Seismic Returns: Shaking Out Safer Events in Austin, TX
Photo by Clark Terrell
Kelly Gray and Andrew Parsons are expert adaptors. In 2018, the potential for inclement weather sent the married couple scrambling to find an alternate venue just days before their inaugural Seismic Dance Event was set to kick off. Gray and Parsons, who helm Austin’s RealMusic Events, made the quick pivot from an outdoor venue called Carson Creek Ranch to an indoor alternative, the Travis County Expo Center. The show went on, and their first fully-produced house and techno festival saw more than 2,000 attendees. It was considered an overwhelming success.
Seismic Dance Event 3.3 Lineup
In 2021, damage control looks a little different. From May 21st to 23rd, the couple will unveil Seismic Dance Event 3.3. The two-stage event features design elements inspired by tsunamis, volcanoes and other natural forces, and it will come complete with a series of COVID-19 era precautions to ensure the expanded three-day event is as safe as possible.
Being in Texas--where restrictions have been comparatively relaxed--has enabled the boutique production company to experiment with socially-distanced, limited-capacity shows since last fall. Using open air venues such as the Cedar Street Courtyard, RealMusic Events booked powerhouse acts like Rinzen and J Worra to play for crowds of less than 200. The couple says customers were compliant in wearing their masks (for the most part) and adhered to temperature checks, and created ample space for fellow attendees to breathe.
The team will bring much of that hard-earned know-how to its forthcoming endeavor, even though by the state’s standards, they aren’t required to.
“I feel like we’re kind of a lone wolf,” Gray says candidly.
“It seems like we’re the only ones taking the precautions seriously,” Parsons adds, with the tiniest hint of exasperation.
For entry to this month’s event, which will feature performances from Charlotte de Witte, Tchami, John Summit and Nicole Moudaber, among others, ticket holders can provide proof of vaccination via a mobile app called Virified.
This may seem like a bold ask, especially after Texas Governor Greg Abbott threatened to withhold funding from businesses that explicitly ask customers for COVID-19 vaccine records. Still, Gray and Andrews believe it’s one of the best ways to mitigate risk, so they’re making it as easy as possible for attendees to verify their status. They also see value in providing their fans with reasonable options.
“We definitely recommend and advise people to go ahead and get their shots so that they can be fully vaccinated before they try to go to a larger event like this,” Gray says. “However, you know, we're not the ones to dictate what people do with their health.”
Unvaccinated attendees can instead take a rapid nasopharyngeal antigen test at the door, which they must pay for out of pocket for $25. If guests prefer to access a test through their own doctor or testing site, a negative result will also be accepted via that route as long as the sample was collected within 24 hours prior to their arrival on-site.
Anyone with a positive result will be given the option to roll their ticket over to the next edition of Seismic Dance Event. A negative result means it’s time to party.
The Seismic team has partnered with an operations management and emergency services company called Code 4 to implement and oversee these pieces of the protocol. They worked together to create a pod-style contingency plan in the event that stricter guidelines were deemed necessary by local health authorities.
Now that vaccines are readily available to anyone over 16 in the state of Texas, Gray and Parsons will move forward with a more traditional 21+ event capped at 2,500. All attendees will still be required to wear masks even though the state mask mandate was lifted back in mid-March.
“We’re at a tipping point where mass society has the tools to protect themselves, so we feel more comfortable approaching this event,” Gray explains. “Plus, I think the majority of our community for RealMusic Events and Seismic have skewed towards having respect for [our decision] to set up some precautions and create a safer environment for them.”
However, some social media comments indicate a clear disconnect:
“Please make this a mask-optional event!” says @living_like_luna
@meyer.riley inquires, “Is it true that the $25 test is an anal swab?? I was looking forward to the festival, but if this is true I will no longer be attending”
But this interjection from user @iihectorfrmkdz claps back best:
“If you’re pressed about their safety requirements, just don’t go, that simple lol. We’re lucky enough to even have this event go on during a pandemic”
There is the belief among a lesser consortium of attendees (mostly out of towners, according to Gray) that the restrictions are too tight. If gatherings like Ubbi Dubbi Festival, which took place about 170 miles away in Ennis, TX and saw 50,000 attendees over a two-day weekend with no testing requirement, continue to take place, these cries could grow louder. Even so, Gray and Parsons are following their intuition.
“With everything else we have to deal with right now, do we really need to be dealing with this argument over masks?” Gray says with a chuckle. “Maybe by the end of year things will be in a better place and we will have reached herd immunity. Who knows what that'll look like, but we're not there yet.”
All three days of Seismic Dance Event are sold out, demonstrating that there’s quite obviously a market of ravers who appreciate a safety-focused approach as they return to live music events. For that other market, they’ve got alternatives to consider, too. Seismic will host a fall edition later this year.
“We've had the November dates up for a while so it's like, ‘cool, well if we're requiring masks and you're not into that, then come to the next one,’” Parsons says. “We provide a lot of options, and I think we've covered all the bases. Eventually it just comes down to the user. If they want to abide by the rules, great. If not, then they need to come some other time.”
As the days dwindle down until Seismic 3.3, the feedback on social media remains overwhelmingly positive. Hundreds of Instagram users have recently hopped on the festival’s feed to shout out the artists they’re itching to see after a year without nightclubs and packed fields.
Andrew Parsons and Kelly Gray
For Gray and Parsons, those loyal followers keep them going. It’s even more incentive to keep those folks safe.
“If we didn’t have the benefit of having a really great, predefined community, I’m not sure that we would have felt comfortable proceeding with Seismic,” Gray says, “but because we already have that part of the recipe in place, I just know if anyone can make this happen, we can.”