Live Concerts Heat Up This Summer After COVID Shutdowns

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Grand Ole Opry, Zac Brown, Billie Eilish, the late Ronald Bell of Kool and the Gang, Foreigner’s Kelly Hansen (Photos: Grand Ole Opry, Getty Images)

Live Concerts Heat Up This Summer After COVID Shutdowns

“I don’t think you are going to find many venues that have holes in their calendar by September,” says one music executive

While the summer concert season of of live music, starting with Fourth of July weekend, will be less robust than pre-pandemic levels, some expect the concert business to bounce back as soon as August or September.

Sam Hunt, executive vice president and managing executive for Wasserman Music, predicts a return to 2019 levels by fall, when the weather is still good and outdoor concerts usually remained in full swing even pre-pandemic.

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“By Labor Day weekend, it’s going to be regular volume,” Hunt told TheWrap. “I don’t think you are going to find many venues that have holes in their calendar by September.”

Rob Ellin, chairman and CEO of LiveXLive premium live music streaming network, said, “I don’t think you are going to see the tentpole, Rolling Stone-type touring” this summer because pre-vaccine COVID uncertainty scrambled the ability to make long-term plans: “It takes time to build those out and do extended tours with artists and bands of those levels.”

But on the bright side, Ellin said pent-up demand is serving nimble performers who can take advantage of last-minute bookings and one-stop gigs.

“Small venues, smaller festivals are just booming…the thirst and hunger for music festivals and music events I think is higher than ever,” he said. “There’s going to be an 18-month to two-year boom that’s going to look very much like the Roaring Twenties.”

A sampling of Fourth of July weekend offerings around the country include Kool & the Gang with fireworks at Hollywood Bowl, Foreigner at Treasure Island Amphitheatre in Welch, Minnesota and a multi-performer country music extravaganza at Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Some in the touring business say that even in a non-pandemic year some top artists tend to avoid holiday weekend tour stops to avoid competing with fireworks, fairs and family events.

Hunt said that the concert scene is improving faster than than anyone expected, but it will still take a while before it’s business as usual with big concert tours. Some major artists are not touring until 2022, including Billie Eilish,who postponed her Happier Than Ever World Tour several times as the pandemic wore on.Hunt said that fans lucky enough to have gotten tickets to see wildly popular artists like Eilish tend to postpone their tickets rather than return them, and in the case of returns there’s always someone eager to snap them up.

Hunt said that COVID-19 safety protocols are rarely strict at outdoor venues, but audience comfort level with crowds varies widely from city to city, and from state to state — and even between music genres, which draw crowds of different ages and attitudes toward vaccines and other COVID protocols.

“It’s still wildly inconsistent,” Hunt said. ” Parts of the country are opening up at different paces. It’s exciting to be part of hit, and it’s happening on the fastest end of what could have been anticipated, but it’s just a flood of information.”

Hunt added that mixing a backlog of postponed tours with last-minute bookings has created an unpredictable chess game on the touring landscape.

“I have a tour that was supposed to be happening in May of 2020 that is now happening in May of 2022, and I booked that tour in 2019,” Hunt said. “That was never how it was done in the past. I have a lot of tours that are booked for next summer, more than a year in advance, but I also have tours that are being booked for September of this year.”

A partner at a major talent agency’s music department who asked not to be named predicted that the concert biz would be back at pre-COVID levels beginning in late July and into August. As examples of concert excitement, he cited Zac Brown’s hot-selling national tour beginning in late July, as well as the upcoming outdoor Lallapalooza Festival in Chicago’s Grant Park (July 29-Aug. 1), expected to draw a crowd of 1,000.Lallapalooza 2020 was a virtual event.

The agent also cited an upcoming Foo Fighters tour launching July 17 at The Forum in Inglewood. Tickets to the Forum concert are already sold out.

The Foo Fighters were also part of the “Vax Live: Concert To Unite the World” on May 2 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, billed as the first COVID compliant music eventin the United States. The socially-distanced concert allowed 20,000 fans into the 70,000 seat venue. Other artists on the program included Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Vedder and J Balvin.

The agent said that live-streamed concerts that burgeoned during COVID will never replace the real thing.

“I think there’s a fantastic amount of demand…not only for music but just the communal aspect of the live concert experience,” he said. “And it’s irreplaceable because every audience makeup is different. They are always going to get a different, magical experience, unlike a a film, which is the exact same thing thing each time you go see it.”

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