Madison’s rebranded and refocused June music festival has taken another hit. The Visit Madison Inc. Board of Directors Wednesday made the decision to cancel this year’s Madison River Jam music festival over ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s tightened restrictions on crowd sizes at public activities in Indiana.

Madison River Jam was scheduled for Saturday, June 13, with a one-day lineup of a mixture of local and regional musicians and one featured headliner that Visit Madison had been in negotiations with for months and was very close to inking a contract before making the tough call to cancel the event and turn its focus to bringing the music festival back in 2021.

“It is very unfortunate that we have had to make the decision to cancel Madison River Jam for the 2020 event season. We were well into the planning and rebranding of this event and were prepared to announce our lineup and launch ticket sales early next week,” said Katie Burress, event coordinator for Visit Madison. “Although it is disappointing, we feel that it is what’s best for our community at this time.

“I am thankful for the many people who played a role in the planning of Madison River Jam, the artists who had committed to perform at this year’s event, as well as the community members who have supported us throughout this transition,” Burress added. “The Visit Madison team is looking forward to hosting an event to bring the community together when event restrictions are lifted and are hopeful that the local and regional performers who were slotted to perform at Madison River Jam will be able to join us at this community event.”

According to Visit Madison Executive Director Tawana Thomas, there were just too many issues to risk what was being funded as a final effort to stage a spring music event in the community after Visit Madison pulled the plug on the former RiverRoots Folk Art & Music Festival last year. Facing weather challenges in recent years and a declining attendance, RiverRoots had struggled to break even in a community with an active local music scene and where other music festivals have thrived.

Visit Madison put up what was generally known as a final $40,000 allocation to rebrand and relaunch RiverRoots as River Jam, seeking to appeal to a wider audience and put the event on a better path to popularity and financial stability. Tourism officials said Thursday that they remain committed to that plan but with the uncertainty of a growing national health crisis and the shutdown of places where people gather, the timing was just not right this year, so the decision was made to cancel the event before a large chunk of money was officially committed to a performer who might not be allowed to appear and possibly would not reimburse that money depending on terms of the contract.

Thomas had said the group was in negotiations to sign a well-known, national performer who would appeal to a wide audience and give the festival immediate name recognition and an opportunity to succeed. She said Thursday, the performer the group had selected was vocalist/guitarist Phillip Phillips, winner of FOX network’s 11th season of American Idol in 2012.

“We were looking at an American Idol alumni — a winner — and negotiations were down to the signing stage,” Thomas said. “But with all the unknowns currently — the uknown is the hardest part to predict — we just couldn’t risk signing the contract. These people want their money up front and we don’t know what the future is going to be.”

Thomas noted that Madison’s vibrant music scene has already taken a hit because local bars, restaurants and venues who routinely host entertainers are unable to operate under current crowd restrictions. To attempt to stage a music festival, albeit an outdoor festival at Bicentennial Park, that hoped to draw thousands, carried too many risks both financially and for the health and well being of residents and tourists who might attend.

At the same time Thomas said Visit Madison wants to support the community’s local festivals and music scene because both are good for local businesses and the tourism industry as well as contributing to the quality of life in the community. She said Visit Madison is still hard at work preparing for when crowd restrictions are lifted and that she hopes some of the entertainers who had already committed to River Fest will consider appearing at a smaller-scale festival to be organized later this year if and when the health crisis subsides.

“We want to be ready for when the restrictions are lifted and stage a more localized, low-key outdoor event,” Thomas said. She also noted that Visit Madison remains committed to other events and festivals scheduled for later this year by which time organizers hope restrictions have been lifted.

“Visit Madison remains even more focused on the events that are still planned to occur later in the year and in 2021. As of today, Visit Madison and the event committees are on schedule to host the Madison Ribberfest BBQ & Blues on Aug. 21-22, 2020; 50th Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art on Sept. 26-27, 2020; Nights before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes on Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 4-5, 2020; and the Wonderland in the Park on Dec. 11-12, 2020,” the released said.

“We at Visit Madison promise to continue finding creative ways to promote tourism in Jefferson County, and to continue planning for the Visit Madison events we host,” Thomas said. “We hope you stay tuned for exciting line-up announcement news coming soon for Madison Ribberfest.”

Thomas also noted the tourism industry in Madison is bracing for a big hit this year overall. The health crisis is leading more and more people to stay at home — both tourists and local residents — so the challenge is for businesses to be more creative during the crisis and ready to serve people once its over, when she said people weary of staying home can finally can get out and go places.

“We have to get real creative and we have to be ready for when it’s lifted,” Thomas said. “I think our businesses on Main Street and the hilltop are already responding great to a tough situation. The curbside service most have implemented is brilliant and people in the community are still stepping up to support them.

“Our innkeepers are all taking a huge hit but we have things in place for the minute we are given the thumbs up to go back to business and some of our bed and breakfasts are still open,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of things tourists can do locally that don’t involve crowds like hiking at Clifty Falls and our riverfront parks. We just need to do our due diligence and be smart and compassionate and be ready for this too will pass.”