Performances in the pandemic: perfect melody or missing the note?


Mel Berilo

Entrance to the Royale music venue at night. Photo by Mel Berilo / Mass Media Staff

Katrina Sanville, Arts Writer

   In the midst of the pandemic, one of the most desired things music fanatics missed was the atmosphere of live music and the feeling of concerts. Whether their choice of genre was rap, pop or indie, music lovers around the world were counting down the days until the world would ‘open up’ once more and they could begin to go to live shows and concerts for their favorite artists. However, as the world begins to return to a sense of semi-normalcy, many are wondering if it’s best to begin having live performances like before.

    As vaccines began to roll out and COVID-19 cases began to decrease, many performers saw the chance to begin live concerts and shows. In addition to this, those who may have scheduled tours that had to be cancelled due to the pandemic saw this as an opportunity to go on tour again. Within the weeks following vaccines becoming readily available, dozens of artists started to announce their tour dates, ranging from beginning in the fall or winter of 2021 to early 2022.

    Many of these artists—before their performances even began—required their fans and attendees to wear masks and/or be vaccinated in order to attend. Artists such as Harry Styles and Phoebe Bridgers have put out statements saying that those attending their concerts must be vaccinated and/or wear a mask. The Broadway League, which oversees all of the business ventures and plans of the Broadway theatre community, put out a similar statement as well. Phoebe Bridgers also stated that she will be moving as many of her concerts to outside venues as she can, in order to reduce the spread of the virus as best as possible. As Bridgers posted on her Instagram, and Christi Carras for the LA Times transcribed:

    “‘We are moving all previously scheduled indoor shows to outdoor venues and we’ve needed to postpone shows in a couple cities so please check the updated schedule. At my request, there are updated health and safety requirements … And please wear a mask. I love you. See you soon.’” (1)

    However, some artists have cancelled their performances before they could even begin. Country music star Garth Brooks cancelled several of his tour stops—with full refunds—due to the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and the several variants. As AP News writes:

    “Brooks had said weeks ago that he would be reassessing the tour in light of the surge in cases. Tickets will be refunded for shows scheduled in Cincinnati; Charlotte, North Carolina; Baltimore; Foxborough, Massachusetts, and Nashville, Tennessee. He had also planned to play in Seattle but declined to put tickets on sale.

“‘In July, I sincerely thought the pandemic was falling behind us,’ Brooks said in a statement on Wednesday. ‘Now, watching this new wave, I realize we are still in the fight and I must do my part.’” (2)

However, with these great ideas and standards, there were a few flaws and other performers who fell flat. Many performers were able to begin their tours but had to partially or fully cancel due to positive test results. Bands such as Fall Out Boy and Lynyrd Skynyrd released statements cancelling a portion or all of their shows. As Fall Out Boy wrote on their Instagram, and Elise Brisco for USA Today transcribed:

“‘Out of an abundance of caution, Fall Out Boy will not perform at the New York and Boston shows,’ the statement said. ‘It is important to note that everyone on the entire tour, both band and crew, are fully vaccinated.’” (3)

So, should live performances be permitted? The answer is complicated. Positive cases for COVID-19 have rapidly been increasing since July according to the CDC (4), and though there seems to be a bit of a decline, the numbers are still extremely high in comparison to April and May when most artists released their tour dates.

    However, there are, theoretically, ways to have a safe performance in the midst of the pandemic. While these performances would not be completely safe, taking the necessary precautions can at least alleviate some of the risks of having a super spreader event. Following the ideas of Phoebe Bridgers and Harry Styles, requiring masks and vaccinations, as well as having outdoor performances wherever possible, can slow or cease the spread of the virus for the event.

    In addition to this, smaller groups with smaller venues will limit the amount of people who could be exposed or be carriers to the virus, as well as making it easier to perform contact tracing. While this is easy enough for smaller artists, asking large names such as Billy Joel, Drake, or Ariana Grande to do small, intimate shows may not be as accessible.

    No matter how or when live performances come back—in the next few weeks to crowds of thousands, or gradually and safely with the right measures taken—live experiences are slowly on their way back for the general public. The impact of this in the future will be interesting to see. However, as for right now, all that can be done is to stay safe as best as possible.