The following article appeared in yesterday’s edition of The Daily Times in my weekly Rock Music Menu column under the title “Unfortunately, in-person live music won’t be returning anytime soon.”
States across the country are beginning to reveal their plans to reopen in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, hoping to restore some sense of normalcy and boost the economy. Though it remains to be seen if those movements were premature, one element of life that will not be coming back in the near future are live concerts – at least in the way we remember.
It was the middle of March when most artists were forced off the road due to the shutdown of venues coast to coast as the severity of the Covid-19 spread was realized. Destination festivals came next, with some like Coachella and Bonnaroo rescheduling to a later date, while others like Firefly and Governors Ball opting to cut their losses and cancel this year’s edition completely.
Here and around the world, planned tours for the summer from Foo Fighters to Bon Jovi to Phish were moved to 2021 or aborted for the foreseeable future. And those still listed as a go at press time, like the hotly anticipated reunion of Motley Crue – packaged with Def Leppard and Poison – scheduled to kick off next month, are expected to announce a change any day now.
The big problem is many of the events being moved to later dates are giving fans a sense of false hope. According to some experts, it could be well into next year before we see any mass gatherings of people in venues or anywhere else.
Dr. Zeke Emanuel, Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and Director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times during an April roundtable that he didn’t expect concerts to happen until late next year – and even that might be too early.
“Larger gatherings – conferences, concerts, sporting events – when people say they’re going to reschedule this conference or graduation event for October 2020, I have no idea how they think that’s a plausible possibility,” he said. “I think those things will be the last to return. Realistically we’re talking fall 2021 at the earliest.”
Still, many people are happily purchasing concert tickets for late summer and early fall of this year, or excitedly talking about attending rescheduled dates in the same window. But why? Part of the reason may be the mixed messages coming from politicians on the federal and state levels, an issue that has plagued the United States since the very onset of the novel coronavirus.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson have been practically falling over one another in recent days to see whose state will have live shows first. The former said concerts could resume early as this past Monday as part of his “Show Me Strong” plan to reopen the state. Fortunately, local officials and venue managers have thus far remained steadfast in relying on common sense and calls for widespread caution by the scientific community.
Arkansas, on the other hand, is a mess. Gov. Hutchinson has allowed for the return of gatherings of no more than 50 people inside of venues beginning May 18. The owner of Temple Live in Fort Smith, however, has another idea, putting tickets on sale for an acoustic show by Travis McCready of country rockers Bishop Gunn set to take place at the 1,100-seat venue on May 15. The capacity of the site will be reduced by 80 percent to 229 with other social distancing measures put in place.
Whether the Temple Live gig goes off is debatable at this point, but if by some miracle that backwards endeavor comes to pass, it will be a likely indication of how things may be going forward. Gone for now are the days where concertgoers are so packed into a venue that they can’t move. Shows will be sold well under capacity and there may be more early evening and late shows so that acts can make as much money and play to as many people as possible.
There’s also a level of responsibility an artist needs to take in the present if the venue owners and promoters focus on the bottom line rather than fan safety. Singer/songwriter Ben Folds took to his official Facebook page late last month to pen a lengthy statement where he stressed the importance of removing controllable doubt. He suggested taking shows off the books if there is a question of them happening and removing the “wait and see” approach that negatively affects ticket buyers, road crews and promoters with the objective to “shed as much of that uncertainty as possible.”
“One city may experience what seems like complete recovery just as another in a neighboring state is seeing an uptick in cases,” he said. “It would be irresponsible to incentivize music fans to travel from where there was a cancelled show in an infected area, to attend a show in an infection-free area.”
Where that leaves music lovers and the millions who enjoy live music isn’t then so much a wait and see but rather a wait it out. Hold off until it’s safe and not a moment sooner.
“Here’s what I say,” Folds wrote in closing. “Let’s get through this and look forward to a time when we can begin the next phase of that long road to recovery. When we can party like it’s 2021 and not like it’s 1918. When we can sing those three-part harmonies with healthy lungs. That is when live music will be able to step in and do its part to heal and inspire. Until then, please stay safe, and remember, no matter how bad it gets, the most comforting certainty is that all this too shall pass.”