CHICAGO — Concerts and live shows were wiped out during the pandemic. But widespread vaccinations and warmer weather could mean a comeback for outdoor venues this summer.
In late January, the Flaming Lips took to the stage in Oklahoma City for what they billed as a COVID-safe gig. Everyone was encased in their own inflatable bubble.
“It's been really, really challenging, both financially and creatively. No one wants to be stuck at home and not be able to play shows,” said Jacob Fain, senior vice president of A&R and head of data analytics at Elektra Music Group.
He points out that while live entertainment was the first to shut down, it will likely be the last to reopen.
“I think we're reaching the point where everyone's pretty ready to be back,” said Fain.
With multiple COVID vaccines now on the market, concert-goers are warming to the idea of attending large events, though many would prefer proof of vaccination be required for all attendees.
A recent survey indicates that 33 percent of live event-goers say they would be likely to attend live events one month or less after the vaccine is made available, and 21 percent are willing to attend an event of 500 people or more.
“I think there's gonna be a combination of probably some places will try immunity passports where you have to prove that you've had the vaccine in order to come in and then maybe those can be unmasked,” said Dr. Emily Landon, chief epidemiologist and executive medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago Medicine.
A return to outdoor concerts could be the first litmus test.
“New York is already starting to look at venues being at 30 percent capacity. Lollapalooza in July is sticking to their guns, and C3 is saying we're going to have this festival,” said Fain.
In its most recent call with investors, Live Nation, which is the world’s largest concert promoter, indicated large-scale outdoor amphitheater concerts could return within months.
“Every sign points to beginning safely in many countries sometime this summer and scaling further from there,” said Michael Rapino, Live Nation Entertainment CEO.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Association of Performing Arts Professionals that once 70 to 85 percent of the population is vaccinated, indoor entertainment with masks could be back as early as mid-fall.
“If the indoor venue is well ventilated and maybe has some HEPA filters, I think you could then start to getting back to almost full capacity of seating,” said Fauci.
Still, Fain says he doesn’t anticipate live shows at indoor arenas this year.
“To me, that's going to be a top 2022,” he said. “That's just from everything we're hearing from the promoter side, the venue side, managers and agents. It just doesn't feel realistic.”
Canceled, postponed or in limbo — for now, insiders say it’s probably a good idea to hang onto your tickets.