The Return of Mainstay Summer Events

More than a year after the pandemic shut down normal life, we’re all pulling back our window curtains and searching for any signs of hope on the horizon. There are now three available COVID-19 vaccines with emergency-use authorization from the FDA. While the CDC has put out cautious guidelines for the fully vaccinated, governors are lifting dining restrictions in states like Texas and Arizona, and Utah’s statewide mask mandate is set to expire April 10. 

The (tentative) return of some of the state’s most popular summertime events gives us something to look forward to, even if they will look a little different this year. The only groups more excited than the general public for 2021 summer events might be the artists and performers.

Living Traditions Festival: May 15-June 26, 2021

Rather than holding one large event, this year, the 2021 Living Traditions Festival will consist of a series of events, at various outdoor locations, peppered throughout May and June. The modified festival will kick off May 15 at Washington Square. Events are free to the public to attend. 

While some portions of the festival will move online, you can expect the signature pieces of the event to remain intact, including artists demonstrating their unique cultural heritage through traditional song and dance and the food. The festival’s food market will return, with COVID-19 restrictions, and feature more than “a dozen culinary artists who present their unique and varied cultural delicacies.”

Some the other items on the schedule for the 2021 Living Traditions Festival:

  • The Chase Home Museum: Liberty Park (May 22), The Gateway (May 23) and the International Peace Gardens at Jordan Park (May 29) 
  • A Taste of Living Traditions: Washington Square (June 26)  

Festival updates will be posted on the Living Tradition’s social media pages. 

“There’s a vibrancy the live events bring to the city and community throughout the summer.”

Aimee Dunsmore, Utah Arts festival director

Pride Week 2021: June 1-7

The Utah Pride Center has the challenge of generating the sort of electric celebration of love we expect from Pride Week without the ability to throw massive, crowded events like the Festival and Parade that take over downtown Salt Lake City (at least with where current guidelines stand).

Utah Gay Pride to return in 2021, but summer events wont look the same.
Utah Pride Week will not have a parade in 2021. Photo by Christie Porter

Assuming those guidelines do not radically change prior to the first week of June, here’s the COVID-safe line-up for Pride Week 2021:

  • Pride Story Garden–Our History, Our Stories, Our Communities: The Pride Story Garden is an interactive outdoor exhibit on Washington Square that will continuously grow over a five-day period. To keep crowds safely distanced, the Story Garden will employ maze-like barriers and tickets will be date- and time-specific. The Utah Pride Center called on LGBTQ+ and BIPOC artists and creators and LGBTQ+ Restaurants and Bars to apply to be part of the Story Garden experience. Organizers also invited community members to submit tributes to people who are making a difference in LGBTQ+ lives. 
  • Pride in the Sky: A “loud and proud” nighttime fireworks display for all ages and communities.
  • Rainbow March & Rally—Raise Our Voices: The rally will start at the Capitol and proceed down State Street and Harvey Milk Boulevard 
  • Pride Month Proclamations and Flag raisings: Community leaders and legislators will come together to recognize June 1 as the start of Pride Month. 
  • Interfaith Service: A collaboration of different faith groups to bring a variety of spiritual communities together and connect with and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. 

“This incredible event will probably never happen again in this form and on this scale,” said Rob Moolman, Executive Director at the Utah Pride Center.

“It has been a nightmare to plan something through COVID,” he adds, “but we want to make sure our community stays safe as we bring them into the space as restrictions allow—which may or may not change.”

Given this time of unprecedented isolation, Moolman wants LGBTQ+ people to know there is a community out there for them, and Pride Week embodies that. “The Pride Festival allows for LGBTQ individuals to come out and present themselves and to see themselves represented and to see themselves period.”

All of the proceeds from the Pride Week Celebration support the Utah Pride Center’s outreach, mental health, educational and other programs. 

The center expects to release more information about the events come April. Of course, all planned events are subject to current COVID-19 restrictions, so stay up-to-date on any changes to Pride Week events by following the Utah Pride Center on social media

Utah Blues Festival: June 10-12

“The artists all want to play. They are 100% good to go,” says Tripp Hopkins, the organizer of the Utah Blues Festival, another perennial summer event in downtown Salt Lake City suffering from the same uncertainty. 

Utah Blues Festival hopes to return in 2021, along with other Utah summer events.
The 2021 Utah Blues Festival hopes to return to the Gallivan Center this summer as in previous years.

That said, the Utah Blues Society has written down the date in pencil, assuming the opening of vaccinations to all adults on April 1 allows for more freedom for outdoor public events by the first couple weeks of June. “It really comes down to people’s comfort levels and what the city and state health requirements are going to be,” explains Hopkins. 

In a normal year, the Utah Blues Festival attracts an all-ages crowd of 3,500 toe-tapping people to the Gallivan Center for three days. Hopkins says other blues festivals around the country have had to postpone indeterminately, but he, blues musicians and fans hope Utah won’t have to go the same way. “We have great partners and a great thing going, but our hands are tied,” he says. 

Hopkins appraises the coming summer with the sort of down-to-earth prescience that immediately strikes to the heart of the issue: “There’s a powder keg of people looking to get out and do something, but what if there’s nothing to do?” 

Utah Arts Festival: Aug. 27-29

The premier gathering of local and regional artists and creators looked like it might not happen again this year, but after a groundswell of outreach and support, the dates have been set.

Utah Arts Festival to return in 2021, along with other utah summer events
Live performances will return with the Utah Arts Festival this summer.

Organizers had to take a long, hard look at how they could hold a safe, in-person event in summer 2021. They conducted multiple surveys and the feedback they received from artists, partners, staff and the community was clear: people were enthusiastic about the possibility of a live, in-person event. Especially the artists. “The results were fairly consistent,” said Utah Arts Festival Director Aimee Dunsmore. “Artists have been shuttered for months. For a year now. They’re ready to get out and get back to normal.”

The surveys found 70% of the respondents would feel comfortable attending an in-person event in August, so they moved the dates of the Festival back to a time when we are more likely to have some certainty in regards to the pandemic. In addition to the later date, the Festival may look a little different than years past to follow the State Health Department’s recommendations.

Once again, we don’t have all of the details yet, but Dunsmore expects to have a smaller footprint this year and to limit the number of artists’ booths, allowing for more social distancing at Library and Washington Squares. 

The Utah Arts Festival will still provide an opportunity for a hands-on art experience, similar to the Children’s Art Yard of previous years. This year, participating groups will be smaller and people will have to make reservations in advance. 

“There’s nothing that replaces the in-person experience of our festival.”

Aimee Dunsmore, Utah Arts Festival Director

The 2021 Fear No Film screenings will also return to in-person this year at the Festival, but theater audiences will be smaller and more spread out. 

For those who might not feel comfortable attending an in-person event by August, the Festival will have a virtual element as well, including an online marketplace to view and purchase art.

“There’s nothing that replaces the in-person experience of our festival—walking around, seeing a piece of art or performance and making a connection,” Dunsmore explains. “For an artist, it’s the same thing, getting to connect to an audience.”  

The city and surrounding community have not been the same without live summer events like Utah Arts Festival. “There’s a vibrancy the live events bring to the city and community throughout the summer,” says Dunsmore. They’re also an economic driver, bringing business to downtown, hotel revenue and tax money to the state and city. 

“I think we’re all missing in-person events, and we all want to bring those back safely,” Dunsmore says. “The Utah Arts Festival is just one of the first in a line of summer events that happen in Salt Lake City.”

The void left by summertime events has only heightened the feelings of isolation throughout this past year. For many, their tentative return symbolizes something more than the sum of its parts, and it could provide the opportunity to reforge the connections to the community we lost.

“So far we’ve received very positive feedback to our announcement,” Dunsmore says. “We appreciate the support and love we feel from this community and we just want to honor that and keep that going.” 

2021 Twilight Concert Series

While the Salt Lake Arts Council is planning on a summer concert series, the exact shape it will take hasn’t been hammered out just yet. Felicia Baca, Executive Director Salt Lake City Arts Council released a statement saying, “we are extremely hopeful that we can return to gathering with another incredible lineup for the Twilight Concert Series this fall. We’ll be closely monitoring the health guidelines in our community and keeping the public safety of our touring musicians and fans in mind as we move forward with our plans.”

While you’re here, take a look at our latest print issue of Salt Lake magazine and check in for updates on 2021 summer events in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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