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If You're Going To Hinterland, Bring A Mask

A concertgoer to Hinterland Music Festival in 2019 hold up a sign during a set by The War And Treaty.
Madeleine King
A concertgoer at Hinterland Music Festival in 2019 holds up a sign during a set by The War And Treaty.

The annual festival that attracts thousands of concertgoers is happening as the CDC says the county hosting the festival is experiencing a high level of COVID-19 community transmission.

In planning this year’s festival, the organizers of Hinterland have had COVID-19 mitigation in mind since the start, which is turning out to be a really good thing. According to a report by Iowa Public Radio News, a total of 76 of Iowa’s 99counties have a high or substantial level of COVID-19 as of Thursday, and one of those counties (Madison) is the one where the hinterlands are located.

In light of this development, the festival’s main organizer, Sam Summers, has a message for everyone who plans on attending.

“Please get vaccinated. One-hundred percent - that is the thing that will change this not only for the festival, but also for all of humanity. We have a unique circumstance here in the U.S. were we all have access to the vaccine right now, and people are deciding not to take it. Please get vaccinated, or this is going to continue bubbling up every 3-6 months,” he says.

In advance of the festival, Summers asked all the staff working the event who would be artist or crew facing to get vaccinated, and he’s requiring masking for everyone who will come in direct contact with an artist. In preview of the weekend, he’s urging festivalgoers to be as respectful of everyone at the event as he’s instructing his staff to be.

“You know, let’s use our best judgement here,” he said. “If you’re in a line, and you’re waiting to get food or get in, throw on your mask. We try to keep the festival as laid back as possible, but at this point, this is a good time to keep doing the right thing in mind.”

Summers and the Hinterland team have programmed an outstanding festival in an incredibly challenging environment, and they are set to present a weekend of music against many odds. They have had a safety update about the virus on their website since tickets went on sale. The last line on the posting includes this sentence:

“Hinterland 2021 is only possible with all attendees committing to safety. Please be prepared to be mindful and respectful of those around you.”

With concerns about the delta variant, that statement couldn’t be more important heading into the weekend.

What you need to know about the grounds

Here are some pandemic safety facts to consider:

  • Vaccination and masking are the best defenses against COVID-19 according to the CDC. Bring a mask(s), and wear it. The festival initially announced that masks would be mandated. They’re now following CDC guidance when it comes to masking, and as of Wednesday, the CDC guidance says: “In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.”
  • There will be extras masks in the medical tent at the event if you forget yours at home. The medical tent is located near the merch table. IPR will also have some fabric masks at the festival.
  • There will be four times as many handwashing stations and porta-potties as usual this year at the event. Even with all the extra attention to the portas and the hand washing stations, festival portas are festival portas. Be prepared with hand sanitizer or hand washing stations at your camp if you’re staying for the weekend.
  • The festival has expanded their grounds to be more spread out to allow for greater social distancing. Pro-tip: It was already a festival with a large footprint; wear comfy shoes.
  • Hinterland will have a communal water bottle filling station. You can bring an empty bottle with you into the festival grounds.
  • It’s an option this year to pick up your tickets at Wooly’s in advance of the festival if you’re local to the Des Moines area. This will save time waiting in line at the grounds.
  • Parking passes are sold out. The festival recommends carpooling if you aren't currently in possession of a parking pass. If that’s not an option for you, you can park west of the festival grounds in St. Charles and walk to the festival grounds from there. There will be many free parking options available.

Here’s some pandemic and festival background that may be useful to your decision-making:

  • 44 percent of people living in Madison County are fully vaccinated against the virus.
  • Just over 50 percent of Iowans are fully vaccinated against the virus.
  • In 2019, Hinterland had attendees from 37 states and five countries (according to the Des Moines Register).
  • Just over 48 percent of the total population of the U.S. has been vaccinated.
  • The delta variant was confirmed in Madison County on July 26.
  • Madison County currently has a high level of community spread, as does neighboring Polk County.

If there’s one takeaway, it’s to be prepared and be mindful and respectful of those around you. Given the number of tickets that have been sold, the only one who can control your safety is you.

14,000 attendees expected

Initially, Hinterland announced they would sell a limited number of tickets, which we reported in March. Festival organizers opened up more single day passes because the vaccine rollout was going well, and cases were low. According to a report filed by IPR News on Tuesday, the organizers estimate 14,000 people will be in attendance at this year’s event. A majority of those people have 3-day passes.

The festival’s single day attendance record was set during Hozier’s performance in 2019, with a total of 14,000 people in the crowd, according to the Des Moines Register. The previous single-day Hinterland attendance record was 11,200, which was for Sturgill Simpson’s set in 2018. That means that while the festival has expanded their grounds and are doing their best to keep everyone safe, they’re also reporting that the number of ticket holders is close to the record set in 2019.

Sharon Miller, Madison County Public Health Administrator, has been working in close collaboration with Summers since before tickets went on sale.

The delta variant of the COVID-19 virus was confirmed in Madison County on July 26, according to a press release from the county. Miller urges festivalgoers to wear masks this weekend if they can’t socially distance, and to stay home if they are sick or have been in direct contact with someone who has been sick.

Bring a mask

“We know the variant is in Madison County, and we know that Madison County is in high transmission. I am very concerned.” she said.

Back in May on Studio One Tracks, we aired an interview with Dr. Melanie Wellington, who is an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics who has been a part of the hospital’s COVID-19 team since March of 2020.

“We are all asking this question, ‘is this safe?’ But the subtext of that question is ‘is this safe enough?’” she said. “People who listen to a lot of folk music have a concept they call craic. It’s not the drug. It’s the amorphous idea of the feeling that comes from that perfect night of music. Somewhere in our soul, that gives us wellness. So, we have to balance, ‘how much risk will be at this event?’ versus ‘do I feel like this is safe enough for me?’"

During that interview, she said the safest concerts to go to this summer are outdoor shows. She pointed to a tool that Georgia Tech created that will estimate the likeliness that someone at the event you’re attending will be infected with COVID-19. Find it online here.You can input the county the event is in, select whether the event is inside or outside, and enter the estimated number of people attending.

According to Wellington, in terms of Hinterland, she would make sure to wash her hands often, try to socially distance as much as possible and wear a mask all weekend. She also stressed that it’s important for the community to work together right now.

“I would make sure I’m vaccinated. If I wasn’t vaccinated, I would probably not go,” Dr. Wellington said. “Sadly, I would also stay out of areas where unmasked people are singing.”

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer