COVID brings uncertainty to summer festivals

Some are canceled, some are proceeding

The annual "Art in the Park" is the biggest fundraiser for the Andria Theatre, drawing thousands of people to Alexandria City Park. This year's event is canceled, as was last year's. (Echo Press file photo)

It was December when the board of the Alexandria Area Arts Association had to look into their crystal ball and predict whether they would be able to hold Art in the Park in 2021.

Because the event includes so many artists, they have to start planning that early to pull it off.

In December, COVID-19 was surging throughout Minnesota, with 80 or more people dying every day.

The board had to make a decision. Should they attempt a scaled-down version of Art in the Park, or should they cancel? They chose to cancel.

“We’d rather do it full-fledged than half baked,” said Ann Hermes, executive director of the Andria Theatre, which is governed by the arts association. “We are hoping to be back full bore in the summer of 2022.”


All around Douglas County, boards and event organizers have had to weigh the same issues. Festivals and parades bring color and life to short Minnesota summers, but they also create crowded conditions and raise the risk of spreading disease. They are hampered by having to make decisions months ahead of the event, unable to predict what the summer months will bring to the area.

“There’s a lot of organizational things that go on behind people just walking in and having a great time,” Hermes said. “I think the board made the right decision.”

Some event organizers have chosen to proceed full steam ahead.

Brandon plans to hold its Summerfest on the first weekend of August as usual. It will modify some of its events to make it safer, but small towns need their annual events, said Scott Pohlmann, a Brandon City Council member who also helps organize the event.

“Little towns are getting frustrated,” he said. “The governor has everything locked down so tight we can’t do anything.”

One big unknown facing the Vikingland Band Festival is the closure of Broadway. As a state-owned highway, it needs MnDOT approval to close down for the marching bands.

But Gov. Tim Walz’s pandemic restrictions have included limits on parades, casting some uncertainty on how this year’s event will shape up.

“We are proceeding as normally as possible,” said Rhonda Blaser, one of the organizers. “We have a Plan A and B.”


Plan A is to follow the normal parade route, where band members will get a chance to perform and fans can spread out along the sidewalks. Some key events that create crowds, like the awards ceremony, will not happen, and there will be no bleachers. The event will be held festival-style instead of competition-style, so that instead of trophies, bands will receive recognition and feedback from the judges.

Plan B? Nobody wants Plan B, as it would move everything to high school and spectators would be limited, Blaser said.

This year, there will be no Miltona Tornado Days. Last year was supposed to be its 50th anniversary, but the celebration will have to be pushed back to 2022, said Jerri Timmins, who organizes the parade. She's already had three people contact her wanting to be in the parade; she told them she'll keep them in their book for 2022.

Evansville expects to hold its annual Red White and Boom Days over the July Fourth holiday, with a pancake feed, kids games, and pork chop dinner with a to-go option for those who remain cautious about mingling in crowds.

Sue Englund, one of the organizers, said the town seems to be loosening up, with older residents more comfortable about leaving their homes once they got vaccinated.

She realizes that new strains of the disease could upend their plans.

“I hope it doesn’t happen. But you’re not guaranteed, either. We’ll do our best to try and bring back a little normalcy to Evansville's Fourth of July.”

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