It’s not easy planning festivals during a pandemic.


The Savannah calendar is typically dotted with vibrant festivals for the first few months of each year, but 2021 is regrettably not going to look like a normal year. With so much uncertainty about the future of COVID-19, event organizers have limited options given the time and resources needed to mount large-scale festivals.


The Savannah Book Festival announced in August that the event would not be held as usual in February.


"With book publishers’ offices closed, authors unable to commit to in-person appearances, social distancing issues impacting our ability to accommodate large audiences, and the overall impact the pandemic has on our everyday life, we are forced to make the difficult decision to cancel the February 2021 Festival," SBF board president Beau Anders said in a press release.


The SBF has two great virtual events coming up in this month, however, with more to come in future months.



The festival will host an evening with best-selling author Dave Barry at 7 p.m., Nov. 11. Tickets ($15) are now on sale. Authors John Connolly and James Lee Burke will appear together at 1 p.m., Nov. 21. Tickets ($15) for that conversation are also on sale now.


The SBF will be announcing details about a December event with Michael Connelly, and I am excited to see the schedule continue to grow.


It’s tough to lose the in-person SBF, but kudos to the staff, board and volunteers for pivoting so quickly to such high-quality virtual events.


The Savannah Stopover Music Festival, which typically takes place in early March, recently announced that it is in "a holding pattern" for 2021.


In a normal year, a significant percentage of Stopover bands are headed to SXSW in Austin, Texas, but that sprawling festival will be online in 2021, and it’s far too early to know what the live music business will look like in March.


"The COVID 19 crisis has hit small venues and venue-based music festivals the hardest. Our focus on these small to mid-size venues that attendees can move between easily is what makes Stopover so unique - it’s in our DNA - but it makes social distancing harder and current COVID restrictions would greatly limit attendance," Stopover founder and CEO Kayne Lanahan said in a statement on the festival website. "We want to wait until we can all gather together and hold a festival that is safe for bands, fans, volunteers and staff."


The Savannah Music Festival recently announced several bold moves for 2021.


The festival will move from March to May and run through two weekends rather than three with "a mostly outdoor model." The festival is also planning some limited-capacity indoor performances and streaming options.


"We look forward to showcasing renowned artists in outdoor and socially distanced settings and to a return to the site of our 2018 festival finale at Trustees’ Garden," SMF artistic director Ryan McMaken said in a press release. "Throughout the year, we will also be offering custom digital content in an effort to amplify and elevate the work of artists from across the U.S. and abroad."


The full schedule will be released in January, but the festival has already announced some stellar acts, including Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, St. Paul & The Broken Bones and Béla Fleck & The Flecktones.


The 2018 finale using outdoor stages at Trustees’ Garden was a huge artistic success, so live music lovers should be excited about the possibilities for May.


Even if distancing is still necessary by the time the SMF rolls around, the Trustees’ Garden hillside can accommodate large audiences.


We have reasons to hope for a widely distributed vaccine in early 2021, so I am optimistic that cultural programming will begin a slow return to normal in the first half of the year.


Bill Dawers writes the City Talk column for the Savannah Morning News. He can be reached via citytalksavannah@gmail.com and @billdawers on Twitter.