December 7, 2021

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Post-coronavirus concerts could look very different

When concerts eventually resume, fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could make for a dramatically different experience.

Seats might be blocked off to allow for social distancing, temperature checks are a possibility, hand sanitizer stations will likely be plentiful and masks could even be required in some venues to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, music industry veterans say. 

While a number of performances that had been set for March and April were pushed to the summer, there’s a serious doubt among some insiders that live music will fully return before 2021. A shortage of tests and the lack of a vaccine simply make things too risky, says Travis Rieder, assistant director of education initiatives and research scholar at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

“Attending a Beyonce concert? I can’t imagine that happening until we have a vaccine,” Rieder told USA TODAY. “The risk of those events as we would have done them in the past outweighs the benefit of doing them. We are flexible creatures. We’re going to have to do things differently. We can find ways to do the things we love.”

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Venues used by big-name touring acts such as Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters and the Jonas Brothers often seat more than 20,000 people. That makes contact tracing, should an attendee report having coronavirus, virtually impossible, Rieder says.

Bon Jovi has canceled its summer 2020 tour.

While elected officials have said science should be the primary decider on when life returns to normal, Rieder says it’s not really that easy.

“This is really hard,” he says. “We’re hearing a lot today that this is a science question. We think that’s only partially true. It’s an admirable answer, but it’s really about trading off values.

“We want decision makers to really think through what are the benefits and burdens under each set of policies.”

Getting performers back on stage

Right now, music industry professionals from across the nation – bookers, promoters, security personnel, venue executives – are huddling, attempting to come up with best practices to get performers back on stage.

Whenever that happens, music lovers should be ready for big changes, says Karly Tuckness, co-founder of Four Leaf Productions, a new firm started this year by veterans of C3 Presents, the company behind Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. 

Among the precautions she predicts “in the short term” are hand-washing and sanitizer stations, requiring attendees to wear masks and temperature checks at gates.

“Some of these things may become the new normal, some may phase out over time,” Tuckness says.

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The solution will differ depending on the type of event, according to Scott Davidson, president of Code 4 Event Management and Emergency Services, a firm that works with a broad range of organizers.

“A tightly controlled movie night in the park has a very different epidemiological risk profile than an EDM music festival in the same location,” he says.

At some events, guests may be asked to register to help with contact tracing efforts.  Davidson plans for additional safety training for venue staff and educational signage for patrons. 

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When it comes to creating 6 feet of space between attendees, things get a little more difficult, Tuckness says.

“While our industry is nimble and responsive, physical distancing may be hard to achieve at a large music event,” she says.

Venues could keep open seats or rows to create space between people. Or reduce capacity “to help spread people out while still achieving the collective experience attendees crave,” she says. 

The safety and sanitation lessons learned as a result of the coronavirus will come in handy when it comes to preparing for what the future may hold, Davidson says.

“Just as we did after (the) terrorist attacks of 9/11, we must continue to apply these lessons learned to enhance our preparedness for the next threat to our industry and community,” he says.

John Legend is one of many performers who’ve streamed performances during the coronavirus pandemic. Experts say livestreaming concerts could become more common.

Kevin Lyman, who founded the Vans Warped Tour in 1995, has seen a lot during his time in the industry. He says the current pandemic could lead a number of performers and festivals to go online. One of his events, the 320 Festival featuring performers such as Social House and Lindsey Stirling, had been set to take place in Los Angeles but will now be livestreamed instead.

“We were on such a treadmill of touring, and I think some of the online ideas were always an afterthought and not given much attention,” he says. “However, this was such a shock to the whole ecosystem of the business. It is now opening many opportunities to explore this medium.”

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Most people will still crave the live experience, Lyman says, but he predicts watching online could be the new norm for as many as 10% of concertgoers.

“I believe that some are carving out a niche and will prosper post-COVID-19,” he says.

Small venues face similar issues

While making larger venues safe has been a focus for many, owners of smaller live music venues across the country are struggling, too.

In Milwaukee, Linneman’s Riverwest Inn remains closed and owner Jim Linneman isn’t sure when it will reopen. Whenever that is, he knows big changes are ahead.

“Bars and live music venues like mine require people to survive,” he says. “Unfortunately, people are the host, or carriers, of this awful virus. So nightclubs must adapt until the vaccine or cure is found.”

Temperature checks could soon be the norm at concerts.

Linneman says temperature checks are likely at the door, as well as hand sanitizer stations. At the bar, he plans to install plexiglass to protect bartenders. Some bar stools will be removed to create distance. Waitstaff will wear gloves and masks and drinkware will likely be disposable plastic instead of glass.

He plans to install equipment to stream shows as well, catering to those unwilling to venture out but still willing to pay to see musicians perform.

“Live music has always been some of the best entertainment you can lay your eyes on,” he says. “We believe worries of the virus may be around for some time, so we decided to install a multi-camera livestreaming setup so those who are still worried can watch and listen to the show from the comfort of home.”

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Performers who play smaller venues are feeling the pinch, Lyman says. That’s because up to 70% of their earnings come from touring.

“It is the working band that is suffering since they depend on the majority of their income from the road,” he says. “In talking to people at management companies, it has become very apparent how important the road is for their artists. To have that (income) vanish overnight was a real shock.”  

Some may never again feel safe at live shows

Even when restrictions are lifted by state and local authorities, some Americans may not want to leave home, according to a recent survey. 

Performance Research polled 1,000 people and found that 44% of respondents said they planned to attend fewer events. Indoor events were a concern for more folks than outdoor events, the survey found.

A poll found that concertgoers were less concerned about outdoor venues, such as the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, than they were about indoor venues.

Allison Wollam of Houston has tickets to two concerts that have been rescheduled, but she’s not sure if she’ll attend.

“I probably won’t go to concerts until we see a significant drop in cases of COVID-19 and medical experts give the green light, even if concerts resume,” she says. “I don’t think it would be too much fun to attend a concert while practicing social distancing and wearing a mask.”

Wollam’s father has cancer, so she’s been especially cautious during the coronavirus pandemic in case she’s called upon to help him. That’s made her look at the concert experience from a different perspective.

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“I used to love standing down in front at concerts and singing along with everyone, but now that doesn’t seem appealing at all,” she says.

Those in the music industry know a lot of folks have opinions similar to those held by Wollam, but they anticipate it will only be an issue temporarily.

“I think we’re desperate to get back out there, to have shared experiences that move us,” Tuckness says. “That’s why you see people on their balconies playing music or singing together.

“Music is best shared with others. You can’t deny the power of seeing a performance live, hearing thousands of people sing together or break out into dance and that magnetic energy that is unique to coming together, in person.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: When concerts return, expect a much different experience

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