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What will Live Music Venues Look Like After Lockdown?

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People watching a concert in a dimmed area outside with orange lighting.
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The day everything got shut down in March was the day before I had tickets to see one of my favorite artists, Grace Potter, live. One day, I was preparing to go downtown to a venue I had never been to before, and the next, gatherings of over fifty people were banned. Potter said the remaining shows on her tour would be postponed. But when will concerts happen again?

Live music is a strange concept to think about after six months of pandemic quarantine. Being packed together with other fans on a hot, sweaty, crowded dance floor is not the best situation to be in when we’re supposed to be six feet apart. Singing along to your favorite songs is a high-risk activity.

Breathing all over strangers might never feel like a normal experience again. The pandemic will surely impact live music, and the way it will be able to happen again will be different from concerts we’ve been to before.

Many people watching a concert in the dark outside in front of a auditorium with blue lighting and  orange lighting with a + symbol and an X next to each other.
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Struggling Venues

With concerts postponed or canceled for the foreseeable future, music venues are struggling. A dramatic decrease in income has the potential to forever change the landscape of where we see live music. In Oregon, the government distributed 50 million dollars to venues and art organizations.

Famous and iconic venues, such as the 9:30 Club in DC, might be forced to permanently close due to lack of funds and revenue. One of Nashville’s most iconic venues, The Bluebird Cafe, is famous due to its intimate shows that have the audience basically seated next to the artist. Of course, in pandemic times this is almost a laughable idea.

“I think we could reopen at a limited capacity, sort of spiritually, but economically there has to be a break-even,” says general manager Erika Wollam Nichols. “We already have a very thin margin.”

The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which is a group made up of over 2,000 venues, is calling on Congress to pass the RESTART Act, which would provide relief for small businesses. NIVA has also started the Emergency Relief Fund and is asking Congress and music fans alike to help save their stages.

Although there are folks out there fighting hard for live music, it is possible that with significantly fewer independent venues, live music will look very different once we are allowed to see shows again. The economic downturn due to COVID-19 isn’t over yet, and it is probable that venues will continue to suffer.

Lots of people watching a concert outside of a studio with a man playing a guitar with a brown backpack on him.
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Innovations in live music

Drive-in concerts have gained popularity in recent months. Artists from Blake Shelton to Nelly have booked drive-in shows, where fans drive their cars up to a designated tailgating zone. Social distancing and masks are encouraged. It is likely that this will become a new way to see live shows; although less intimate than typical live shows, it is an alternative that prioritizes safety for concertgoers and artists.

However, that all depends on those gatherings happening safely: a Chainsmokers concert in the Hamptons in late July is under investigation because footage of the show displays a complete lack of social distancing. Although other drive-in concerts have been done successfully, there is still some risk associated with shows like these.

Another new form of “live” music performances is live streaming. Hosting award shows and normal concerts through live streams has become an avenue for artists to continue playing for their fans. Grace Potter, the artist I was supposed to see in March, started doing “Twilight Hour” live streams every Monday evening on YouTube.

There have also been virtual concerts with multiple big-name artists performing, including the Together at Home virtual relief concert put on by Global Citizen, which raised money for COVID-19 relief. Kevin Lyman, the founder of the Vans Warped Tour, predicts that live-streamed concerts could become the new normal for 10% of concertgoers, even after the pandemic has ended. “I believe that some are carving out a niche and will prosper post-COVID-19,” Lyman says.

When?

Unfortunately, industry experts and healthcare professionals don’t foresee live music returning until at least 2021. It’s also not the biggest priority for health officials, which makes sense—a vaccine, better treatments, and better testing are more important right now.

“It’s certainly not very high on my list of concerns as far as a return to normalcy, as much as I like a good Elton John concert,” says Peter Bach, Director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes. Factors that could shift this timeline would be better testing or a vaccine, but that’s unlikely to come before 2021—most health officials say that the public won’t have access to a vaccine until February at the earliest, or, more likely, not until the summer.

A New Normal

All in all, going to concerts in the future will include precautions that will help maintain this new kind of normal. Industry experts predict that masks and temperature checks will become commonplace at shows, and there will be many more adaptations. Outdoor concerts will probably be the safest to attend right off the bat, and hopefully, once it’s safe indoor venues will open too.

I’m looking forward to the day that I’ll feel safe walking into my favorite music venue and seeing my favorite artist again, but until then, I’ll keep watching live streams from home and streaming my favorite albums.