Unity Festival Rescheduled for Next Year

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

UnityLogoSeveral factors combined to lead officials to call off the 2020 Unity Christian Music Festival.

"It became clear that we were not going to be out of the woods with all the social restrictions anywhere close to festival time," said Unity director Kevin Newton of the four-day Muskegon event originally planned for August.

"The reality is there's no way we could do an event like Unity this summer."

Newton had hoped to wait until June to make a final decision. But to delay making that call would tie up vendors, suppliers, technicians and others who would quickly need to find other options.

Even a small 'second wave' of the virus (COVID-19) might have led to another government-ordered shutdown with even more dire consequences, according to the director.

The postponement was officially announced May 8, just days before the Irish Music Festival called off its September event, also scheduled for Heritage Landing.

THE FACTOR OF FINANCES

There's no getting around it: the festival's bottom line has taken a hit. "We are missing this event and we need financial help to continue," Newton admitted.

Even with no event, some baseline expenses are still due – non-refundable deposits, payroll and so forth. And that's with no actual festival proceeds from additional ticket sales, vendor revenues and other income. Losses incurred are not covered by insurance.

There's a two-pronged effort to stem the tide.

One is tickets already purchased for this year. If ticketholders prefer they can simply hold on to tickets which will be good for the 2021 festival. Or simply donate them toward the festival.

"If people need a refund, we're fine with that," Newton said. "But we're really hoping many people will stick with us and hold on to their tickets... and I see that happening."

All ticket holders were emailed with their options, with a refund response deadline of May 22. "So far were not seeing a flood of refund requests and that's encouraging," Newton said.

Also, Unity has set up a "Go Fund Me" page for donations, with a goal of $100,000 https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/one-in-christ-unity-2021?utm_campaign=oc&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=crowdrise&fbclid=IwAR1hn4dJ5ZivLR9sMhKSC_K3dDDl-5SIu_Ufic6q6hWgYL2PGNSyuw9ghTo

The Unity Festival is produced by the non-profit Alive on the Lakeshore organization, and has raised nearly one million dollars over its 20 year history for a dozen area faith-based ministries. Partners such as the Muskegon Rescue Mission, LOVE, Inc. of Muskegon and West Michigan Youth for Christ have long benefitted from festival coffers.

Earlier this year, Alive on the Lakeshore distributed $80,000 to those ministries from past festival proceeds. "We were able to help them during this difficult time," Newton said.

"We want to continue to have Unity be a promotional and fundraising engine for non-profits far into the future. But we've got to get though this weird year to see that happen."

AND THE MUSICAL PERSPECTIVE

The Christian music and live event industries are in upheaval, with spring and summer concert tours and individual shows cancelled left and right. Out of 27 summer Christian music festivals listed on the Christian Festival Association website, 20 of them have been postponed until next year. (At press time, the Big Ticket Festival in Gaylord, Mich. Sept. 4-6 was still on).

Music artists are sharing the financial pain.

"A lot of these bands are actually small businesses who now have no income," Newton explained. "And there's the bus drivers, the techs, the warehouse people and road crews who are hourly workers with not much chance for their jobs coming back for the rest of the year." Employees at concert venues also are affected.

Newton said Alive on the Lakeshore is open to various other fundraising ideas for Unity. But right now the best way to help is to simply give.

A BRIGHT NOTE

The 20th anniversary celebration now will be held next year - Aug. 11-14, 2021. Three of this year's headline artists – For King & Country, Matthew West, and TobyMac – have already been confirmed for next year. And two special artists from that original Unity 20 years ago - Smalltown Poets and Grand Rapids-area native Tammy Trent - will be back as well.

"I have no doubt that Unity will return in 2021 stronger than ever," said Trent from her Nashville office. "Because God promises to finish what he started."

But in the meantime, there'll be some sadness in the air as the Heritage Landing stage stands idle this August.

"God has blessed our festival, and the Unity family truly is family," said Newton in the formal announcement during his original Facebook Live post. "So bringing you this (postponement) news is disappointing.....But at the same time, we are trusting the Lord."
Author Information
Terry DeBoer
About:
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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