With 4,000 tickets sold and headlined by the likes of Paul Van Dyk, ATB, Swanky Tunes, and many more, GEM Fest was set to become a legendary moment for festivals and electronic music in the post-COVID-19 world. Coming all the way from Anaklia, Georgia to the Greek island of Zakynthos due to the low number of coronavirus cases in the Mediterranean country, GEM Fest was seemingly an unmissable experience.
The organizers vouched that social distancing measures were going to be enforced and testing would be in place in order to ensure the safety of attendees, who could escape from this wild world for three days and nights in a stunning seaside location from August 7th to 9th.
I was excited about covering the festival and I had a slew of questions about how exactly it was going to become reality. In early August, COVID-19 cases started rising drastically in Greece, and it was clear that we were likely experiencing the start of a second wave. After reading about new measures banning events and festivals and receiving word that the organizer decided to get married last second so we can legally have a party, I was clearly confused. I didn’t realize that one of the most interesting weekends of my life was ahead of me.
After arriving on the island, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together. Due to the recent spike in cases, there was no way for a festival to take place without being a threat to public health. Against all odds, however, the GEM Fest's organizer, Giorgi Sigua, decided to get married on the first night of the event and invite a legal number of guests and friends to celebrate with him—98 to be exact. Later that evening, we were invited to a scenic hill on the mountains of Keri, and while the celebratory wedding was taking place, we were in shock at whether or not this was all a dream or an actual, real experience.
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Afterward, we were invited to party on a makeshift area with lots of drinks and great music by some of the most prominent local Greek DJs. In an uncanny setup, the DJ table was interestingly constructed on the edge of the cliff and we could only sit on rocks and dirt—but, strangely enough, it all worked out. The local authorities seemed not too fond of what was happening, but the setting was perfectly legal. According to the new measures enforced by the government, weddings in Greece are allowed as long as they accommodate less than 100 guests.
It's important to note that all ticket-holders have been informed that they are able to receive full refunds or exchange their ticket for GEM Fest's 2021 or 2022 events.
And that’s when it all clicked in my head—while I was dancing on a hill in Zakynthos with people I don’t know, celebrating the wedding of a festival organizer I’ve never met, I realized that this is what feeling the need to party and having a good time means in a post-COVID-19 world.
Sigua didn’t want to cancel a festival he tried so hard to plan, but he was forced to in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Throughout all the randomness of the weekend, I understood him—he just wanted to have fun. Against all odds, he managed to gather a small community of likeminded people around him who wanted to have a good time, and he was ready to do everything in his power to keep the last flame of what was supposed to be a festival alive, even if that meant getting married.