Could These Three Post-Covid Concert Trends Be The “New Normal?”
Dirt Monkey plays a drive-in DJ set for fans at Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Photo by Trevor Rieks.
As the world’s first strictly-digital festival season winds into winter, COVID-induced clouds of uncertainty loom over the music industry. Mirroring sporting events, college lecture halls, and courtrooms, concerts will be limited capacity or go audience-free altogether for the foreseeable future.
Some of the festival market’s most robust players are making ambitious in-person plans for 2021. Dance purveyor Insomniac announced a physical version of its flagship EDC Las Vegas event for May, and even sold out of tickets for an irl Day Trip fest in Los Angeles next July - but with the CDC projecting a viable Covid vaccine next summer at best, the reality of such plans remains to be seen.
So many of us fiendish toe-tappers and hip-swinging heroes are itching to reclaim our rightful corner of the dance floor, be that at our favorite local live music venue or chronically-packed stadium, but the steep price of these luxuries are frivolous in perspective. The CDC confirmed more than 288,000 new COVID cases in the last 7 days, with total COVID-related deaths eclipsing 199 thousand (as of Tuesday, Sep. 22).
The musical macrocosm swiftly adjusted its footing among the wreckage, though not always with flawless agility. Drive-in raves have offered a socially distant consolation to its densely populated predecessors. Digital domains like streaming platform Twitch have proven improbably simpatico as both alternative revenue streams and promotional weapons for ardently online musicians.
Psychologically, the general public’s outlook on the safety of live events has become an enormous moral and ethical quandary not just for fans, but for organizers. How many of these shifts will become industry standard, and how many will be inoculated once the pathogens prove defeated?
Park & Party
Drive-in shows have offered an ostensibly safe vehicle for getting down. Many old-school movie spots have bid film reels adieu, while vacant lots across the country have cashed in on the trend. Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive-In has offered sonic solace and a pristine view of the city in the parking lot outside the iconic Adler Planetarium. In accordance with civil guidelines, partygoers must wear a mask, remain within their designated area surrounding their car, and may only attend with a maximum of six to a group.
With dozens of socially distant concert venues cropping up across the world, like Newcastle’s spatially adept venue in Gosforth Park, it’s clear that organizers count on carrying the practice into the foreseeable future.
Skepticism remains. What use are rigid guidelines for the common good if no one is there to enforce them? Wildly popular dance-pop outfit The Chainsmokers lit up the Hamptons with an abysmally “socially distant” live effort in July. Video footage from the event (which is now under New York State investigation) proffered images of hundreds of mask-less, shoulder-to-shoulder youth. We could chalk it up to intimacy-deprived kids who miss the communal sense of a concert, combined with poor preparation. Nevertheless, organizers would do well to steer clear of this precarious precedent.
Streaming platforms, like Twitch, have become a godsend for artists looking not only to make some seriously needed cash, but to keep lines of communication flowing between themselves and their fans.
Spotify royalties yield less than pennies on the dollar per listen, and physical music sales still don’t offer enough revenue for small-to-mid-level artists to pay their bills. Live events were a musician’s bread and butter. According to Business Insider, touring often accounted for more than 80 percent of the average musician’s yearly pre-COVID revenue.
Turning to Twitch’s multi-functional digital landscape (originally developed for streaming gamers) for a career boost is not a new concept. The electronic music space especially, touts a vast wealth of gamer-DJ/producer hybrids. Those individuals had a head start in monetizing their presence.
Anthony Baca, an LA-based artist manager (Whipped Cream, Moore Kismet, Gravedgr) was quick to pivot to streaming as a stronghold. Each month without tours catapulted thousands of displaced performers into a do-or-die scenario. Baca incisively concluded that, if nothing else, the pandemic kick-started years of innovation.
“I think the lockdown definitely brought more awareness to the digital space,” he says. “[It] showed many of us just how much more we can be present, think outside the box, get creative … if live events ever get shut down again, we do have a way to keep pushing.”
The longer we go without a vaccine, uncertainty and paranoia lingers. The unknown is the new normal. A recent survey from Music Canada and Abacus Data found only 22 percent of the most frequent festival-goers and 12 percent of the general public say they would attend concerts within a few weeks of their return to normal operations.
People are hesitant, and for good reason. People are sick and no one seems to have answers. Even the World Health Organization (they’re supposed to be, ya know, the authority on this stuff) has backpedaled on multiple stipulations surrounding how the virus spreads and to whom. Combine that with the fact that, even when we think we’re doing everything right, things can run amuck.
Entropy had its way with Andre Haglund, widely known as dance music DJ and producer Drezo. Fans associate his name with some downright evil dance cuts, but as a person, Haglund is known for his affable nature. Feeling healthy, he missed being onstage and “connecting with fans,” so Haglund flew to his home state of Arizona to play a socially distant event alongside Seven Lions, Wooli, and LICK.
“The show was run very well, and very safe,” Haglund says. “I didn't see people in the crowd or backstage breaking rules or being irresponsible. If anything, the employees working were even more diligent and open-eyed about every detail. At the time, again, I thought ‘Oh this is 100% fine.’”
As soon as he got home, Haglund developed COVID-like symptoms. He tested positive a few days later. He was not tested prior to the trip, and it’s impossible to say if that measure alone would have been a deciding factor. He could have contracted the virus at the airport, the venue, or somewhere at home in Los Angeles.
“My view has changed from being ‘Oh it's legal, it's fine,’ to ‘We need to be as safe as possible regardless of the circumstances.’"
The truth is, no one knows when a vaccine will come. The flu of 1918 was ended not by a miracle cure, but by hard-won herd immunity, only after it took 50 million lives. Would a drive-in concert still be cool if we could party next to 50,000 strangers? It depends on how quickly anyone would even feel comfortable being next to 50,000 strangers.
One thing remains uniquely palpable through all the hardship and uncertainty: the music industry is resilient. For those who have their doubts, fun will prevail - but patience is paramount.