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EDC 2021's Failure to Launch: How a Plan to Bring 200,000 People to Vegas Fell Apart

Electric Daisy Carnival
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Electric Daisy Carnival

The festival was set to be the first major music event since the pandemic shut down shows last March.

For 12 days, it appeared as though Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas -- the world's biggest dance music festival -- would be the first major live music event to happen since the coronavirus pandemic shut down live concerts last March.

That excitement proved short-lived when Pasquale Rotella, founder and CEO of EDC producer Insomniac Events, announced late Tuesday night that the festival would have to be postponed until October, citing an added provision to Clark County's Proposed Local Mitigation and Enforcement Plan that will require 60% of Clark County residents to be vaccinated before events can occur at 100% capacity and without social distancing.

According to state records, under Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak's emergency rule issued March 12, Rotella could have applied for a permit to stage Electric Daisy Carnival at 50% capacity at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the festival has been held annually since 2011 (with the exception of last year). That would have put attendance at 100,000 fans. Instead, based on presented capacity estimates in documents reviewed by Billboard, it appears the company initially pushed forward with a plan for 200,000 fans to head to EDC 2021 for what would have been one of highest-attended events Insomniac has ever staged at the Speedway. This would be the first of two plan proposals submitted by Insomniac to the Nevada Office of Business & Industry.

(Sources familiar on the situation note that from a financial perspective, it would be difficult to make EDC financially viable with a 100,000-person attendance cap.)

Insomniac's first Large Gathering COVID-19 Preparedness & Safety Plan, submitted to the Nevada Office of Business & Industry on April 8, acknowledged the state’s 50% capacity rules, but offered to instead mitigate the risk with by verifying that each attendee or staff member be either fully vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19. The plan also promised mandatory mask wearing and the use of canines capable of detecting COVID-19, in addition to other safety precautions.

The plan noted that "EDC is a non-seated outdoor event and will not implement social distancing as its method for health safety" given its proposed vaccination and testing verification methods.

State officials immediately rejected the proposal, citing Sisolak’s emergency order. A representative from the Nevada Department of Business & Industry confirmed to Billboard that Insomniac did submit a second safety plan on April 15 and that that plan was rejected on April 16. A source close to Insomniac confirms the submission of this second plan, which outlined provisions to abide by the Governor's 50% capacity mandate and which would have put total capacity for EDC 2021 at 100,000. According to Clark County's own Mitigation and Enforcement Plan, plans approved by B&I before May 1 would have been allowed to happen between May 1 and June 30, regardless of current County protocols.

But according to B&I, this second plan -- which proposed a 50% capacity by potentially adding a second weekend of EDC to the calendar -- did not conform to the provisions outlined in the Governor's emergency order. "Their plan still did not comply with the social distancing requirements under Directive 041," a representative from B&I tells Billboard. "In addition, after their initial plan was submitted and was not approved, department officials held further discussions with Clark County officials to review the event. Getting the approval and feedback of the local health district has always been part of B&I's process for reviewing large gathering plans."

"During that meeting," the B&I rep continues, "the county outlined their position and indicated the additional parameters they would need to see implemented. Their guidance was in alignment with the large gathering plan requirements that they were drafting for the May 1 transition."

In a feedback email sent to Insomniac, the county outlined requirements including a maximum daily attendance of 20,000, which may have been reduced to provide for social distancing, the creation of "seated or standing pods spaced 6 feet apart," the reduction of noise levels to avoid people removing face coverings, required PCR tests 48 hours prior to event for staff and attendees who were not vaccinated, a ban on camping and more.

"There were a number of areas outlined by the county that the second plan did no comply with," says the B&I rep, "including maximum daily attendance limitations, social distancing and the camping ban."

On April 20, Rotella took to Instagram to announce that a May return for Electric Daisy Carnival was officially off the table. “(T)oday, Clark County (home of EDC & the Las Vegas Motor Speedway) passed a reopening plan that requires 60% of their residents to be vaccinated before restrictions over large scale gatherings such as EDC can be lifted, he wrote. “Unfortunately, the rate at which people get vaccinated before EDC is out of our control. It might happen in time, it might not. Either way, we can’t take that risk.”

Rotella was referencing a plan from the Clark County Board of Commissioners to allow large events to return at 80% capacity, if 50% of local residents had been vaccinated —the County had already vaccinated 45% of attendees, according to a local report. That changed this past Tuesday, when county officials raised the local vaccination rate requirement to 60% of residents, amid concerns from health officials and local hospital administrators about a possible new surge in cases. With Insomniac’s second plan rejected and it appearing unlikely that 60% percent of residents would be vaccinated by May 20, Rotella announced the festival was being pushed to October.

For fans, the cancellation news was a swift about face, given Rotella's April 8 announcement the event was on and that fans should "book your flights, hotels and shuttles." Reaction to this initial announcement had been mixed, with many people leaving social media comments expressing confusion about how EDC would take place safely. (Rotella's social media posts announcing EDC was happening have since been deleted.)

"If you look at those reactions and the conversations in the comment sections," says a source close to the event, "it didn't look like fans were ready."

But the artists were. While it was initially unclear if international acts would be able to enter the country to play the festival, a manager that had several acts on the lineup tells Billboard that international travel visas for the show were granted two weeks ago, which would have made it possible for EDC to host its standard-sized lineup of 200-300 acts. This same manager says that their office wasn't notified that EDC would be postponing until an hour before Rotella's announcement was posted. It is assumed that this same lineup will now roll over to the October event.

"This was all happening very quickly," says the source close to Insomniac, "we were doing everything and giving everyone updates in real time."

In the end, the endeavor looks to be a gamble that didn't pay off. Several sources note that while Insomniac has hosted a successful run of drive-through and drive-in events and livestreams during the pandemic, when it came to returning to live shows, the reality of logistics, and bureaucracy, simply outweighed ambition.

This story has been amended with to reflect additional information provided by the Nevada Office Of Business & Industry and a clarification from Clark County about its role in the application process.