By Joshua Wallace
Billy Strings at the Exit/In July 25th, 2020 (Streaming Strings Tour)
Sometime around the second week of March 2020, the live concert industry shut down. Major tours and festivals canceled or pushed their dates back one by one. Venues across the country shut down and canceled all future events. The COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the live music touring industry right before the start of it’s busy season over the summer. Many artists were shocked with this sudden turn of events, but a lot of them have been working to make the best of this bad situation. This article is a look at the things I have observed over the past few months with the touring industry shut down.
Almost immediately, many artists started doing live streams. These live stream concerts were often solo acoustic performances. The quality of these shows varied from artist to artist as it relied on the artist setting up their own streaming equipment and connection, however many artists found what worked for them pretty quickly. It would not be out of the ordinary to see ten or twenty different artists in any genre doing a live show any given night of the week. The free live streams were often accompanied by virtual tip jars with various links to donate to the artist. As artists figured out the set up that worked best for them, the quality of live shows increased. Some even started doing live streams with the requirement of a virtual ticket purchase to watch the stream. The ticket prices for these early ticketed shows were often low or pay what you want so the artists could get as many people as they could watching the streams.
Solo performances eventually became duo and in some cases, full band performances. Some artists opted to do full band performances over zoom, while others who lived close enough together, were able to secure a space to send out virtual performances. Some artists took their full band performances to actual venues to give their fans a full concert experience. Billy Strings did this with a 9 date tour across various venues in Nashville, TN to a great success. In recent weeks, I have noticed more mainstream acts like Tim McGraw pick up the virtual concert gig. This is going to be more popular as this pandemic goes on.
Another option many bands are taking advantage of is the drive in concert. I have seen these done in a couple of ways. Some concerts have the actual band set up on a stage with people parking in front of the stage to see the show. Other bands have set up either a recorded concert or a live stream concert to be sent out to various theaters nationwide. A couple of larger examples of this have been Garth Brooks and Metallica. These drive in concerts are often expensive. I have seen prices ranging from $100 to $250. This is per car load and these concerts often assume you have up to 6 people in a car. I have not been to one of these personally, but I am not a fan of the concept. It is very expensive unless you have a large group, and even then in most cases, you are watching the band from a screen and listening to a localized FM broadcast in your car. This seems to work for some people because the Garth Brooks concert took in millions of dollars in one evening.
It’s a weird time for the live music industry and many artists are trying their hardest to find what works. A select few are actually still playing shows, but these shows are often at smaller venues at half or less capacity. Plus, artists run the risk of online backlash when images show up of fans not practicing social distancing at their shows. For me, some of the best setups have been artists who have been able to run live streams at an actual concert venue. These are often shot professionally and help maintain that real concert feel you get when you go to an actual show. Sure, solo live performances can be a much more personal medium with the feeling of one on one interaction with the artist, and drive in shows actually get you out of the house. However, live streams from actual venues feel like a happy medium that you get to enjoy in the comfort of your own setting. Plus it helps keep the band’s crews at work and it helps support the venue at a time when live venues desperately need support. We have seen too many concert venues closing during this pandemic already and I support anything that supports their cause.
However you choose to enjoy concerts in this time of COVID-19, I hope that you do so safely and responsibly. I will personally be back to reviewing live shows as soon as I am able to. I look forward to the time when I get to experience concerts in a post pandemic setting. Until then, I will keep posting album features here and we will keep you up to date with things as we can.