‘I’m sorry it came to this’ — Prairie Village cancels Jazz Fest 2021 over COVID-19 concerns

Prairie Village Jazz Fest

Prairie Village is canceling Jazz Fest 2021 after the Kansas Department of Health and Environment released new guidance regarding in-state mass gatherings on Aug. 13. The news comes three weeks before the event was scheduled.

Three weeks before the expected return of one of the city’s biggest annual events, Prairie Village has decided to cancel Jazz Fest 2021 over concerns of rising COVID-19 case numbers caused by the Delta variant.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment released new guidance on Friday, Aug. 13 requiring individuals who attend any mass gatherings — where social distancing and masking are not followed — to quarantine after the event.

Following that new guidance, Prairie Village’s Jazz Fest committee convened a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 18 to discuss how to move forward.

After an hour-long discussion, with ideas about how to make the event work, the committee came to the conclusion that canceling it would be in the best interest of the community.

“I appreciate everyone’s time on this,” committee chair JD Kinney said at the end of the meeting. “I’m sorry it came to this, but we’ll get ‘em next year.”

Alternatives discussed

During Wednesday’s meeting, the committee threw around ideas about ticketing the event in order to limit attendance, ways to enforce masks and thoughts on whether or not the festival — which costs about $50,000 to put on — would be worth it for a fraction of the attendees.

Councilmember Inga Selders, the city council’s Jazz Fest committee liaison, and Mayor Eric Mikkelson asked the committee to consider ways to safely host Jazz Fest after canceling the 2020 event.

Mikkelson said in some ways, the community needs something like Jazz Fest.

Selders suggested several times to require masks and social distancing at the event, but that would mean dropping the attendance down to 750 people — and historically, Jazz Fest attracts thousands.

The committee discussed the fact that Prairie Village police did not enforce masks and social distancing at the Meadowbrook Car Show in June, another large outdoor event.

Committee members also noted that Prairie Village’s recently approved mask mandate wouldn’t impact Jazz Fest since the event is outdoors.

Those points seemed to impact Selders, who eventually changed her stance in favor of cancelation.

“That definitely sways my opinion then moving forward on this, unfortunately,” Selders. “If we cannot hold that [mandate] accountable, then that takes the safety out of it — which is what I was hoping for.”

Some money will be lost

Kinney said the committee’s deposit for the stage and technical equipment can be applied to the next Jazz Fest event.

Still, a little more than $16,000 will be lost due to the cost of talent and airfares on two musicians, he said.

The city of Prairie Village released the following statement regarding the 2021 event’s cancellation:

To our Kansas City Jazz community – it is with heavy hearts that we again announce the cancellation of this year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival, scheduled to be held on Sept. 11, 2021.

On Friday, August 13, 2021, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) amended its quarantine list to include anyone who is not fully vaccinated and attends an in-state mass gathering of 500 or more, where individuals do not socially distance and wear a mask. Though our event is held outdoors, attendance has traditionally been many times larger than the KDHE’s threshold of 500. It is also an event that attracts many families, so children under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccinations would fall within the quarantine threshold. The ability to manage this event with a volunteer staff and protect the health, safety and enjoyment of our attendees, performers and volunteers is simply beyond our capacity.

The Prairie Village Jazz Fest Committee sincerely thanks the community, the Prairie Village Mayor and City Council, Prairie Village city administrators and staff for their input and support in making this difficult decision. We look forward to bringing the Jazz Fest to its many fans in 2022 and hope to see you then.