Mitch Timbanard is hopeful that his Covid testing will be positive. The 47-year-old Orange County, California resident is one of many Wilco fans anxiously awaiting the band’s SkyBlueSky festival in Cancun. The multi-day festival will begin on January 17th with Spoon, Kurt Vile and Stephen Malkmus, as well as Thundercat and Thundercat. However, the Omicron variant is exploding and Cloud 9 promoter has not shown any signs of offering refunds for several thousand dollar resort/ticket packages. Timbanard’sThe difficult decision was made to go to Mexico, get stuck there if he gets the virus, or watch nearly $6,000 disappear from the bank.
With two vaccines and a booster shot, Timbanard doesn’t worry about falling seriously ill, but catching a mild case after he arrives would mean he’d be stuck quarantining in Mexico for several days longer, and he can’t miss extra days of work or be away from his children for longer than the original vacation plans. Catching a mild case now and getting a doctor’s note stating he recovered and is no longer infectious is, he claims, the most sure-fire way to guarantee he can go to Mexico and come back freely.
Timbanard claims that he contacted Cloud 9 to get a refund, but was not able to receive one. And while he purchased travel insurance, it doesn’t allow him to cancel for any reason. He isn’t sure what options he has left.
“The whole thing is crazy,”He said. “The mindset they put us in is nuts, where now I’m hoping to get this disease to avoid getting stuck in a foreign county or I lose thousands of dollars. I know deep down the chance of going is over for us, plus if we get sick I don’t want to be stuck at a hospital in Latin America. But I still wanted to hope.”
Timbanard may be an extreme among thousands of ticket holders to the Cancun shows. But his sentiment is one that many fans have shared. Rolling Stone that they’ve gotten little information from artists and show organizers and have little idea what to do beyond lose their money or attend a show they aren’t comfortable going to.
Others have now followed the lead of Deadheads, who were granted a refund option for their Playing in the Sand Cancun dates. This was after weeks of pressure from fans. Nearly 800 people have signed a petition requesting refunds for Wilco’s festival and refund petitions to Cancun shows. Luke Bryan, Dave MatthewsAnd the Avett BrothersThere are hundreds of signatures.
CID Presents (which ran the canceled Dead concert) requires a negative Covid test to be taken within four days after check-in. Matthews and Phish gigs will also require proof that you have been vaccinated. Cloud 9, promoter for Widespread Panic and the Avett Brothers’ Cancun dates along with Wilco, is requiring a negative test taken within two days of check-in.
While some ticket holders have commended the promoters’ strong covid policies, fans in some cities worry they can’t get a test scheduled in the two-day window or won’t get results back in time. Then there’s the uncertainty a plane will take off given all the cancelations airlines have faced during the surge. However, the biggest concern is getting sick while on the way to the concert or at the resort. This could force people to stay longer in Mexico than expected. While that’s not a problem for some concertgoers, those with children at home or jobs that don’t allow remote work can’t take the risk.
“Cases were low. Looking back, we wish we bought insurance, but I was also so sure they’d cancel if it got like this,”Susan Bukowski, a Chicagoan of 56 years old, says so. “I want the money back but it’s also the principle here, where the promoters aren’t choosing the safety of the fans.”
Cloud 9 sent a message to its fans on January 1st stating that “economic realities restrict us from offering full refunds.” The email further specified that Cloud 9 was ready to help fans who didn’t want to attend transfer to another fan on the waitlist, and that the company would waive transfer fees.
Bukowski says the market for reselling a ticket is low given the surge and called Cloud 9’s email “insulting.” “The email was tone deaf, and that’s what we’ve been given from them,”She said. “They didn’t move the goal post from where covid was in June.”
Bukowski says she’s emailed Cloud 9 multiple times but was also told refunds weren’t available. Marc Hernandez, a 48-year-old Luke Bryan fan in Los Angeles, faced similar issues with the singer’s upcoming Crash My Playa show, which he and his wife spent over $2,000 on. He started reaching out to CID about a refund just before Christmas and followed up multiple times, but was told he couldn’t get a refund.
“No one ever thought this is where we’d be by now with cases; there are too many risks for us to go,” Hernandez says. “After the Dead offered refunds, I thought we’d be extended the same courtesy. I’d go further to say the expectation would be that CID would cancel by now. How should we have any faith in this being done right given how they canceled the Dead show so abruptly when people already arrived? I don’t want that to happen to me.”
CID didn’t respond to request for comment for this story. Bryan’s representative confirmed the news to Rolling StoneThe show would continue.
Amy Sutherlin (62 years old) is becoming more concerned about the Dave Matthews show that she paid over $7,000 for. The show was scheduled for mid-February in Jackson, Missouri. She, like all other fans who have spoken for this story, has received little response from the promoters. She reached out to the Dave Matthews Fan Club and is still waiting for their reply. (Representatives for the Dave Matthews Band didn’t respond to request for comment.)
With Wilco’s show in particular, the band and singer Jeff Tweedy both say they have no control over refunds and pricing policies, and that those decisions rest exclusively on the promoter.
“With respect to the Sky Blue Sky festival, Wilco has been independently contracted to perform at this event and to have their name used to promote sales of tickets, in the same manner as most other live appearances by the group,”A rep for the band stated this in a statement. “The festival promoter, Cloud 9, is solely responsible for and determines all ticketing policies, including pricing and availability of refunds or credits.”
Tweedy addressed fans’ concerns publicly for the first time Thursday night during an Instagram Live session, echoing the band’s statement.
“I 100% understand all the anxiety and anger and confusion that has been surrounding the SkyBlueSky festival,”He said. “Wilco, we’re in a similar boat to everyone, not the same boat obviously, but a similar boat in that we’re trying to figure it out. We’re a contracted entity for this event… We’re hoping there’s some situation that becomes clear and resolves itself in a way that makes everyone happy. I find that to be an unlikely outcome at this point. I don’t think there’s anybody intentionally trying to fuck anybody over. I think there are a lot of rocks and a lot of hard places to be in on this particular topic.”
When presented with fans’ concerns and Wilco’s statement, Cloud 9 noted that there were “safety protocols in place for exclusively outdoor shows.”
“The safety and security of all attendees, artists and crew is of paramount importance at all times,”According to the company, “While some fans may be feeling anxious about the evolving nature of the pandemic, many others remain enthusiastic about their travel plans and navigating these times safely,” the company said. “All of this is being monitored closely via active discussions with local authorities and health care experts. Organizers will continue to evaluate the viability of the upcoming events to determine prior to each one whether it can proceed in a safe manner. A refund, or the ability to hold one’s spot for a rescheduled date, will be available to purchasers if any event were to be postponed.”
The desire to stop the shows isn’t universal. Facebook pages for several shows are often contentious, with some fans questioning the severity of the new variant and saying that the reluctance of some ticket holders shouldn’t change the trajectory of the show or prevent fans who want to go from enjoying concerts on the beach.
But as Dead & Company’s canceled gig showed, the optics of making a show happen go beyond fans. If artists or crew get sick, the shows can’t go on. There’s still the risk of getting very sick as well, even if it’s less likely for those who’ve gotten the vaccine and boosters.
“I’m really on the fence right now,”Sutherlin said. “I’d really hate to lose all that money but the thought of being stuck isn’t great. And say you have a rare outbreak and get sick sick. There are breakthrough cases of people getting really sick, even if they’re rare. Now you’re hospitalized in a foreign country. I don’t want that.”