What Happens If Pregnancy Forces Beyonce to Cancel Coachella?
When Beyonce once again broke the Internet on Wednesday with a highly stylized photo of herself kneeling saint-like in short shorts and a diaphanous veil surrounded by roses, cradling her previously-unrevealed baby bump and gazing lovingly into the camera, little did her legions of fans think her message could have serious implications for the music business' flagship live music event: the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
"We would like to share our love and happiness," the warm and tender Instagram message beneath the image read. "We have been blessed two times over. We are incredibly grateful that our family will be growing by two, and we thank you for your well wishes. - The Carters."
With that post, well-wishes began flooding the web, setting an all-time Instagram record with more than 9 million likes and counting, soaring past last summer's record-holder Selena Gomez modeling a Coke can by more than 3 million likes.
But as wonderful as the Beybys announcement is, the prospect of a potential Coachella cancelation -- where she is scheduled to co-headline two consecutive mid-April weekends with Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar in April -- is far less uplifting.
Coachella is the world's biggest and most profitable festival. Produced by Goldenvoice/AEG, last year's confab drew some 99,000 paying customers to the Indio, Calif. polo fields for two weekends, bringing in a total of nearly 200K fans who doled out $400 for general admission tickets (or $900 for VIP). The consistently top-grossing festival took in $94 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. But the possibility of Beyonce not performing could have major consequences for the fest, Coachella ticket-holders and Beyonce herself.
Billboard reached out for comment both to Beyonce's camp and Coachella's promoter Goldenvoice, but did not hear back at press time. A source, however, said definitively that Beyonce has no intention of bailing on her Coachella commitment.
That said, she may not have a choice. "Being pregnant with twins at any age is a high-risk pregnancy," says Dr. Tamika Auguste, an MD and practicing OB/GYN and a fellow at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "There is a higher risk of pre-term labor and pre-term delivery that studies put at between ten and sixty percent." Dr. Auguste also notes that at 35, Beyonce's age, the beginning of "advanced maternal age," begins and can contribute to risks such as genetic chromosomal issues as well as pre-term labor and delivery. "She could go on to have a very normal pregnancy if she's healthy," the doctor notes, "But there may just be more monitoring she'll have to do to."
Traditionally, most women don't make their pregnancy public until the end of the first trimester, which would place Beyonce in her third month -- though some speculate the size of her twin bump could put her in the fourth or fifth month. That would mean when Coachella rolls around in two-and-a-half months -- the weekends of April 14 and April 23 -- she'll be at the end the second trimester or the beginning of her third which will likely make her less mobile during this "high risk pregnancy."
But risk and uncertainly is something the music business understands well and is increasingly prepared for. "A cancelation policy typically excludes non appearance due to pregnancy and complications from pregnancy," says Paul Bassman, president/CEO of Ascend Insurance Brokerage, which insures both festivals and artists. "If she had cancelation insurance, which I understand she typically carries, coverage would depend on if the exclusion was removed. It may be possible to have the exclusion removed, however if she were pregnant when the policy was placed then that would not be possible."
That means Beyonce herself wouldn't necessarily collect on the show cancelation if pregnancy were the reason. But Coachella could have a non-appearance insurance policy, though Bassman says that's unlikely.
"We insure multiple festivals across the country, dozens of them," he says, "Most of the time they don't choose a non-appearance insurance policy because it's way more expensive and if the artist doesn't appear they don't get paid. So for the sake of argument if Beyonce's scheduled to make a million dollars [it's likely more], the promoter then has a million dollars now to replace her or to reissue refunds to disgruntled fans."
Bassman explains that most festival policies cover the entire event's cancelation, for things like severe weather, earthquakes and fire. Typically a festival with multiple days and multiple acts wouldn't choose to have insurance covering a single act because of cost. The question then becomes, how do festivals best handle cancelations?
"We've had cancelations many times," says Graham Williams of Texas' Margin Walker Presents, a Texas promotions company that puts on the Sound on Sound Festival, the newly announced Fortress Festival in Fort Worth, and for 10 years booked the Fun Fun Fun Festival in addition to overseeing 28 venues. "Every year a few bands fall off, when you got a hundred of bands playing a festival, the odds are someone's going to break-up or something's going to happen."
Williams has experienced a festival headliner dropping out three times: Death Cab for Cutie in 2014 after founding member Chris Walla quit the band; D'Angelo canceled in 2015 due to illness; and Devo in 2010 had to bail after guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh injured his hand.
Williams notes that, "if a festival really cares how it looks, it will spend money and make sure they give their fans something really amazing in place of the canceled acts." In Williams' case this meant getting Modest Mouse to replace Death Cab; Lauryn Hill filled in for D'Angelo; and Descendents stood in for Devo. Very few fans, he says, insisted on refunds, which in most cases they are not entitled to, as festivals have language like "line-up subject to change, no refunds" indemnifying promoters from liability or having to return money.
In 2009, the Beastie Boys were slated to play Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits but had to pull out after the late Adam Yauch was diagnosed with cancer. The promoters were C3 (now owned by Live Nation), who replaced the rap trio with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band who, while critically acclaimed, weren't nearly as commercially successful as the Beasties. While there was some grousing over the line-up change, C3 declined to give refunds. "Cancelation by individual bands does not entitle a ticket-holder to a refund," their statement read. "With over 100 acts, the fans are still receiving a tremendous value."
Coachella, with its always well-curated line-up, can certainly make similar claims. Beyond Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar, this year's lineup includes plenty of diverse and worthy acts, including: Bon Iver, Lorde, DJ Khaled, Father John Misty, New Order, Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, Schoolboy Q, Car Seat Headrest, Guided by Voices, Mac Miller, Hans Zimmer, Justice, Tove Lo and Head and the Heart among many others. Ticket buyers would have a hard case arguing they were put out by Beyonce canceling.
All of which leaves us wondering: If Beyonce were to cancel, who could possibly replace her? Which artist has her crossover appeal? Rihanna? Drake? Ariana Grande? Kanye? Aretha Franklin? How about Jay Z? No one, it seems, can quite fill the massive void a Beycelation would leave (though it should be noted the majority of Coachella tickets are sold even before the full line-up is announced).
"There's no [female artist] with that kind of iconic status, who also appeals to young kids right now," says Williams. "She's definitely the exclamation point on the bill. Radiohead plays festivals, Kendrick Lamar plays festivals, but I can't think of the last time she played a festival. Beyonce really is the perfect artist to have."