It used to be that the best way to support your favorite bands was to pay for their music. Now, it could also be about wearing a mask during their shows.
Over the past few months, artists have canceled tour dates everywhere due to positive cases of COVID-19, whether among the artists themselves or the crew. Adele posted a tearful story on Instagram in January, postponing her Los Vegas residency. “Half my crew, half my team are down with COVID. They still are. And it was impossible to finish the show,” she said. Around the same time, Lauryn Hill announced that the Fugees’ reunion tour was on hiatus due to the unpredictable touring landscape of the end of the pandemic. These are just two examples.
Can we really say that live music is “back” if the industry is forced into functional lockouts?
Dates were scheduled, but they were postponed – as was the case for Winnipeg indie-pop group Royal Canoe, who had to postpone two sold-out shows that were due to take place last weekend in May.
Tired and wary musicians who are still hitting the road have taken to social media to implore concertgoers to wear masks, despite the fact that most government restrictions have been lifted and many venues no longer require them.
“Phoenix please wear a mask tonight so we can stay on tour,” singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers tweeted ahead of a concert in the Arizona town.
“Everyone has to cancel dates because everyone is catching COVID,” Seattle rock band Dude York tweeted. “If artists ask you to do something to reduce their chances of losing $10,000 to $20,000 in revenue, maybe you should?”
Amen to that. Touring is how most artists earn an income, especially in a cents per stream economy. For small and medium-sized tours in particular, having a series of dates torpedoed by a positive case can be financially disastrous, between isolation expenses and loss of revenue.
It is also difficult for the places that host these concerts; How many beloved clubs and theaters will have to shut down forever if they can’t withstand instability and unsustainability any longer?
I wrote last year that the return of live music was largely dependent on vaccines arriving, but keeping those stage lights on will depend on all the other public health measures we’ve all but abandoned, including masking and proof of vaccination.
Some venues, such as the West End Cultural Center in Winnipeg, have retained their own mandate; many others did not. Similarly, artists can insist on their own mandates, but this becomes an additional logistical nightmare on top of the already logistical nightmare that is the late pandemic tour.
Unfortunately, canceled and postponed dates — and entirely canceled tours — will be the new normal if this is how we continue to approach public health. The “return” of live music has been tenuous at best. If concerts were so high on the list of things people missed, how come we’re not doing everything we can to keep these shows going?
How can we say we need the singular kind of community login and live music offerings, but do little to protect that experience?
It’s worth remembering that gigs are the workplaces (albeit unconventional) of many people. They have the right to be safe. Yes, masks are no longer required in many places, but that doesn’t make them unnecessary or less courteous.
Everyone understands that people are tired and it’s been two long years. To that end, I wonder how many people also attend concerts while being symptomatic because they don’t want to eat the ticket price, or it’s a show they really, really wanted to see after so long.
Everyone wants to let loose and have as “normal” concert experience as possible. But it can’t do any good for a musician to watch a sea of people who adore you enough to buy a ticket, but not enough to wear a mask to your show.
Record a visit. Wear a mask.