Eds Note: This story was updated on 4/16/2020 to reflect that there will be no concerts, festival or large-scale events staged by the Portland Parks and Recreation department this summer.
Spring of 2020 is effectively a wash—school’s out, most businesses are shuttered, and if we don’t all stop congregating in parks, we might lose our most treasured green sanctuaries to police tape and safety patrols.
But is summer 2020 canceled too?
With apologies to your Magic 8 Ball: Reply hazy. Ask again later.
So much is unknown about coronavirus, including how long it will take to build herd immunity, whether there might be a second or third or fourth wave of outbreaks, when (or if) we might get meaningful universal testing, and how long it will be before scientists perfect a vaccine or a cure.
Against that backdrop, organizers of summer tentpole events, from the Rose Festival to the World Naked Bike Ride, are hedging their bets. Some—like the Waterfront Blues Festival in downtown Portland and the July 4th fireworks show at Fort Vancouver—have canceled their events outright. Others have postponed until further notice, like Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has gone dark for five months, and hopes to return in early September. Some are forging ahead, whether virtually or with adherence to physical distancing norms fully in place.
For starters, the Portland Parks Department has no idea when pools, playgrounds, community centers, and sports fields might reopen—it’s dependent on getting the all-clear from Gov. Kate Brown. The department’s usual rich slate of summer programming, including movies in the park, concerts, and festivals, was officially canceled on April 16, though spokesman Mark Ross says the agency will still be providing free lunches and supervised play in the parks for local kids.
“It’s such a drastic change," Ross says. "Thank goodness for medical science, which will hopefully lead us on a path back to normalcy.”
The Rose Festival, the city’s traditional summer kick-off, which has endured through the Vanport Floods of 1948 and the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980, has already been postponed its scheduled May 22-June 7 dates. Rose Festival CEO Jeff Curtis says the nonprofit’s hope is to host a 10-day festival, complete with parades and waterfront events, in late August or early September, pending approval from city and public health officials.
“Right now, we are optimistically planning for a festival with an evolved format that continues tradition and provides inspiration for the community," Curtis says. “We see ourselves as part of the healing process.”
He’d love a gloriously splashy parade honoring the health care workers, first responders, and essential workers who’ve made it possible for all the rest of us to stay home, Curtis says, but if that’s not possible, the Rose Festival is prepared to scale back to whatever is doable, whether that’s an auction or a virtual event. In the meantime, he says, the Festival’s court, 15 seniors from local high schools chosen as princess-ambassadors, are making virtual appearances; look for classic Starlight and Grand Floral Parades to start re-airing on local TV soon, too.
Meghan Sinnott, an organizer with Pedalpalooza, Portland’s month-long celebration of bicycling culture, which usually takes place in June, says those who work on the festival are reinventing it.
“By the time June rolls around, we as a community are going to need some way to celebrate life and health and happiness,” she says. “We are reimagining what a summer can look like in the most joyous way that we can when our world has been turned upside down on its head. And that isn’t to punt festivals into next year or schedule everything for September in hopes that all will be well. We have to accept that summer 2020 is unlike any summer we have ever experienced.”
And that means, she says, that en-masse rides, with lots of people high-fiving each other, are unlikely at best. Instead, Sinnott says, look for ways to celebrate life on two wheels, “separately but collectively”—maybe there are tutu Tuesdays, when cyclists around the city tool around in their finest, or a superhero cape day for bike commuters, or a virtual space to share favorite ride routes. (No definitive word yet on the World Naked Bike Ride, scheduled for June 27, but organizers have pledged that, “even if we have to ride circles in our living rooms in the buff, we will ride on.”)
Other events are still tentatively planning to go forward as scheduled. The Oregon State Fair, which doesn’t open until August 28, says the fair will open as scheduled in all its elephant ear-scented glory; the Oregon Brewers Festival, which takes over Waterfront Park for four days in late July is also a go... for now.