, but it's likely that masks and social distancing will be part of the experience, Crockett said.

This goes for the others as well—SummerStage will have limited capacity because it is not requiring proof of vaccination so you can expect to see far fewer people at shows. Normally SummerStage concerts can hold 5,500 people, but since there needs to be six feet between parties, only 1,100 people can be accommodated, according to Heather Lubov. To help space people accordingly, everyone will be seated and need to wear masks when they can't distance themselves.

Her team will be doing a lot of public education ahead of the shows to put a positive spin on how audiences can adhere to these distancing rules from signs down to the security guards at the gate. To keep people from crowding in at the same time, tickets will have different arrival times about an hour ahead of the shows' start time and to keep people engaged and excited, Rooftop Films will screen movies and DJs will provide fun jams people can dance to, Lubov said.

Once inside, you'll see a mobile stage rather than the stage with the saucer roof. The bleachers and shipping containers with vendors will also be missing.

"It's not quite the same experience, but live music is live music," she said. "We want people to feel safe and comfortable, and if it's not the same production values—that's ok." 

All of this has been done with audience comfort in mind, she added. According to a survey they conducted, 87% of the SummerStage audience is vaccinated but only 35% are comfortable not maintaining social distancing. 

"As summer goes along, we'll see if audience perception changes and if more people get vaccinated, and then we can make a determination midseason," Lubov said.

Over at Governors Ball, all the stages will be centered in the middle and there will be a 360-degree layout that prevents sound bleed between stages and eliminates long walks. The location's easy access will make it easier to react/reschedule to and around weather events, like flooding, which has caused problems in the past at Randall's Island. It'll also be covered in "high-grade astroturf to add color and comfort." More specific changes to how people will be spaced out have not been announced yet.

That being said, the festival has been in "constant communication with various city and state agencies so that come September 24th we can open the gates and give people a safe and unforgettable experience," said Tom Russell, the co-founder of Founders Entertainment, the Governors Ball promoters.

"The past year has thrown everyone a curveball when it comes to how they go about their personal lives or operate their businesses, live music especially. It's been hard to face these challenges and changes to our daily routine without the comradery and escape a live show can bring for people. That's why we're so excited to see people singing and dancing together to their favorite artists again at Governors Ball this September."

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