Music Festivals

City of Miami Cancels Calle Ocho and Ultra Music Festivals Owing to Coronavirus Fears

A view of the stage at Miami's Ultra Music Festival in 2019.
A view of the stage at Miami's Ultra Music Festival in 2019. Photo by Daniella Mía
Asserting that it's only a matter of time before coronavirus cases are confirmed locally, Miami officials this morning pulled the plug on the city's two biggest music festivals. During a 9 a.m. press conference at Miami City Hall, Mayor Francis Suarez announced the postponement of the Calle Ocho Festival and Ultra Music Festival until next year, effectively canceling the 2020 editions of both events.

Scheduled to take place later this month, the festivals were expected to draw hundreds of thousands of music lovers and partygoers from all over the world, including Latin America, Europe, and Asia, where coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected more than 80,000 people to date. As of today, more than 225 confirmed cases have been confirmed in the United States, including four in Florida. More than 3,400 people have died from COVID-19 across the globe, including 11 stateside.

No cases have been confirmed in Miami, but Suarez said the city was taking the "extremely precautionary" step of avoiding a possible mass infection by nixing two events that attract 100,000-plus crowds. 

"This is not cause for alarm or panic," Suarez said. "We are doing this in an abundance of caution. As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, public gatherings pose a great risk."

Suarez said that in deciding to shut down Calle Ocho and Ultra, the city's fire, police, and emergency-management departments are relying on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Travelers to mass gatherings may import diseases to a host site," the mayor said. "Life safety could not be controlled with such an event as international as Ultra."

City Commissioner Joe Carollo, who along with Commissioner Ken Russell took part in the press conference, said he has no doubt there are Miamians who may have contracted the coronavirus but have not been diagnosed.

"Let's be frank: With a major international airport, we have over 50 million passengers coming through in any given year," Carollo said. "We are going to see it sooner or later. Most likely, it is in our community already."

Ultra issued a statement on its website and Facebook pages saying festival organizers were relying on the guidance of local authorities in agreeing to the postponement.

"It is with a heavy heart that we inform you that The City of Miami has issued an official directive requiring that the 22nd edition of Ultra Music Festival... will be postponed," the announcement begins.

Originally scheduled for March 20 through 22 in Bayfront Park, Ultra has been postponed until March 26 through 28, 2021, at the same location, the statement says, noting that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' declaration of a public health emergency and the CDC's coronavirus guidance have made it "impossible for the city to provide access to Bayfront Park at this time."

"We completely understand how extremely frustrating this is because so many of you are looking forward to coming to Ultra, having already made travel arrangements," the statement continues. "Ultimately, there is no higher priority for us than the health, safety and physical well-being of each of you, together with everyone else involved in the production of the event."

A spokesperson for the Calle Ocho Festival did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the postponement of the event.

Several other municipalities in the area, meanwhile, have not canceled their scheduled events.

For instance, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III told WSVN-TV that Jazz in the Gardens, which attracts about 35,000 people to Hard Rock Stadium and is scheduled for March 9 and 10, is still on. Carnaval on the Mile in Coral Gables will still happen this weekend and is expected to draw 125,000 people. And earlier this week, the Miami Open tennis tournament sent New Times a statement saying the sporting event remains on track to commence March 23 at Hard Rock Stadium.

Update 3/6/2020, 5:30 p.m.: Kiwanis of Little Havana president Jorge Fernandez has provided the following statement:

"Obviously, we are disappointed with the City of Miami’s decision to not allow the Calle Ocho Music Festival to go forward this year. The effect this will have on the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana will be detrimental to the organization’s ability to provide services and programs to underserved kids in the City for the upcoming year. Nonetheless, we understand the City’s priority is to protect the safety and welfare of all residents, visitors, and businesses in Miami but we look forward to continuing our partnership with the City of Miami moving forward and hope to continue the organization’s mission. We are meeting as a group to decide our position moving forward. We are working on alternatives. We value your partnership and appreciate your patience."
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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.