There will be no floating music festival on Lake Murray this year.
Drift Jam, the more country- and rock-leaning of two annual events that park stages near the shore so attendees can watch from their boats, moved on from its seventh annual outing, slated for May 23, due to the continued spread of COVID-19.
And earlier this month, Reggaetronic Lake Murray Music Festival, which leans toward the mainstream end of its titular genre mashup, canceled its eighth annual iteration slated for July 25, having already postponed from June 13.
In the latter case, organizers planned to move ahead with the event until July 8. Reached by Free Times, they explained that it was the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, which oversees activities on the state’s fifth largest lake, that forced them to pull the plug.
“Reggaetronic is a floating festival and this uniqueness comes with a lot of moving parts that must be handled to make it work,” co-founder Lee Huffstetler says in an email response to the paper. “Generally speaking, we work with numerous law enforcement agencies to coordinate safety protocols and obtain the Marine Event Permit which is required to put on our event at its location on Lake Murray. Before obtaining our permit, we have to provide an overview of who we are, what we plan on doing, and what we will be doing to keep our patrons and our location safe. The permit that we received to put on our event [on] July 25, 2020 was revoked by the issuing agency.”
In the same email, Ron Cohen, the festival’s director of operations, claims that Reggaetronic was referred to in a July 1 press conference by Gov. Henry McMaster. During that appearance, the state’s chief executive offered a clarification of his coronavirus restrictions that forced Lexington County to change its designation for the county’s Blowfish baseball team before fans could be allowed in the stands.
“We were given a reason which did pertain to the governor’s speech and specific executive actions he enacted,” Cohen says. “A specific executive action was sited [sic] which was why our permit was revoked.”
That specific action is Executive Order 2020-17. Still in effect, the measure mandates the closure of non-essential businesses, including concert venues. SCDNR spokesperson Capt. Robert McCullough confirms that the agency pulled Reggaetronic’s Marine Event Permit, explaining that the festival’s setup on the lake constitutes a concert venue.
“Our policy is to follow the executive orders and that’s what we were doing,” he tells Free Times. “And as we go through this, things change. Six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, things looked like they were calming down and now they’re not, and you can anticipate maybe you’re going to get a change and we didn’t. And it’s kicking up, still is. And we’re concerned for people’s safety. That’s our main concern right now.”
And McCullough is resolute that holding Reggaetronic this weekend wouldn’t align with current safety standards.
“When you raft up on the lake, that’s not distancing,” he says, speaking to his own experience at the festival. “It becomes a venue, just like a building almost. A concert, and to the letter, it is a concert. So we felt like we needed to pull it.”
Still, while the festival won’t happen, organizers maintain that they could have done it responsibly.
“The changes we were making to our festival were going to set a clear tone to all who would have attended that safety was paramount to everything else that was to occur,” Cohen offers. “We were about to place an order for thousands of bottles of 6oz hand sanitizer for patrons, conspicuous signage printed on corrugated plastic, and employ voice artists to record messaging we were going to play throughout the day. We were going to give the face shields, masks and other PPE to every volunteer, staff member, and all members of law enforcement and EMT staff. We had ordered gallons of EPA certified chemicals proven to kill SARS CoV-2 which is the cause of COVID-19, along with numerous sanitizing stations for our production area. We were eliminating our hospitality areas.”
Cohen compares the way the bulk of the festival’s non-VIP guests arrive, driving up in their boats, to drive-in theaters, which are allowed to operate right now.
“That is essentially the crux of why we felt that we could continue,” he says of Reggaetronic’s open-water setting. “We were so proud of what we worked on. We wanted to show everyone how events could continue in this environment.”