Rockin’ the Rona and the Boogie Woogie Flu: Festivals Close Due to Corona

Quinn Carlson and Gemma Andrew

     The festivals of Telluride are just one of the many facets that make the town what it is. After this summer and the impact of Covid-19 on both our community and the world, all festivals have been canceled and many people have had their tickets rolled over to next year or refunded entirely. It has caused a lot of annual festival-goers to not come to Telluride, and although the town is still filled to the brim with tourists and new members of our community, it’s just not quite the same with no festivals. 

     Many people are only in town for the festivals, and for many residents, it is the reason they moved to Telluride. They love the energy, the environment, the culture, and everything else that the festivals bring to Telluride. I interviewed Bill Johnson, someone who comes to Telluride every year for the festivals. “I love the energy and culture. I come for the music, and I stay throughout the summer for the town. It is such a beautiful place, and I wish that it didn’t get so cold in the winter,” he says. I asked him how the cancellation of the festivals has affected him. “It is quite sad that the festivals were canceled, but it is what it is. I would love to have gone to some this year, but obviously, I couldn’t. I came and stayed the summer and into the fall for the location, the people, and the culture. I’ve been coming here for over 20 years and I wasn’t about to break that streak!” He lives in Sedona, Arizona, and travels here every summer.

     I also interviewed Jennifer Achter, a local hair stylist that works at YX Salon and works at the July 5 clothing booth during festivals. “I love the energy that the festivals bring to town, and it is entertaining to be able to work at one of the booths,” she says. “I hope to see them return next year, but it all depends on the progress and distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine. Hopefully, it is able to be released for people to get soon, otherwise, I seriously doubt that the festivals will be able to happen.”

     I also asked her if she enjoyed a lighter summer. “It is always fun to be at the festivals, but it was nice for a change to not have them as well. It offered me the opportunity to go to Moab and McPhee Reservoir as well as pursue some sports, like mountain biking and SUPing that I haven’t had the chance to do as much in years previous.” They both hope to see the return of the festivals, but understand if we don’t.

     The festivals being canceled in Telluride was devastating. Jake Coyle from The Associated Press in New York wrote an article “Telluride Film Festival canceled due to Coronavirus”. Up to 12,000 people attend bluegrass each year, the festivals are affecting those 12,000 people along with the staff and the bands that were supposed to play this year. Fortunately, we were able to do a virtual film festival. But other festivals such as Blues and Brews, Bluegrass, the Ride Festival, and the Wine Festival are practically impossible to do virtually. I interviewed local business owners and workers to see how Covid-19 impacted their businesses. Satya Baca-Gomberg, who has been working at Down To Earth for two years, says, “Ever since Covid hit we haven’t been able to have festivals. Festivals bring in a lot of our business and commission,” Festivals draw in lots of tourists and this year small businesses didn’t have as many tourist dollars coming in. “We need the money that comes in from the tourists that come to the festivals,” Satya continues. “It’s really hard when you are isolated in a small town and you’re trying to make ends meet, and it can’t happen because of coronavirus. It hasn’t only affected our small business it has affected others.” Small businesses such as Down To Earth have been hit hard by Covid. 

     I also made contact with Wendy Basham, owner of The Toggery. Apparently, the Corona hasn’t slowed down her business over the summer.  Wendy explained her situation: “I never imagined The Toggery could survive a summer without festivals. We actually did quite well this summer, some months being better than last summer. Although there were no festivals to bring thousands of people to town, the people that were here spent more time on the main street shopping and eating out. Instead of having the spike in sales during festival weekends this summer, we were on average busier every single day. It was strange because every day seemed the same. I was so used to ramping up for Bluegrass weekend, getting overwhelmed, and then a lull before Wine Fest, etc. There were no peaks and valleys this summer, just every day the same.”

     Fortunately, Coronavirus doesn’t have a large effect on Wendy’s business. But she did make some changes at home. “We made the decision to pull our children out of school this year because we wanted consistency for them. We are homeschooling them and enjoying all the time together,” Wendy said.

    I also had an incredible opportunity to meet with Ben Kurr, owner of the KOTO Radio station in Telluride. Ben enjoyed having time off from the festivals, in his words: “I really enjoy the festivals and I work for several, but it was kind of nice to have a summer off just for the experience of seeing what the town is like without them. “He told me his favorite part of the festivals is seeing all of the incredible performers. He said it is “completely mind-blowing.” I asked him how he thinks not having the festivals would affect the community of Telluride and his response was “ It’s a mixed bag. There are some folks who think we don’t need festivals after seeing the numbers of people that came here anyway.  On the other hand, there are people who live here just for the festivals and can’t wait for their return.” Ben Kurr hopes there will be festivals next year but he thinks it’s unlikely to happen: “It depends on the availability of a vaccine. There will be those who are reluctant to attend mass gatherings with or without a vaccine and those who will attend no matter what.”  

     The festivals are an enormous part of Telluride’s culture, and the cancellation of them is not only affecting the 12,000 people that attend, but also the bands, the food carts, and local businesses. It affects everyone that lives and works here, as well as all of the people that would normally come here. Fortunately, we were able to hold our Film Festival and Horror Festival online, but this solution doesn’t work as well for live music. We are happy to see Coronavirus isn’t having a negative impact on all businesses and people. Ben Kurr was happy to have the time to relax and have some time to himself. The Toggery was busier than ever this summer. Either way, not having our annual festivals is taking a huge toll on many of us and we hope by next year we will find a way to handle this pandemic so we can have our festivals.