JEFFERSONVILLE — The multi-day Beatles music festival Abbey Road On The River has officially been canceled for 2020, according to festival producer Gary Jacob.
The festival, which normally takes place Memorial Day weekend, was postponed until Oct 8-11 due to COVID-19, and organizers had hoped to present a shorter festival with social distancing and safety protocols. Plans are already underway for the 2021 festival, which is scheduled for May 27-31.
Jacob said one of the major factors driving the decision to cancel the festival was the fact that Indiana has not yet started stage five of the reopening plan, which was originally scheduled to being July 4.
When he postponed the event in April, he had hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic would be more under control as the rescheduled event approached, but with COVID-19 raging on in Indiana and across the country, he felt he didn’t have another choice.
“We decided that it was not in anybody’s best interest to wait any longer [to make the decision], and I had the sense customers were getting more uncomfortable with idea of a mass gathering even though we knew we had a plan for the festival with social-distanced seating and safety protocols that was probably going to be quite workable,” Jacob said. “But you can’t tell people today ‘trust me that you’re not going to get COVID-19 at the festival’ — you have to be sure they’re not going to get it.”
Organizers are considering presenting a much smaller one-day music event this year, but they have not made any official decisions yet, Jacob said.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said he understands Jacob’s concerns about the festival, and he hopes to see it continue next year as scheduled. He likes the idea of the organizers presenting a smaller concert in Jeffersonville this year.
“I guess this is one of the prices we pay for trying to get through this [pandemic],” he said.
Moore said many Jeffersonville businesses have been struggling since early April, and local businesses will feel the impact of the festival’s cancellation.
“It’s the merchants and businesses in Jeff that thrive with events like this,” he said. “With events like the RiverStage concerts, we do things to try and assist businesses be successful, and obviously Abbey Road On The River is a big draw. It brings people here who have money to spend their dollars in the city and rent a hotel room. It definitely has a domino effect on the local economy — when it’s here, we’re thriving, and with it not here, we feel the pinch of it.”
Luanne Mattson, assistant director of SoIN Tourism, said Abbey Road On The River has an economic impact of about $1 million a year to the local community, and the event brings many visitors to Southern Indiana’s hotels, shops and restaurants.
“To not have those types of visitors means the hospitality sector, which is already compromised by the pandemic, will take a a bigger hit,” she said. “This pandemic has put everybody in a bit of a quandary, and they’ve had to rethink everything. Of course, we’re disappointed that it’s not going to be here this year, but we understand that they want to make sure that the fans who come to the festival are safe, the bands are safe and the employees are safe.”
Although international acts would not have been able to make it to the festival, Abbey Road On The River bands within the country were planning to perform, according to Jacob. Only half of the food vendors wanted to return to the festival, but organizers were already planning for a smaller festival, he said.
“As recently as a few days ago we were looking at shortening it and chipping at the edges to make it smaller and keep up with the cleaning,” he said. “All of the sponsors were totally on board and still are. We have been in daily contact with the city.”
Organizers are in the process of planning the 2021 festival, which will include bands such as The Zombies, The Fab Four, Peter Asher and The Weeklings.
“If you look at the Abbey Road on the River chatroom [Facebook] group where we really have our most committed customers, the comments are overwhelming with how much support they have given — they’re saying, we’ll be there in May, transfer our tickets, we’re in,” Jacob said. “I’m excited about that part — it’s a question of whether or not the country will be even be ready in May.”