Coronavirus wreaking havoc on local event planners

hot air balloons
The Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival announced the festival that draws more than 25,000 people each year to Lake Skinner has been canceled for 2020. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which as of Sunday afternoon, was closing in on 30,000 cases nationwide, has wreaked havoc on communities all over the country.

Here in our region, cities and local organizations are having to reschedule and even cancel events that many in the community look forward to each year.

Avocado Festival
The Fallbrook Avocado Festival, which was scheduled for April 19, was canceled recently by the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce. The annual festival generally draws more than 100,000 people each year. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Earlier this month, the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce canceled the annual Avocado Festival which draws more than 100,000 people each year. Just last week, the 10th annual Reality Rally in Temecula announced it would be canceling the fundraiser that benefits Michelle’s Place Cancer Resource Center.

Another large event planned in town was able to pivot and reschedule. Temecula Blues Festival, originally scheduled for the middle of April, will now be held Oct. 17.

Perhaps the highest profile event of them all, the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival, has been rescheduled for September 25-27.

According to a press release, the TVBWF board and staff made this difficult decision based on the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and the California Department of Public Health recommendations.

“While we remain hopeful that the drastic moves made by our state and local governments will curtail the outbreak, the health and safety of the community, Festival guests, participants, and partners is our number one priority,” Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival executive director Stacey Ellison said. “It is out of an abundance of caution that we are rescheduling the 2020 event to September. The Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival will return to its traditional dates for 2021.”

Easily one of the most popular events in the region, the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival draws more than 25,000 people to Lake Skinner Recreation Area each year.

The event generally features more than 20 wineries offering tastings, craft breweries, vendors and two stages with live concert entertainment.

people holding wine bottles
The Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival has been rescheduled for September. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Old Town Blues Club owner Andy Doty who produces the Old Town Blues Festival, said people who had already purchased tickets for the event’s April date will be able to use their tickets for the rescheduled date.

As for the lineup, he said all of the originally booked bands are scheduled to attend.

“Only the headliner, which is a band from Europe, is a maybe, but it looks like they will be able to come since it’s so far out,” Doty said.

Because the event was to be held in front of Temecula Civic Center, Doty was forced to make the move after the city canceled all events through the end of April.

On Friday, March 13, the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce canceled the upcoming 34th Avocado Festival amid coronavirus fears. The festival was scheduled for April 19.

“Although this ban is currently through March, (Newsom) conveyed it could foreseeably be extended,” Lila MacDonald, CEO of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, said in an email statement at the time. “We feel in the best interest of the community, our vendors and volunteers that we cancel this event.”

Just three days earlier, the Coachella Art and Music Festival was postponed from its usual two-weekend-run in April to October due to concerns about the growing coronavirus.

The festival’s producer Goldenvoice also confirmed that Stagecoach, a country music festival, will also be postponed. Coachella will now take place Oct. 9-11 and Oct. 16-18, while Stagecoach will take place Oct. 23-25.

Closer to home, Reality Rally, which was scheduled for May 14-16 was canceled Wednesday, March 19, by founder Gillian Larson. The event, dubbed “Fun for Funds,” is a three-day fun event-filled weekend with dozens of reality television show stars that come to Temecula to participate each year.

Reality Rally participants
The 10th annual Reality Rally in Temecula was canceled recently by founder Gillian Larson. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

“Yesterday I spoke with our board, and we just decided there’s no way we can keep waiting to let people know and we just needed to cancel,” Larson said. “If there was some strange possibility that the virus had gone away and everybody was back to normal, it’s hard to pull an event together within a week. Secondly, I don’t feel it would have been a good thing for us to encourage people to come to a busy, crowded event and also to spend money buying tickets. Everybody’s going to be strapped.

“So many people are losing their jobs and their income – restaurants, etcetera – so I thought there’s no reason to keep waiting. Now we just have to look forward to next year.”

Larson, who appeared on the CBS hit television show “Survivor” came up with the idea for the fundraiser that includes an “Amazing Race”-style event that has participants running through the streets of Old Town Temecula to complete tasks.

Over the past nine years, Reality Rally has raised more than a half-million dollars for the nonprofit.

“The donations will stay with Michelle’s Place because they’ve already been coming through since November,” Larson said. “Who knows what the amount is that we will not make this year. But the fundraising amounts that have been done so far, and I think it’s also lower than usual, for several reasons and because people backed off starting to even sign up several weeks ago as the coronavirus thing started hitting.”

Larson said as disappointing as it is to have to cancel the event after doing all the work to put it together and now taking it apart this year, she isn’t too upset.

“I don’t worry about stuff,” she said. “To me, this is what happens in life.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at