As Pandemic Lingers, Large Events Might Have To Wait Until Fall

PrideFest, First Large Event Of Summer, Canceled For 2021

LGBTQ flag blows in the wind
A rainbow flag. (CC BY)

For the second year in a row PrideFest, Wisconsin’s largest LGBTQ+ event, is canceling its June festival due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event is the kickoff to festival season at the Henry W. Maier Festival Grounds in Milwaukee, home to Summerfest, and is what some consider the beginning of summer in the city.

Wes Shaver, Milwaukee Pride president, said while he hated making the decision because it means lack of visibility for the LGBTQ+ community, it wasn’t a difficult one.

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In fact, Shaver began talking to his board of directors in December about possibly canceling.

“What makes the decision easy is knowing science, facts and logic tells us we really can’t move ahead,” Shaver said. “Right now, without knowing where things are going, I could not move ahead in good faith with an event that could potentially have rules and regulations and restrictions on admittance.”

Shaver said he would not be comfortable with a large gathering if people are not tested at the door or mass vaccination wasn’t achieved.

As the pandemic drags into another year, organizers of events large and small face an uncertain future.

Summerfest is Wisconsin’s largest festival, drawing about 800,000 people from Milwaukee and around the world. When it was canceled in 2020 for the first time in 53 years, it was an economic loss of $186 million.

Last week, Summerfest lost its first headliner of 2021 when pop star Halsey announced she was canceling her North American tour due to ongoing safety concerns related to the pandemic.

“Safety is the priority. I wish things were different,” the singer tweeted Friday. “I love you. Dreaming of seeing your faces again.”

Summerfest officials won’t comment on the future of the 2021 event.

Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee, said she understands the decision by PrideFest, but hopes other festivals, scheduled later in the summer, are able to continue.

“We applaud PrideFest for being safe,” Williams-Smith said. “Right now is the time they would be raising funds. And if they don’t think they would get the funds they need to, I can completely understand them making that decision, but I think we aren’t going to hear of other cancelations right now.”

She said the future of Summerfest will depend on people touring.

“I’m not seeing a lot of cancelations right now,” Williams-Smith said. “So if concerts stay, I think we have a chance.”

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Admirals announced the team has opted out of the 2020-21 American Hockey League season due to the financial and other implications caused by the pandemic.

Harris Turer, Admirals owner and CEO, said the prospect of playing the season without fans and the lack of revenue was too difficult to manage.

As far as other large events and festivals across Wisconsin go, there haven’t been any other cancelations — yet.

The Experimental Aircraft Association announced in November that AirVenture 2021 would be held July 26-Aug. 1. The event typically draws more than 500,000 to Oshkosh.

Madison’s Brat Fest and the World Dairy Expo are also still on the calendar.

State Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said she thinks holding large events early in the summer will be very challenging.

“It really is contingent on how quickly manufacturers can manufacture vaccine, how many vaccines we have, how quickly it can be distributed to the states and our local distributors, and how quickly we can get it in arms,” Van Dijk said. “I think that event planners that have to plan ahead and have to make good guesses may be in a good position to defer things that may be in the late spring or early summer to later.”