Lakefront Music Fest

Ryan Benning of Prior Lake used a drone to take this photograph of the Steve Miller Band’s performance and crowd at the 2019 Lakefront Music Fest.

The pandemic prevented the usual tens of thousands of people from gathering in Lakefront Park this July for the annual Lakefront Music Fest, but organizers are actively planning the 2021 festival.

The 2020 event was cancelled in May to prevent the spread of coronavirus, a tough decision for the Prior Lake Rotary Club and event tri-chairs Michelle Jirik, Frank Boyles and Vic Noer.

“As it turned out it was clearly the right decision,” Noer said. “We were hopeful that the virus wasn’t as bad as it’s really turned out to be and so we were delaying as long as we could to make that call, but it just became inevitable that there was no way we could safely put it on this year. It’s disappointing, but we feel like it was the right move.”

In June it was announced that the headliners booked for this year’s festival would be returning in 2021. Artists set to perform include Styx, Lady A (formerly Lady Antebellum), 38 Special, Jake Owen, Cheap Trick and Noah Guthrie. The festival is scheduled for July 9 and 10.

With the current surge in coronavirus cases nationally and many of the details of next year’s festival still to be determined, the rotary club had to halt ticket sales altogether, but there is a possibility the box office may reopen this March.

Ticket hassles

A total of 13,000 tickets were sold for the 2020 festival before it was cancelled. Tickets purchased for 2020 will roll over to next year’s festival, but the coronavirus could continue to create more problems.

If the pandemic leads to the cancellation of the 2021 fest, previously purchased tickets will have to be returned. But the ticket agency used by Lakefront requires refunds to be made within a 90-120 day period, which has now long passed.

“If we have to give refunds then we have to manually cut a check to every person, contact them, get their mailing address and all that. That’s just a huge hassle especially for a non profit organization that doesn’t have paid staff to do that kind of stuff,” Noer said. “For that reason we’ve held off on selling anymore tickets until we feel more confident that the event is going to go on…”

Organizers have discussed the possibility of giving those who purchased tickets for the 2020 festival three options: a full refund, to roll their ticket over to the next festival or to donate the cost of the ticket to benefit the various causes supported by the rotary club, Noer said.

Ticket sales were also stopped in case limitations on event capacities are still in place next summer.

A 50% capacity guideline from health officials would limit festival attendance to about 12,000 people, which is how many attendees are necessary for organizers to break even.

“If we got limited below that number it would be really hard for us to hold that event without losing money in the process,” Noer said.

Attempting to work in line with the potential pandemic guidelines has been the main focus of planning lately, he said.

The rotary club is working with their talent agency to revise performers’ current contracts to include a “COVID clause,” which would ensure that performers wouldn’t be paid if the event is cancelled. Performers would also be paid based on capacity limitations. If only 50% capacity is allowed, the amount paid would be reduced to that percentage, Noer said.

“That sounds like that’s sort of the standard verbiage that’s going into most of the talent contracts across the country. However, none of our acts have signed that contract yet, so we’ll feel a lot more comfortable once we have some signed contracts in place and they’ve agreed to that,” Noer said.

Changes next year

Organizers have also contacted the subcommittees involved in the festival and asked them to prepare for COVID precautions they may have to work with next year.

Aside from COVID guidelines and precautions, Noer said they are adjusting some aspects of the music festival.

Emptying the park after shows in previous years has been problematic, he said. Organizers are working with the Prior Lake Police Department and the city to close down a section of Highway 13 to reduce congestion caused by buses transporting festivalgoers and regular traffic.

There will also be more alcohol tents at the 2021 festival with more beverage options besides beer and wine.

“We’re constantly tweaking things every year to try and make improvements where we can,” Noer said.

Although organizers are “a little bit leery,” they are excited to be planning another Lakefront Music Festival, which has turned into a highly anticipated community event in its nearly 11 years.

“It sort of put Prior Lake on the map in many ways. The people that live in Prior Lake are proud of the event, not just the rotarians that head the event,” he said.

The festival is a major fundraiser for the Prior Lake Rotary Club who uses 100% of the profits to fund charitable organizations around the world. Tickets are also affordable with prices ranging from $60 to $75 and $175 for VIP.

In 2019, proceeds from past events allowed the rotary club to donate over $220,000 to various community projects and programs.