It’s that moment when the house lights go down for me.
That moment when everyone cheers because they know the band they’ve been waiting weeks/months/years/lifetimes to see is about to take the stage. That moment before the first note rings out, when there’s still a whole concert ahead. That’s what I miss the most about live music.
The house lights went down in venues all over the world in 2020, and they didn’t come up again for over a year. "First to close, last to reopen" became the soundbite about music venues amid the pandemic. Concerts are congregate spaces. They don’t lend themselves well to social distancing, nor are they particularly conducive to limiting the spread of droplets.
Live music’s return largely hinged on the arrival of vaccines. Vaccines allow musicians to travel; vaccines allow fans to gather. In America, live music is back, ushered in by both Bruce Springsteen’s reopening of Broadway and the Foo Fighters’ capacity show at Madison Square Garden in New York City in June. Only the fully vaccinated could attend both those events.
In early August, major rock festival Lollapalooza went ahead in Chicago at capacity amid concerns about the more transmissible Delta variant. Attendees had to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken with the past 72 hours. In Minneapolis, legendary venue First Avenue announced it would adopt the Lolla model for its upcoming calendar of shows, and unvaccinated people who test negative are encouraged to wear a mask. Concert behemoth LiveNation announced that it would allow its touring artists to implement similar proof-of-vaccination/negative test mandates for their shows, and would require all LiveNation staff to be vaccinated.
Sensing a theme?
Live music’s return has not been without its anxieties and complexities — there’s much to iron out, especially if an artist’s mandate is at odds with a venue’s mandate. Some artists, including Stevie Nicks, have already cancelled tour dates amid virus concerns. The Foo Fighters, who just celebrated that triumphant return to MSG, had to scrap a Los Angeles show a month later owing to a positive case within their team.
And then, of course, not everyone agrees with a vaccine entry requirement. Last month, Eric Clapton made headlines after stating he would not play any venues that required proof of vaccination, citing discrimination. A few dozen people also protested the vaccine mandate at Foo Fighters MSG show, calling it segregation.
Country singer Jason Isbell has received pushback for requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at his shows; he recently cancelled a Texas date after the venue wasn’t willing to comply.
But live music venues have always had entry requirements — including some that people may view as unfair, whether that’s prohibitive ticket prices or clear bag policies.
There have always been security protocols: you can’t take your own alcohol to a concert, nor can you take a weapon or fireworks. If you want to experience this particular privilege, you have to play by a set of rules.
So, from a safety and security standpoint, it’s not a stretch to say that if you want to see live music, you need to get a jab — or, at least, produce a negative COVID test. If we want live music to come back, we need to keep everyone, from the performers on the stage to the fans on the floor, safe.
This is an industry that has been rocked from its foundations during the pandemic. Having a show become a superspreader event, or having to constantly cancel and rebook shows because of virus scares is not a sustainable way forward. Variants could shut it all down again come fall, and another round of shutdowns could be devastating.
In Manitoba, live music has returned in earnest via smaller outdoor gigs. True North Sports and Entertainment’s Burt Block Parties, which will take place over the last two weekends in August, will require proof of vaccination. For indoor fall events scheduled at Canada Life Centre (formerly Bell MTS Place), every date says the same thing: "entry may be subject to any COVID-19-related rules and restrictions in place at the time of the event, including but not limited to, proof of fully vaccinated status being required for entry."
Live music is a communal experience, a shared rush, a temporary community linked in fandom. It’s not always utopia — live music spaces can certainly be exclusionary and unsafe, particularly the negligent ones that don’t look out for their audiences. That so many artists and major venues are insisting on vaccine mandates — or proof-of-vaccination/negative test hybrids — is encouraging.
The best shows are the ones at which fans look out for each other. Vaccination requirements are an extension of that.