Op-Ed: Shows Are Back, But Questions Remain

Posted: by The Editor

As the increase of vaccinations and the decreasing numbers related to the COVID-19 pandemic have slowly allowed for more gatherings, the questions remain, when are “real” shows coming back and when will it actually be safe?

Many musicians were unable to tour and promote their new projects in the traditional way during the pandemic, and although many artists were resourceful with online sales, events, and live streamed shows, there is still a longing for the physical and oftentimes spiritual connection that artists have with their audience in a physical space. Not only that, but many artists depend on the sales they make through touring, and therefore they felt a huge financial impact during the pandemic with the end of that income stream. This left many artists in a tough position regarding their personal and professional life, some even giving up music all together. On the other side of the barrier, most fans of live music are craving the physical intimacy of being at a show and meeting people. Friendships and relationships form solely from being in the same venue, watching the same bands perform. The crossing of paths by being in a single venue is dearly missed by the fans who attended shows regularly, or even those who saw one great show a year.

Although both artists and fans want a return of live music, the questions that remain are important ones that should not be taken lightly. At the time that this article was written, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that fully vaccinated people “…can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, and local laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” While this is exciting news for those who are fully vaccinated, there are still many who can not risk even a slight chance of COVID even after vaccination, and more who were unable to be vaccinated at all, or live with someone who is unvaccinated.

Restrictions differ from state-to-state, but some states are beginning to “re-open” with plans to be “fully open” by summertime, which should include live music. For those who made the choice to be fully vaccinated, this presents some exciting opportunities for things to “return to normal.” However, the culture surrounding these events may not feel normal. With the possibility of limited capacity and social distancing, shows are going to feel very different and that may make some feel unsatisfied or uncomfortable. The same skin-against-skin or shoulder-to-shoulder pushed-up against the barrier kind of experience may not be accessible to people for a while in a COVID safe setting.

Even when shows do return in their pre-COVID form, there may be a foreign-ness to how to interact with strangers and music community members who we are not familiar with after all this time apart. For some genres where moshing and dancing are an integral part of the overall performance, there may be this feeling of something “missing” when these bands perform. For some people though, that craving for live music may be more a desire and present a willingness to shake-off that discomfort. 

There have recently been the announcements of major music festivals returning such as FEST in Gainesville, Florida, Riot Fest in Chicago, Illinois, Governor’s Ball in New York, New York, and Bonnaroo in Nashville, Tennessee. With many of these festivals being outside and with typical pre-pandemic attendees in the thousands, there is a concern about how these organizers will put these events on. On the Riot Fest website they claim that, “Safety measures regarding COVID-19 are a top priority for us this year. We care deeply about our fans, staff, and artists here at Riot Fest—their health and safety is, and will continue to be, our #1 priority moving forward.” with some precautions including “Extra sanitation & hand-washing stations across festival grounds—including entrances, bathroom areas, and merch tents. Additional cleaning & sanitation measures for bathrooms, water stations, and other applicable areas, and Full compliance with local and state regulations regarding health screenings and mask mandates.” However, with the excitement brewing around festivals, and for some states, indoor venues reopening with performances, there is this lingering question about what the experience will be like? What will the response to these performances be like? For some people who have people in their life who cannot be vaccinated or chose to not get the COVID-19 vaccine, what will their responses be like to re-openings when many of these re-openings are restricted to fully vaccinated people? It seems to be that these questions may only be answered when state and city restrictions are lifted on a case-by-case basis and those who are allowed to go to shows begin to return to venues. 

Yet, some people are already beginning to organize shows that clearly violate governmental restrictions. On April 24th, 2021, an estimated crowd of 2,000 attended a hardcore show with bands Madball, Wisdom in Chains and more, performing on an outdoor stage in Tompkin’s Square Park located in New York City. Photos taken at the event show many of the attendees did not adhere to city guidelines of social-distancing and wearing a mask. At that time, outdoor events were capped at 500 people, according to an article written by Gothamist, and yet the show clearly out dide that by thousands. These are exactly the sort of unregulated events that might lead to a further COVID outbreak.

Evidently, the passion for music and live performances still stands strong. The continuation of online events may still carry on even when touring comes back for some bands, but we do know that live music will return. We just don’t know how, when, or what it is even going to feel like. Yet what we know is that music is still a universal language that keeps this community together. No matter how we digest it, it is still a gift of a medium to be cherished, online, in person, or across the world.

Sarah Knoll| @slick_filmphoto

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