JEFFERSONVILLE — Few things on this planet match the positive energy of a music festival.
Southern Indiana is lucky enough to have its own piece paradise each summer with Abbey Road on the River. When that time of year comes around, thousands pack into Big Four Station Park for a weekend of sun, good tunes and companionship with fellow fans of the Beatles.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the current mood of the world is quite the opposite of that of a festival.
New safety measures will have 2020’s event looking a bit different. Organizer Gary Jacob has been spending time in Jeffersonville in recent weeks to scope out a game plan.
“We’ve obviously been doing a lot of reading, studying, observing and talking with other people in the industry,” he said. “I’ve met with several people from the city, several suppliers, several vendors and staff members. At that point, everybody agreed that we were still moving forward.”
The most immediate change is the pushing of the event from Memorial Day weekend to Oct. 8-11, coinciding with what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday on Oct. 9. In the months until then, Jacob and his team will continue to keep an eye on the situation.
A handful of nearby festivals — including Louisville’s Bourbon and Beyond, Louder Than Life and Hometown Rising — have already cancelled plans for this year. There are differences between those festivals and Abbey Road, Jacob noted.
“Their events attract hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “Their events are designed for mosh pits. That’s still not the reason I believe they canceled this early. I think they canceled this early because all the headlining artists basically made it clear they weren’t going out this year. If you lose two, three or four off of your top card, that’s one reason to look at postponing.”
Other contributing factors include the amount of work and time it takes to construct the infrastructure necessary for the large festivals. Such an endeavor may be difficult to plan with how fluid the day-to-day situation is.
What is certain is that Indiana will continue moving forward with a reopening plan in the coming weeks. Things like restaurants and retail centers are operating under limited capacities, with more sizable venues and events to follow.
As the process unfolds, Jacob will focus on a regional approach. COVID-19 numbers in Clark and Floyd counties, along with the surrounding area, will be monitored.
If numbers prove to be low, that’s good news for Jacob and company. If a spike in cases is the result, that could spell doom.
But Jacob is optimistic. He’s planning on moving forward with a socially-distant festival, where music lovers can convene in a safe environment.
“With social distancing, it’s not just how they sit and walk around the space,” Jacob said. “It’s how they enter and leave. It’s how their bags are checked. It’s the protection we’re wearing. It means creating a whole new department of professionals who can guarantee that we can keep the place clean.”
Travel restrictions may keep some of the festival’s popular international acts from attending this year. Jacob expects there to be some sort of quarantine in the event that travel from outside countries is allowed.
This could keep bands from places like Brazil and Colombia appearing live. To compensate for the loss, Jacob said that he plans to broadcast an international act on the jumbo screen of the main stage in between each live act.
A smaller crowd is expected this year in what will likely be a reconfigured layout. Jacob’s estimate sits between 12,000 and 15,000 for the full run of the festival.
That size makes Abbey Road a good test to see how festivals and other gatherings can operate as the country moves out of the crisis.
“We could be the unicorn because of the size of our festival,” Jacob said. “We offer a great community appeal. It’s a newsy event. People like to talk about it, but it’s not that big. It’s a size that could prove that it can be done. It’s the right-sized festival for this particular moment.”