From Closing Indie Venues to Rethinking Annual Festivals, COVID-19 Is Changing How We Experience Live Music
The U.S. saw a record number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day on Wednesday, June 24, with 45,557 diagnoses (via NBC News). The following day, the San Francisco-based music festival Outside Lands announced that folks could buy three-day passes to its 2021 lineup, which, for now, is headlined by some of music’s biggest names — Lizzo, Tame Impala, The Strokes, Kehlani and Vampire Weekend. Sure, Outside Lands 2021 is more than a year out, but it’s near-impossible to assess if even that game plan is too optimistic.
While some states, like New York and Connecticut, have started their slow phased reopenings, larger states, like California, have postponed their phased reopenings in favor of taking things even slower. Of course, some states are barreling ahead — Florida is even reopening theme parks — only to see cases spike, especially when masks are a mere suggestion instead of a mandate. Needless to say, pack up your lawn chairs and tie-dye shirts: The summer months, and the live music we typically associate with them, are going to look vastly different, no matter which state you call home.
From South by Southwest to Coachella: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Changing Outdoor Music Festivals
In early March, the annual Texas-based South by Southwest (SXSW) — a festival full of movie premieres, live music and more — was one of the first big events of 2020 to cancel, leading the city of Austin to lose out on the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue the yearly festival generates. As shelter-in-place directives continued and cases of COVID-19 in the United States climbed higher, other once-far off live events followed suit. Coachella — Indio, California’s, yearly music and arts festival in the desert — was pushed from April to October 2020 before being postponed to April 2021.
From Empty Stadiums to Shuttering Indie Venues, Performance Spaces Have Taken a Huge Hit During the Pandemic
The photograph below shows a Charlotte, North Carolina, standby, the Neighborhood Theatre. The marquee outside of this indie venue reads, "F U COVID-19," followed by "STAY SAFE CLT [Charlotte] WASH THEM HANDS" and the promise that they’ll be "BACK AT IT SOON Y’ALL MUCH LOVE." That image was captured on May 16, 2020, and, as of now, most venues across the country are still shuttered — some permanently.
So, What Does the Future Look Like for Venues and Musicians?
As far as festivals go, it seems that larger ones, like Coachella, will be fine — even if this year’s revenue loss impacts local businesses. For larger venues, this could be a make-it-or-break-it scenario, as is the case with any startup. For indies, there’s been a swell of support from would-be concert-goers thanks to the success of GoFundMe initiatives and the like.