Lost summer? COVID-19 crisis leaves Truckee, Tahoe events in limbo, if not already canceled
The Sierra Sun continues its “Investigating the Impact” series to discuss how the community is coping with the COVID-19 crisis, focusing on the toll the pandemic has had on the economy, government services, education, the environment, health care, housing, nonprofits and arts & culture — and the situation each sector faces and what resources are available to help the community move forward.
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Plans for North Lake Tahoe’s summer remain unclear. A quick glance at Truckee event calendar reveals a list of cancellations and postponements. The pandemic has disappointed nearly all realms of Truckee’s community — yogis, foodies, race runners, beer drinkers, Shakespeare fans and fireworks revelers.
For North Lake Tahoe, big events compliment the region’s main summer draw — the outdoors.
Although these events may be secondary to committed mountain bikers or paddle boarders, Fourth of July usually draws the biggest crowds to the basin, said Kylee Bigelow, executive director of Tahoe City Downtown Association.
“It’s way too hot in Reno and Sacramento, we get a lot of families who escape the heat to spend the day at the lake,” Bigelow said. “This year was supposed to be our 75th anniversary.”
The lake’s fireworks happen to be one of the oldest traditions that have been put on pause. But the list of canceled public events does not discriminate between events’ age and interests.
Some of the region’s largest events are sponsored by resorts and event companies. They too, have been impacted.
Twenty percent of Vail Resorts total revenue comes from their North American locations’ summer programming. In a message to employees last week, CEO Rob Katz said he hopes to welcome patrons back to the resort experience by late June, early July. Katz took pains to say that Vail would reopen with the needs of its respective communities in mind but made no mention of the cancellation of resort-sponsored summer events, like Northstar’s Beerfest & Bluegrass Festival.
Wanderlust’s CEO Sean Hoess also declined to confirm any concrete plans to restart his yoga lifestyle company’s annual Squaw Valley-based summer festival in 2021. Hoess said Wanderlust is an event-based company that must pay teachers, musicians, staff and the mountain-venue to profit primarily from ticket sales and sponsorships.
“The economics have never been easy,” he said
The need for “transformation wellness” has only grown since the pandemic’s onset, Hoess said, but California’s ban on large gatherings poses serious problems for an event-based company.
“I have loved Tahoe since I first stepped foot in it. I get misty talking about all the great years I have there,” Hoess said. “On the other hand it has to work, I have to sustain it and be able to pay everyone.”
Hoess said he will take cues from other, larger event companies to contour Wanderlust’s reopening strategy.
“I’m sure people at LiveNation are thinking about this all day,” Hoess said. “I’ll wait to see what the people at Coachella do and then I’ll figure it out. With full respect to them and the community, I am not the guy who can afford to be the guinea pig.”
While Hoess waits for an example to follow, Truckee’s smaller events may not have that luxury and so have turned to creative alternatives.
Concerts at Commons Beach are officially canceled up until the Fourth of July Weekend, Tahoe City’s Bigelow said, but they normally take place every Sunday of the summer.
Although it’s unlikely that the remainder of the 12-concert series will resume in person, Bigelow’s organization is devising plans to provide free music this summer in a safe way.
“We’re looking into the option of live streaming or radio,” Bigelow said. “We definitely want to bring music to Tahoe City some way, somehow.
Many of Truckee’s annual summer events are sponsored by nonprofits that depend on ticket sales revenue to sustain operations year-round.
Bigelow said event revenue accounts for 60% of the Tahoe City Downtown Association’s income.
The association’s two employees and 11 board members help promote the Commons Beach Concert series each year. The organization, also sponsored by Placer County and local businesses’ membership dues, has explored loans made available by the CARES Act, but ultimately depends on community support, Bigelow said.
“We have a contingency plan,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
In the meantime, the association’s focus has shifted from event coordination and promotion to connect small businesses with resources they may need to survive the shelter in place order.
“We have to wait till Stage 3 when lodging is open to push more foot traffic,” Bigelow said. “Events will come back when it’s appropriate. We don’t want to put our energy into that when we need to keep our businesses alive.”
For Christin Hanna of the Lake Tahoe Dance Collective, the foot traffic must continue, albeit socially distanced.
Her nonprofit’s annual festival was set to receive $20,000 from the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. Now, Hanna is making the most of the NLTRA’s modified gift — $5,000 — to continue the spirit of the event in a pandemic-appropriate way.
“We’re artists, we’re creative, we find solutions,” the Tahoe native said.
Hanna proposed a revised version of the 8th annual Lake Tahoe Dance Festival to Marketing Director Amber Burke and Event Specialist Katie Biggers of the resort association late last month.
The event will include a limited Young Dancers Workshop conducted in person in an empty lot in Tahoma, where participants will adhere to recommended safety protocols and social distancing guidelines.
“For starters, we did Zoom,” Hanna said. “It’s depressing and there’s no room to really move in peoples’ kitchens.”
The festival will continue with three 30-minute live-streamed presentations — made up of interviews with the Collectives’ collaborators and archival footage of previous festival performances.
“We feel we can take advantage of the online platform to reach further than our traditional demographic,” Hanna said.
Another creative solution on the horizon is a drive-in movie theater in Squaw Valley, Burke said.
“The drive-in is a creative idea that helps to drive lodging, support local events production companies and would also generate money for an employee fund that Squaw has put together,” Burke said.
Burke said the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association has given $5,000 to Squaw Valley to pursue socially-distanced entertainment alternatives on site. Squaw is currently in the permitting process for the drive-in, in the hopes that the go-ahead coincides with Stage 3 of reopening, when lodging will be allowed, Burke said.
For North Lake Tahoe, summer 2020 will not look like summer’s past. Even so, Truckee’s cultural leaders are working to provide opportunities in the arts in responsible, safe ways.
“Events can be forgotten, but at the end of the day they add so much character and personality to our region,” Burke said. “We need to make sure that we’re supporting them.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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