We’ve been writing and thinking a lot about what the ‘new normal’ will be for music concerts as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease. There are already gigs taking place at drive-in cinemas in the US; experiments with social distancing at regular venues; and in the meantime a hybrid model emerging where artists play at venues empty besides their crew and cameras, with the audience watching online.
There’s also a controversy blowing up in the US this week, however, regarding concerts that – in footage shared online at least – look very much un-socially-distanced. Country artist Chase Rice is taking a lot of the heat, after posting a video on Instagram (reposted here) captioned “We back” showing a crowd of fans at his concert in East Tennessee last Saturday, standing close together without many face-masks on view.
The venue’s owner has since stressed that the maximum capacity for the concert had been reduced from 10,000 to 4,000; that fewer than 1,000 fans actually attended the gig (although when they’re all clustered together in front of the stage, that’s still clearly a risk); and that temperature checks on entry, free hand sanitiser and masks and gloves for staff were included too.
There’s been strong criticism, including from other country stars. Rice himself has responded in a new video posted to Instagram which stops short of a direct apology – “I understand there’s a lot of varying opinions, a lot of different opinions on COVID-19, how it works with live music crowds and what all that looks like” – but warns fans to stay safe at his next concert, a drive-in affair.
Rice isn’t the only country star fielding criticism though: fellow artist Chris Janson also posted a video clip of a festival performance last weekend (reposted here) that showed a packed audience. Social media being what it is, it’s the two artists getting the angry pile-on, but the footage should spark serious discussions within the live industry about how to handle the emergence from lockdown safely – especially for outdoor concerts where, unlike indoor all-seater events, social distancing can’t easily be imposed on fans.
It’s certainly a tough time for country artists, who perhaps more than any other genre, rely on constant touring as a part of their income. And it’s also a very strange time in the US, where a number of states are experiencing renewed Covid-19 spikes, amid mixed messaging (and big arguments) from individual counties and states right to the top of the federal government. People involved in live music around the world will be watching closely – and possibly fearfully – to see what all this means for the safety of music fans.