The Comeback of Live Events
By Max Beck, Events Producer and Concert Promoter
The day that a mysterious virus was first reported to have sickened dozens in Wuhan, I was throwing a party.
Not just any party — A New Year’s Eve blow out for Meow Wolf, the arts and entertainment collective I worked for. It turned out to not only be our highest grossing NYE, but (objectively, I swear) the most fun party we’d ever thrown.
Good thing, because the memory of that night has had to tide me over for a year. You know the story: COVID-19, the mysterious virus, swept the world. At first, it pushed back our bookings by weeks. Then months.
By mid-April my team and I hadn’t just lost our shows — we’d lost our jobs.
COVID made the already tenuous work of music promotion even more uncertain. On top of wondering how much I might lose on a show, or how to make a calendar work for all audiences, a new question arose: is a highly contagious virus going to wipe out my slate of concerts?
In a post-COVID era, those questions are even more existential. Is it viable to be an artist, agent, venue, or event producer anymore? What do entertainment and togetherness mean in a world where the simple act of getting together can be deadly?
Failing to answer those, I cling to the same question that’s on every promoter’s mind: When will things go back to the way they were?
Well, they might not. Make no mistake: concerts will return. But how and when isn’t a given.
That said, since the pandemic, it’s been my job to consider those questions at length, to prepare for the new world of live music, whenever it lands.
Are you wondering, too? Here’s a look at one promoter’s best guesses.
Besides being willing to lose buckets of money, promoters must be profoundly optimistic.
Enter: Live Nation. The CEO of the world’s biggest promotion company thinks shows will be back up and running this summer .
Granted, he mentions outdoor venues in particular — hence summer — but it’s an encouraging first step toward the return of the concert calendar.
It’s also worth mentioning that promoters were over-optimistic on the return date of concerts many times in 2020, only to postpone them as needed. But this feels like a viable first-call for the return of shows.
Late 2021/Early 2022
If our government gets it together (a large “if,” I’m sure you know), this timeline feels more realistic.
A combination of widespread vaccinations and vaccine lists at shows could see live music return in time for a Halloween party or even an end-of-year festival boat cruise (maybe the ultimate litmus test, given the prolonged close-quarter nature of those shows).
Fact is, young people are both the primary audience for concerts and the last on the priority list for vaccines. Depending on the state that could mean summer at the earliest for that population to get vaccinated en masse.
Mid-2022 and beyond
Consider this: The US has been averaging about 200,000 vaccinations a day. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert on infectious diseases in the country, recently said that it’d take “75 to 80-plus percent” of the population having resistance to coronavirus to gain protective herd immunity.
At that rate, it’d take at least three years to reach that level. (That said, as additional vaccines come online, that pace could pick up.)
That’s not to say that concerts would wait three years — one would hope the concert industry will find a way, government permitting. But there is a scenario out there where shows don’t happen until herd immunity has been reached at the current rate. Unlikely, maybe. But not impossible.
Regardless, it’ll probably be this long before the industry fully recovers from COVID. Meaning, robust schedules, productions, and procedures (or a lack thereof) that begin to resemble “the before times” again.
So, we’ve got somewhere from six months to a year-and-change before shows begin again in earnest. What will shows look like when they’re back? Prepare for a new normal:
Masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Venues will require them, I’d imagine, indoors or out. (Yes, even if you’re vaccinated, so says the CDC.)
Some people will feel more comfortable wearing masks well after all this is over. We need to embrace, not ridicule these people.
In and outside of venues, masks aren’t just for the Electric Daisy Carnival set anymore. They’re “in” for everybody.
Venues may return with lowered capacities at first; they might not. Margins are thin in the music industry, and fewer people means fewer reasons to open in the first place.
Like masks, some will feel better not packed together in a mosh pit. With that in mind, expect outdoor venues to be a mainstay well before indoor venues return. Which brings us to…
If indoor venues want to come back this year, their owners should update their air circulation systems. The venues that open first will be under the most scrutiny, which is why they should have their safety bases covered.
There are other benefits here beyond COVID. If you’ve thought twice about a summer show indoors because of how hot (or smelly) the floor gets, this change will be a much appreciated breath of fresh air.
If Boston Dynamics dancing robots didn’t tip you off, let me confirm it: We are officially living in a sci-fi novel.
That means weird things like vaccine lists will determine whether or not you’ll be able to make that Khruangbin Christmas show. Yes, VIP now stands for Vaccine-Innoculated People now. Expect it to be that way for at least a year.
Wanna know why the Roaring Twenties were roaring? Well, read the Great Gatsby (for free, now that it’s in the public domain!) .
But also, remember that it followed the pandemic of 1918. Humans love to socialize, particularly after we’ve been locked away from each other for a while. What could be more celebratory than getting down at a club or a festival?
As a promoter and a fan of music, it’ll be an exciting time.
What’s your part in all this? Bring the energy, get vaccinated and, crucially, be safe. I’ll take care of the rest.
Max Beck built the Meow Wolf Events program in Santa Fe, NM and is now a contributing partner at Spatial Activations.