Delta Force: Standards strengthen as industry leaders update COVID policies
As the United States grapples with continued COVID cases amid varying and at times highly contrasting local politics across the country, so does the concert industry, which in June appeared to be on the right track. The way to reopen without a hitch and with policies regarding masks, vaccines and negative tests, hopefully, are a thing of the past. Then the Delta variant hit.
While many artists have set COVID policies and guidelines for recent touring, much of the onus is on large-scale tours, festivals or individual venues to set guidelines, with restrictions and local sentiments varying depending on the market. , population density and other factors. Meanwhile, state and local governments continue to introduce new policies, including California requiring masks at outdoor events and vaccination or negative tests at indoor events, New York City only vaccinating for indoor activities of all kinds, and a myriad of others across the country.
Momentum had increased in the industry, with major operators and promoters of sites such as IMP, Oak View Group (Poll starparent company of), Another Planet Entertainment and others announcing policies requiring all participants (and employees in most cases) to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test prior to entry.
In perhaps the largest public test to date, Lollapalooza of C3 Presents in Chicago implemented a similar policy and, despite media reports and photos of a largely unmasked crowd, the health department local linked around 200 COVID cases to the event, a far cry from a super-spreader event during the four-day event drawing up to 100,000 attendees per day.
That momentum has now snowballed, and sweeping new policies took effect in early October from the two major event producers and venue operators – Live Nation and AEG Presents, who announced detailed policies for their venues and festivals.
“Obviously, the arrival of AEG and Live Nation means that if you want to attend a show, you not only have to worry about your safety, but also the person next to you,” says Evan Winiker of RANGE Media. Partners, who runs the Biscuits Disco, Walk Off The Earth and others. Winiker says the consolidation policies of the industry’s major event producers are huge. “I think it’s incredibly important and necessary. We owe it to the fans who buy tickets to the shows and come to the shows to basically create a safe space for them. “
The policies between the two majors differ in two notable ways. Firstly, AEG Presents requires proof of vaccination while negative testing is not an option, but only applies to its clubs, theaters and festivals such as Coachella, Stagecoach, Day N Vegas and others, not applicable to arenas and stadiums under the ASM Global banner. Meanwhile, Live Nation’s policy says it only applies to its fully owned and operated venues and festivals, which means plenty of amphitheatres, theaters, and even clubs. It is understood that tours produced by Live Nation and AEG, the bulk of national and global tours of all kinds, may request specific COVID-related policies for each show and will largely get what they want.
However, each company notes that its policy applies “where the law permits,” which begs the question of states attempting to prevent the warrant of masks or vaccines at schools, concerts and other events, including in Texas and Florida.
“We have a lot of shows with a lot of artists, and some states will not allow us to implement these policies,” adds Winiker. “All we can do in these situations is ask our fans to take care of each other and try to do as much as possible on our side so as not to put them in danger, which for us means outdoor shows only in those markets “and after all safety protocols they can control, including behind-the-scenes policies that remain the same for every show.
As for the agents, as usual, it is from client to client, but any uncertainty can be a barrier to booking and holding shows.
“We follow the preferences of our artists and are constantly talking to them about what is happening in each state as we plan and change the shots,” says Marshall Betts of the recently launched TBA agency which represents The War On Drugs, Courtney Barnett , Chvrches and many others. “There are certainly hesitations about some states not taking a proactive approach at this time.”
Meanwhile, independent sites can both offer a potential alternative to current policies, but must also adapt to the current industry standard.
“All of us and I think everyone is just trying to adapt as best we can for a successful and safe show,” said Dave Poe of Patchwork Presents, whose company manages the buying and promotion of talent for locations in several states, including The Criterion in Oklahoma City. .
“I don’t think all artists in the country will need the same things. It’s part of the beauty of our business, that there are a lot of different promoters, artists and agents, and everyone is going to do whatever makes them feel comfortable. At the end of the day, we all work together, so I think in every situation we will all find a way to adapt.
As for how the demands are affecting his business right now, he says it’s part of the job.
“A promoter’s job is to adapt to things as they arise,” says Poe, who notes that Kesha just pulled off a show at the 4,000 capacity test on Aug. 17. “Having to check for physical vaccinations is just another thing promoters have to handle. Sometimes you have to order 10 more machinists for tomorrow, or find a catering service or whatever. It doesn’t feel like it’s working anymore, and at the end of the day we have some shows for the fans, but it’s definitely extra cost, and we have to discuss that with the tour.
While COVID positives among the group or team are now a matter of when rather than if – like the recent news of Jonathan Davis’ positive test from Korn which led to the rescheduling of six shows and the cancellation of two – resistance is noted on the fan side, at least for some demographics.
“We are starting to see concern and passive resistance from fans going to indoor events, among the elderly, educated and vaccinated,” says Adam Epstein of Innovation Events, who during the pandemic hosted events. social distancing and driving events such as the Yarmouth Drive-In on Cape Cod and regularly hosts tours of popular spoken word artists such as David Sedaris, Neil Degrasse Tyson and many more. “The people who attend these shows are the most affected in public at an event. We have gone from an environment of celebration in April and May to an environment of caution now. This is where it is really disheartening. We should celebrate the fact that this vaccine has been successful in alleviating the morbidity of contracting COVID. “
Epstein also produces concerts through a joint venture called Cola Concerts at Columbia Speedway in South Carolina, where he says the latest COVID policies among the big industry are leading to uncertainty over what is legally allowed.
The answer may be clearer in real time, as Austin City Limits Festival updated its policy on August 19, making it clear that negative testing would be required for entry to the massive event taking place in Zilker. Park in October – but proof of vaccination counts.
“A printed copy of a negative COVID-19 test result will be required to attend the ACL 2021 festival,” the policy on the festival’s website and social media produced by C3 reads. “The negative result of the printed COVID-19 test must be obtained within 72 hours (3 days) of participating in the ACL festival. Customers who are fully vaccinated may show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination instead of negative test proof. Industry sources not affiliated with Live Nation or C3 have speculated that the legal language presented by Texas Governor Greg Abbott may be vague enough to require negative COVID tests or proof of vaccination – which would mean discriminating against participants who exhibit COVID or COVID symptoms rather than against unvaccinated ones.
While there is still a lot to be discovered and any attempt at country or industry wide standardization will certainly leave holes, perhaps most important is to move in the right direction, which ‘It’s predictability, security, or a combination of whatever it takes to get back to business and stay there.
“We want to make sure that we do everything in our power so that we never have to shut down like this again,” says Audrey Fix Schaefer of IMP, who operates or owns the 9:30 Club, Anthem and Merriweather Post Pavilion in the DC area. . The company just updated its own policy to only require vaccination, with negative testing not an option.
“Nothing is easy in this new world, but we all need to take stock and see what we can do as individuals, as a community and as an industry and business, to increase our chances of overcoming this. ”