The Denton Festival Foundation has announced it will stage the 2021 Denton Arts & Jazz Festival next October.

Officials cited concerns about COVID-19 as the motivation to host the event in the fall.

“The staff and board of trustees of the Denton Festival Foundation, Inc. have been closely monitoring the current COVID-19 pandemic with an eye to our annual event in April 2021,” officials said in a statement released Monday. “While the numbers continue to rise it has become apparent that the likelihood of being able to produce our event in four months is growing slimmer.”

The trustees held an emergency meeting to discuss options for next year’s event and decided to stage the massive outdoor festival Oct. 1-3 in Quakertown Park.

“It is our sincere hope that the COVID-19 vaccine will have been widely distributed and perhaps by then life will have returned to whatever the ‘new normal’ might be,” the statement read.

Kevin Lechler, the assistant director of the festival foundation, said the board kept watching the infection rates locally and nationwide, and the writing was on the wall.

“I think we were probably naive to think we could do the festival in April. It’s too soon, and as much as we’d like for there to be a cure for this, or for the vaccine to have been distributed by then, that’s not realistic,” Lechler said.

The move is a major one for one of the biggest events of the year in Denton, an event that started more than 30 years ago as Spring Fling. The free three-day festival packs the downtown park with fine art vendors, seven outdoor stages, food booths and children’s activities. Lechler said he has been contacting vendors, performers and contractors to notify them of the change.

“We haven’t heard a lot of feedback yet,” he said. “But there have been some positive comments about our proactiveness. I think we all realize this is not happening in April. We can either let [state, city and county officials] cancel us again or we can be proactive. We’ve really been looking at ‘What do we have to do to make sure we have some kind of event?’”

The jazz festival boasts a bodacious food court serving everything from alligator dishes to funnel cakes and corn dogs. A fun zone typically features a smattering of activities — including crafts for kids, a percussion tent, a rock climbing wall, bounce houses, a gyroscope ride and a kids’ train ride. The festival has seven outdoor stages that keep music playing continuously. More than 100,000 people attend the festival each year.

Lechler said the board can’t be sure yet how many vendors and performers will be able to participate, and he is working with 2020’s headlining acts — singer-songwriter Doyle Bramhall and R&B band and brass ensemble Tower of Power — to see if they can reschedule.

In the meantime, Lechler said, he plans to research any grants and relief funds the festival might qualify for.

“We were not eligible for the emergency grants just based on the fact that we do not pay payroll taxes. We pay contract labor,” Lechler said. “I’m trying to learn more. We’re going to apply to whatever we’re eligible for. This has not been a good year. We’re relying heavily on our sponsors, and we feel fortunate and pleased to be able to do that. It shows that people love our event. Hopefully we will be eligible for the [Save Our Stages Act] relief grants, but I have to learn more.”

The festival foundation didn’t completely abandon the 2020 festival. It streamed some music performances by local acts that have appeared regularly at the fest through Facebook Live.

Trustees said they will adhere to all state and local mandates regarding COVID-19 leading up to and during the festival.

“I think we know that we have to do something next year,” Lechler said. “If we don’t, we might not be here in 2022.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.

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