WTF!: When do we get our concerts?


Photo by Nainoa Shizuru from Unsplash

Cody Wagner, Entertainment Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic created many restrictions for the music industry and prevented live performances. However, as more people receive the vaccine music lovers are wondering when concerts will return. 


As we enter into spring music lovers are hopeful outdoor shows will continue once again. States such as Texas and Mississippi have recently lifted their mask mandates and allowed venues to host events at full capacity, which can be seen as an act of promise to some or an act of stupidity to others. No matter how you look at the situation musical performances/events are at a standstill right now as so much uncertainty, as well as optimism, floats through the minds of music executives and artists alike. This lingering fear of cancellation has made it difficult for artists to express their creativity to their fans on a personal basis as well as interactive one. Fans wish to engage with artists during their performances as they bring a whole other level of investment and intrigue to their presentation. What we’ve been left with throughout last year and into this year, is livestream performances by various artists which brings forth fan presentation and interaction, but the scene itself is interpreted much differently as the act is viewed through a visceral screen rather than an in person experience. This creates disconnection as audience members are not only able to experience the concert in person, but are also disconnected from other like minded fans who wish to express similar appreciation. All these factors are the underlying effects brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic which has left the music industry in shambles and artists are left craving for live representations of their creative genius that is yet to be expressed onstage. 


Live Nation’s CEO Michael Rapino stated, “a clear outline to a 75% to 100% capacity for outdoor U.S. events in 2021 was looking likely to be green-lit.” Michael Dorf of City Winery said, “I would say in the summer we’re going to start to see some re-opening of venues, outdoor dining of course, because of the weather. In the fall, I think we’re going to be back with some limited capacity.” (SPIN magazine, Turman par. 1)


Guitarist Brian Head Welch of the infamous nu-metal band Korn said, “The big shows, and common sense will tell you that getting 10,000 people into a place doesn’t look too promising for this year, but you never know.”  (Blabbermouth par.2)


Music venues have several factors to consider in deciding when and how they will reopen. The vaccine distribution, mask mandates and how to enforce them and social distancing are some of the decisions the venues need to make. 


 “The Forge” in Joliet, Illinois is one of my favorite music venues in the Chicagoland area. I have seen planned events from their social media accounts recently, relaying the message that they will host events starting this upcoming month with a limited capacity and other COVID-19 restriction guidelines. These and other live venues will implement this strategy to ensure the excitement and overall success of their businesses. Small venues such as “The Forge” provide a gateway back into musical presentation while also ensuring a limited capacity of people. Rather than gathering 20,000 people in an arena it’s safe to assume that much control as well as reinforcement can be concluded based on audience size and scale. Small venues are able to hold a maximum number of people depending on the size of the area. This in turn allows for safe social distancing actions to be implemented and an appropriately sized audience to maintain the safety and well being of the fan base. Masks however are a different story. This could be one troublesome area as many people rebel against the mandatory mask mandate, but as a response venues can permit people to leave if the proper instructions are not followed through. All of these factors depend on the venue itself and whether these restrictions are heavily enforced. 


While some of these establishments see an opportunity with a limited capacity to maintain economic advantage, others such as Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge in New York have differing opinions as their state Gov. Andrew Cuomo has recently allowed for music venues to have limited capacity beginning in April. (Schaffner par.3)


Another name to mention regarding this topic is Alan Cross, a canadian radio broadcaster and host of the highly acclaimed podcast “Ongoing History of New Music.” His influence and knowledge of all things music is beyond extraordinary. This week I was able to interview Cross, We touched upon the topic of concerts within 2021 at one point as I wanted to see his outlook on the subject. His viewpoint regarding the subject was honest and thorough as his vast knowledge of all things music as well as the industry itself has been a major influencer within his life. Through his response Cross was able to give a detailed explanation of various factors that many wouldn’t even consider while also shedding light on some aspects within the industry that surprised me to a great extent. Cross identified various factors that need to be considered and should be considered by not only fans but individuals working within the music industry as well. Opinions such as his as well as other music enthusiasts should be kept in high regard due to their experience and understanding of the field. Cross’s interpretation exemplifies the understanding of both fans, artists, and music media personnel alike as they are all struggling to meet demands due to an influential and dangerous factor that has left our country and its people in disarray. 


Cross stated in the interview that, “we’re not gonna switch and go back suddenly. We’re gonna go back to concerts and live performances very gradually, and it’s all gonna depend on the virus and its variants as well as vaccination rates and the political climate.” This quote can be directly connected with the idea of small venues hosting such concerts as they could potentially provide the gateway into bringing back concerts in a slow and cautious approach. I agree with Cross’s statement because factors such as audience size, vaccination rates, and possible mandatory mask implementations are all things to be considered when dealing with a large scale audience as such events are embedded in a time where a ferocious and deadly virus lurks around every corner. The safety and well-being of concerts especially its participants is the number priority to think about especially during this bleak and questionable period we reside in currently. Event planning organizations such as Live Nation must throughout assess the situation and all the possible outcomes that could occur if concerts do occur so fans can have an exhilarating experience while also implementing precautionary measures to ensure a safe and healthy environment.  Many factors must be considered before making any decisions focusing on what could possibly happen rather than what will happen.


Cross also shared another piece of advice that provided even more insight into the situation. Through this next piece of information I was able to understand the issue on another level that I never even acknowledged or made aware of before. It touched upon an issue within the music industry itself deferring from the management companies and artists themselves, presenting focus on another issue that still remains deeply impacted from the long term effects the virus has created within our economic and societal structure. This quote relates to the people involved within the music industry, shedding light on an issue that is affecting thousands as we speak. Even though the specific field is music, I believe that everyone can relate to this issue as it centers upon the overall impact the virus has created for hard working Americans who wish to make an everyday earning encompassing a degree of hard work ethic and success that took many months or even years to achieve. 


“It’s not just musicians that are affected by this, but other jobs in the music industry as well such as roadies, and people who rent sound and light equipment and people who tend bars at music venues,” Cross said. “They all are affected.” 

The lack of money, manpower, and resources all play major roles in not only the events themselves but people’s careers. I was also able to learn from Cross that Live Nation’s revenue has decreased by 95% since the pandemic. That is a pretty high number while also considering the fact that many careers related to the field are currently caught in the crossfire. These and other jobs in this field have been caught in a never-ending cycle of fear, optimism, and inevitability because of this pandemic. These individuals’ careers and the future of live events is still waiting to unfold as many eagerly await the effects and distribution of the COVID vaccine.


 As states enforce different laws regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the process of vaccination distribution is still underway many see these performance decisions as a either hope for a brighter future or a backlash of bodily destruction. Whatever your views are regarding the subject there is not a clear and concise answer about the return of concerts in 2021. While many remain hopeful for the return of such events there is still the fear of safety. Will we only get to witness live performances through going to bars or restaurants? Or will the thrills and excitement of major live performances reappear at our local concert venues?


My own opinion regarding the subject remains to be seen as the new year brings about promising change such as the vaccine but also instills fear due to the newest strain of the virus that could potentially spread to even a deadlier degree. I do believe that if concerts were to be reintegrated into our society then factors such as vaccination rates, social distancing, and mask mandates must be kept in consideration. Small scale venues such as “The Forge” should reopen its doors to provide a starting point by having a limited capacity of attendees in a secured and remote area. Through this integration process fans can experience live music once again while also allowing for an appropriately sized audience that can be contained and regulated. This process should be studied by professionals from major music industries to determine the effects of a small scale audience compared to a large scale audience. If larger venues such as stadiums and arenas were to be applied then the action of a required vaccination should be thought upon. In order to enter a large scale venue proof of a vaccine might need to be presented through either a code found on your phone or an official document stating that you received the vaccine proving that someone is at lower risk of obtaining the virus. While people cannot be forced into getting the vaccine I can see this measure being implemented as a strategy to ensure the overall safety of the attendees. The idea of smaller venue participation could be an inventive and intelligent start as the process would continually grow over time depending on the distribution of the vaccines and the rate at which people are receiving them. I’ve already seen scheduled events posted on The Forge’s social media accounts relaying the message that they plan to bring back live performances, by doing this it not only helps to improve their business during this scarce and optimistic era, but also to allow for the impact of such events to unfold once more while setting specific guidelines into place. I plan to attend an event at “The Forge” next week and through this attendance I will be able to witness how a small scale area will handle this issue, while also experiencing the liveliness and excitement of a real interactive performance.


For more information regarding the future of concerts for 2021 and music enthusiasts in depth opinions check out the links below.