BY: JOEY REAMS
A year into the pandemic means a year without live music. No, we’re not talking about drive-in concerts or virtual concerts. We mean an in-person, shoulder to shoulder with a stranger, waiting for your favorite song concert.
Some countries have already been able to host concerts and festivals without participants having to wear masks. America, on the other hand, has faced a year of backlash and underground shows that often result in arrests and citations. This month, however, has seen two events announced towards the end of 2021, essentially signifying the start of live music events in America again. While some are still hesitant about opening things up too soon, it begs the question: how close is America to having concerts again?
Opening Back Up
Earlier this month, Life is Beautiful announced the festival is set to take place in Las Vegas in mid-September, making it the first festival in the country with an announced lineup. Additionally, Dinosaur Jr. also announced a tour at the end of the year to celebrate their upcoming album, Sweep It Into Space. However, the band won’t embark on the west coast side of the tour until February 2022. Of course, other smaller bands across the country are planning or are already on local tours, but Dinosaur Jr. is the first major rock band to make this announcement. These announcements illustrate that musicians are ready to hit the road again and perform live music for their fans.
There is no telling what either of these events is going to look like. Dinosaur Jr. hasn’t released any new details on the nature of their concerts or if the venues will take any precautions. Justin Weigner, partner of Life is Beautiful music festival, has already made it clear that extra precautions will be taken.
“Almost certainly there will be new protocols, as the world has shifted around us, that we’ll implement to ensure the health and safety of the guest, but I don’t think anybody knows specifically what those are just yet,” said Weniger.
We can only assume some of the Life is Beautiful music festival’s precautions will come from what has been done at other events. These precautions include temperature checks, designated group areas, masks, or even proof of vaccination shots.
On top of that, Mississippi and Texas have recently lifted their mask mandate and are allowing businesses, concerts to operate at full capacity. Both governors raised the order earlier this month.
“Starting tomorrow, we are lifting all of our county mask mandates, and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules,” said Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves. “Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed.”
Businesses and individuals may take extra precautions if they feel the need to. Still, the state is “not going to continue to use the heavy hand of government when it is no longer justified by the reality we see around us,” according to Reeves.
Based on all of this, it is clear both bands, states, and businesses are all ready to get going again. All a state needs to reopen for live events is low case numbers, high vaccine distribution, a willing governor, and possibly some precautions. So, does this mean America is ready to get live music events started again? Let’s take a look at what other countries are doing and how they are handling the situation.
Concerts Are Happening
New Zealand is the first country to come to mind for live events. The government has been well-regarded for its quick and efficient response to the pandemic. This has resulted in a faster-than-average ability to host live music events, which they have been since December of last year. A month later, 20,000 music fans came together in Waitangi, New Zealand, for the single largest concert since the pandemic started. None of these events have required participants to wear masks or practice social distancing. At the time, there were only roughly 80 active cases in the entire country (which has a population of little less than 5 million).
A month later, Aukland went into an emergency 3-day lockdown when three unexplained coronavirus cases were discovered. It’s unclear whether or not this variant came from the concert, but it goes to show even the best-handled country is still susceptible to outbreaks.
“I’m asking New Zealanders to continue to be strong and to be kind,” Ardern said at a press conference. “I know we all feel the same way when this happens. We all get that sense of ‘Not again.’ But remember, we have been here before, and that means we know how to get out of this again, and that is together.”
The United Kingdom is in conversation about having music festivals return in 2021 as well. Despite one of the virus’s variants coming from the U.K., the country believes the vaccine rollout has been significant enough to start planning. One of the largest festivals in that area is the Isle of Wright Festival, which usually occurs in June. Isle Of Wight Festival boss John Giddings has even hinted that his event could return this summer if half of the audience were vaccinated.
“I think you’d probably need for 50 percent of the audience to be vaccinated and for 50 percent to be able to get a test in a very short period of time, like five-to-10 minutes,” Giddings told NME in January. “I don’t think that’s unrealistic. Isle Of Wight Festival is six months away, it’s no tomorrow. I just want to help accelerate the process.”
As more and more countries and states begin to recover from the pandemic, it begins to look evident that live music is making a return. It seems the two requirements for this to happen are low case rate and high vaccine distribution, as mentioned before. So what is stopping America from hosting more concerts?
America’s 50 State Problem
America is facing a problem that many other countries do not have to face. The country is split amongst 50 states, each having its own regulations. Because of this, it is challenging to say precisely when concerts will be returning to America in their entirety. If the country was one entity, and case rates are declining as a whole, and vaccine rollouts are flowing throughout, we would have a better idea of when concerts will return.
The CDC recently came out with guidelines for “those who are planning a large event, such as sporting events, concerts, festivals, conferences, parades, or weddings.” These guidelines include risk factors to consider, tips to reduce spread, maintaining healthy environments and operations, and what to do if anyone gets sick during or after attending an event.
Despite the 50 states issue, case rates are dropping throughout the country, and vaccine rollouts have swept across the entire nation. President Joe Biden even promises to have every adult vaccinated by the end of May. This means there’s a possibility we can see concerts by the end of this year. Even Dr. Fauci says this can happen by the end of 2021.
“If everything goes right, this will occur sometime in the fall of 2021,” Fauci said, “so that by the time we get to the early to mid-fall, you can have people feeling safe performing onstage as well as people in the audience.”
This is great news. All we have to do is continue to do our part in social distancing, obtaining the vaccine, and being conscience when we can. Unfortunately, there is still one last aspect that will hold concerts back from happening in America. This is the difference between Texas and California. Opinion. Some states, such as Mississippi and Texas, evidently believe their states are ready for full-capacity concerts. Other states, such as California and New York, believe they are still relatively struggling with the pandemic. The decision is left up to the state’s governors, which has led many residents to disagree with their state officials.
This goes for bands as well. While Dinosaur Jr. feels confident in hitting the road this year, some may still have their fears. Of course, most bands are dying to get back on the road and play for their fans. But if the circumstances weren’t right, it could leave some bands to postpone until 2022. Rage Against the Machine, for example, has rescheduled its tour for the summer of 2021. The band wants to make this tour happen, but at the same time, they also came out and said they would only play in front of a packed audience.
“It’s stressful for me, just because I look at Rage and go, like, ‘Fuck, we rely on an audience,'” bassist Tim Commerford told TooFab. “You go to Rage shows to see the audience as much as to see the band, and we need that. We’re one of those bands that need that. We’ll never be one of these sellouts that’s gonna go play a drive-in show or play a venue that holds 100,000 people, and there’s only 10,000 people there. That’s bullshit. Rage will never do that. It’s not a good show unless the audience is going off too. It’s gotta be a shared experience.”
As a result, the band has further postponed shows in certain states, which won’t allow for this with their current regulations, including California, Washington, and Wisconsin.
So when you start to hear concerts are beginning to open back up, understand that it’s starting to, but that doesn’t mean we are in the clear. While case rates continue to drop and vaccines continue to rollout, we must continue to do our part while we can.
Unfortunately, we won’t have concerts entirely back to what they were until the entire country is on the same page with case rates and vaccine distribution. Until then, a handful of states will begin to open up, and other festivals will be announced, as well as more band tours. This doesn’t mean the country is out of its troubles. It means we are getting closer and closer to normality. We most likely won’t see a full-fledged festival season until 2022.