JOHANNESBURG — In the end, even Farmfest — one of the last northern Michigan music festivals still standing — bowed to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite high hopes earlier this summer that the small Michigan festival featuring performances by regional bands could safely manage attendees amid COVID-19, organizer Stacy Jo Schiller has now canceled the Aug. 6-9 event slated for a farm near Johannesburg, east of Gaylord.
“I am devastated,” Schiller said. “Bands were canceling left and right. I have a wait list (for performance slots) a mile long, but it was very hard to get anyone to commit. One month before the event, I had holes in the schedule that were significant and a lot of phone and computer time needed to fill them.”
Schiller called the cancellation “one of the hardest things I have ever done, since my heart and soul was into making the grounds the safest place anyone had seen yet.”
Acts scheduled to play Farmfest included Jake Allen, Real Ingredients, Oh Brother Big Sister, Biomassive, Full Cord, Distant Stars, Bandura Gypsies, Blue Water Ramblers, Beaver Xing, Steel and Wood, Alice Oakes, Michelle Held, Jack & the Bear, Olivia Mainville and others.
Schiller said she hopes to showcase the same lineup for the August 2021 festival.
“For all you beautiful souls that purchased tickets or signed up to volunteer or sponsored a band or was hired for sound and lights or was booked to play, you guys just roll it all over to 2021,” she announced on Facebook. “We will fine-tune it this coming winter.”
Upward of 2,000 people attend the 23-year-old festival every summer, and returning performers laud the picturesque setting on a working farm, the evening jam sessions and main stage performances.
Northern Michigan musician Radel Rosin called the 2020 cancellation a difficult situation because Schiller “relies on festival-goers to help with income for upkeep on the farm. My heart goes out to this spectacular musician supporter and owner of such a special place in northern Michigan. We all look forward to spreading love for music with one another every year on the farm; this year will be much different.”
Farmfest joins dozens of other Michigan music festivals — large and small — which have been forced by the pandemic and health restrictions to cancel 2020 events and look ahead to 2021.
Schiller said 2021 tickets are available for sale and the festival is “still limiting (sales) so we can maintain a small crowd and institute safety measures.”
Earlier this summer, Schiller had insisted the festival would use “laser thermometers at the gate” to test attendees and take numerous other precautions to ensure social-distancing and minimize risks. But then things started to fall apart.
Not only were some concerned musicians backing out, she said, but one of the sound companies canceled as well. There also was pressure to cancel from other quarters. She said she was “getting lambasted with Facebook posts about how there is no way I could guarantee safety” at the event.
Schiller noted some volunteer workers plan to show up to help out on the farm that weekend anyway, so instead of a full-fledged festival, the farm will stage “kind of an open-mic thing” on Friday and Saturday nights to entertain the volunteers.