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Residents, festival-goers have mixed feelings about uncertainty surrounding Electric Forest

ROTHBURY, MI – The Electrict Forest music festival that would bring 40,000 people to a small Michigan town of less than 500 residents could be canceled this year due to the coronavirus, leaving many of the town's residents with mixed feelings.

The eclectic music festival, which takes place in Rothbury every summer, is currently scheduled to take place June 25-28. But because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis and social distancing guidelines, festival organizers are scrambling to figure out when, and if, the weekend-long festival could take place.

The Rothbury Village Council shot down a request by festival organizers Thursday, April 9, to push the June festival to September in response to coronavirus concerns. The village council voted 5-2 against a request to move the event's permit to Sept. 10-13 at Double JJ Ranch.

Derek Holland, in-house counsel for the festival's organizer AEG Presents and Madison House Presents, told the village council Thursday night that the "most prudent" course of action for the festival would've been to postpone it until after Labor Day, the Oceana County Press reported.

"We're asking for a shot to keep the festival going," the newspaper quoted Holland saying before the council took a vote. "If the revised dates are not approved, we can't go forward (with the 2020 festival)."

However, many community members raised concerns about moving the festival into the fall, which they felt would've been a large distraction for local children in school due to heavy traffic and loud noise.

Now the fate of the festival is up in the air. But village Clerk Carol Witzke said Thursday's decision does not officially cancel the event because, technically, the festival can still take place as planned on June 25-28.

In a statement released on social media Thursday night, festival organizers said they were exploring different options for the event.

Representatives from Madison House declined to comment about what kind of options festival organizers are exploring when contacted by MLive.

Rothbury Village Council President Scott Beishuizen did not respond to numerous requests for comment by MLive.

Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast told MLive one of his biggest concerns about the festival coming to Rothbury in June as planned would be the health risks – not only to the town, but to his jail.

"We're working every day to make sure our jail is as clean as can be and not bringing (coronavirus) into the jail," he said.

The county jail has reduced its capacity from 62 to less than 30 in the past few weeks to try to maintain social distancing and keep both inmates and staff from getting sick, Mast said.

If the virus were brought to the small town during the summer festival, Mast said it would be "detrimental" to the Oceana County Jail. Last year, police took six people to the Oceana County Jail, and made 24 arrests.

The annual music, art and camping event draws tens of thousands of people to the rural stretch of Oceana County every summer. Headliners for this year's sold-out festival included The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Flume, Major Lazer and Diplo.

Rothbury resident Mitch Mather, who has attended the festival every summer for the past six years, said news about the festival's potential cancellation was devastating to himself and other festival-goers.

"I'm feeling pretty upset because it's something I look forward to every summer," said Mather, 22. "As a local artist, it makes it hard too because I love playing after-hour sets in the campground."

But the Rothbury resident said that if the festival has to be canceled because of the coronavirus, "then so be it." He said he wouldn't want festival organizers to plan for the festival in June, and have it be suddenly canceled because the coronavirus was still a problem.

"I do take this virus very seriously," he said. "If we can get this completely under control by May and there's no signs of it reoccurring, it shouldn't be an issue. But the thing is, it takes a few weeks to put this festival together, so it would be a shame for all that work to be done just to have it canceled."

Dawn Fredenburg, of Rothbury, said Electric Forest has been her "home away from home," making the idea of its cancellation heartbreaking.

"I am saddened by the possible cancellation because attending this festival has been my escape from reality the last few years," said Fredenburg, 28, who attended Electric Forest the past five years. "It has brought me so much joy and peacefulness. After all these months of preparing for it, and the excitement that I've experienced, hearing the possible cancellation news hit me so incredibly hard."

Festival-goers said they have not heard news yet from Electric Forest organizers about whether they would receive refunds for already purchased tickets if the sold-out event is canceled.

In mid-March, days after Michigan's Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a state of emergency as the threat of COVID-19 mounted, organizers said they were working with "the appropriate authorities" to keep the 2020 festival on track.

Social distancing guidelines, implemented in order to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, have led to the cancellation or postponement of all manner of large gatherings, including other national festivals like South by Southwest, Coachella and Essence Fest.

Regionally, events critical to local tourism economies - from Holland's Tulip Festival to Grand Rapids' Festival of the Arts - and major statewide events, such as the Detroit Grand Prix and Senior PGA Championship, have been canceled. A return to normalcy appears to be months away as communities struggle to "flatten the curve" of viral infections and Michigan be comes the third state to exceed 1,000 COVID-19 deaths.

PREVENTION TIPS

In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus. Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible. Carry hand sanitizer with you, and use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home ( door handles, faucets, countertops ) and when you go into places like stores.

Complete coverage of coronavirus in Michigan.

Read more on MLive:

Electric Forest music festival uncertain this year after date change rejected

Festival of the Arts canceled 3 months ahead of June event due to coronavirus pandemic

Need a laugh? Watch this Muskegon area principal rap 'Some Good News' to students

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