At long last, we’ve arrived at the end of the seemingly interminable year of 2020 and if you are anything like me, you won’t be sad to see it go.
It goes without saying that the most significant story for the entertainment industry this year was the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.
After the first ominous stirrings from China in December and January, COVID-19 quickly spread to Europe and North America until the live industry began to shut down completely in March.
The first major event to fall by the wayside was the annual SXSW music festival and conference, but other events quickly followed suit until the live touring and events industry ground to a virtual standstill in late March.
As the industry shut down, the full scope of the crisis became apparent, hundreds of thousands of people across multiple disciplines – artists, technicians, venue staff and owners, concert promoters – all finding themselves out of work and with little to no income.
At the same time, promoters, venues, and ticketing companies were hit with the twin blows of thousands of canceled concerts and millions of ticket refund requests.
In some countries, governments were quick to provide aid to affected sectors, but in the U.S., uncertain leadership, and the partisan divide amid a closely contested election led to months of inactivity from the federal government that has yet to be fully resolved.
Major companies such as Live Nation and AEG, backed by private equity, hunkered down with plans to try to weather the COVID-19 storm with alternate revenue streams and cost-savings measures, including large-scale furloughs. However many small companies in the live biz such as Texas indie promoter Margin Walker Presents were forced to close their doors for good amid the crisis.
Many in the industry attempted to adapt to the new reality, and 2020 saw the rise live streaming, with promoters and artists trying to bring the magic of live performances home through streaming platforms such as Twitch and nugs.net.
As well, the industry experimented, sometimes successfully, with other concepts such as drive-in concerts and other innovations such as the personal protective bubbles for fans introduced by the Flaming Lips.
Amid the extended shutdown, numerous venues shut their doors permanently, including Slim’s (San Francisco), the Port City Music Hall (Maine), Great Scott (Boston), the Majestic Theatre (Detroit), The Copacabana (New York), Threadgill’s (Austin), the Eighteenth Street Lounge (Washington D.C.), and the El Chapultepec (Denver) among numerous others.
The coronavirus pandemic also appears to have shattered the traditional movie business, with major studios postponing at least a year’s worth of theatrical releases while major cinema operators struggle to survive the twin hammer blows of mandated capacity limits and virtually no new movies in the pipeline.
In November, Warner announced that it was abandoning the traditional window that gave cinema operators first crack at newly-released films and would instead release all of its 2021 films via its streaming service HBO Max at the same time as its theatrical release.
Disney, which owns major content studios such as Pixar and Marvel Entertainment, plans to continue to honor the theatrical release window but has experimented as well, releasing tent poles such as Mulan and Hamilton direct to streaming for an additional fee.
Major agencies also faced disruption during the pandemic year. Caught between the hammer of major disruptions to the movie industry, and the disappearance of revenue from touring musical clients, major agencies cut salaries and laid off or furloughed hundreds of staffers and agents.
As a result of the disruption, a host of new boutique agencies and management companies sprang up from the wreckage in 2020, including One Finix Live, Mint Talent Group, Arrival Artists, On Ramp Entertainment, and John Shank’s Terrapin Station Entertainment.
Despite all of the grim tidings this season, and even though winter has just officially started, we can look forward and say that hope springs eternal. The United States appears to have resisted the clumsy attempts of a President to overturn the results of a national election and four years of callous negligence masquerading as leadership is scheduled to come to an end next month followed by a national sigh of relief.
As well, the first shipments of the vaccines developed for coronavirus are starting to make their way to first responders, the wealthy, and politically connected and we can all hope that as I write the year-end missive for 2021, coronavirus will be a fading memory.
We would be remiss if we did not take a moment to reflect on the entertainment industry figures who passed in 2020.
In memorium: Tony Rice, Leslie West, Peter Scher, K.T. Oslin, San Jayne, Rita Houston, Ann Reinking, Charley Pride, Harold Budd, Dick Alen, Ryan Brady, Hal Ketchum, Ben Koujizer, Doug Supernaw, Mo3, DJ Spinbad, Bones Hillman, Alex Trebek, Richard “Dickie” Kline, Ken Hensley, Cheryl Tiano, Sean Connery, Lou Pallo, Billy Joe Shaver, Jerry Jeff Walker, José Padilla, Spencer Davis, Tony Lewis, Johnny Bush, Pierre Kezdy, Johnny Nash, Eddie Van Halen, Rocco Prestia, Cookie Monsta, Mac Davis, Helen Reddy, Robert Lasky, Toots Hibbert, Ronald Bell, Gary Peacock, Bruce Murray, Bruce Williamson, Lucille Starr, Ian Mitchell, Erick Morillo, Chadwick Boseman, Frankie Banali, Walter Lure, Dan Parise, Justin Townes Earle, Jack Sherman, Lou Ragland, Todd Nance, Bobby Engel, Salome Bey, Pay O’Day, Alan Parker, Malik B, Denise Johnson, Regis Philbin, Peter Green, Annie Ross, Mitch Slater, Emitt Rhodes, Benny Mardones, Grant Imahara, Rich Priske, Judy Dyble, Charlie Daniels, Ennio Morricone, Nick Cordero, Hugh Downs, Johnny Mandel, Carl Reiner, Vera Lynn, Greg Simpson, Nanci Ryder, Katherine Williams-Dunning, Bonnie Pointer, Robert Ford, Rupert Hine, Bruce Moser, Jimmy Capps, Chris Trousdale, Jim Green, Bob Kulick, Larry Kramer, William “Bucky” Baxter, Jimmy Cobb, John Cumming, David Hayman, Willie K, Lynn Shelton, Phyllis George, Lucky Peterson, Fred Willard, Phil May, Charles “Fuzzy” Owen, Jerry Stiller, Andre Harrell, Betty Wright, Roy Horn, Little Rihard, Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, Brian Howe, Nevin Grant, Millie Small, Florian Schneider, Bob Garcia, Tony Rand, Cady Groves, David Greenfield, Oscar A. Cohen, Harold Reid, Barney Ales, Jimmy Webb, Paul Cooper, Lee Konitz, Richard Coram, Chynna Rogers, John Prine, Hal Willner, Barry Allen, Seppo Vesterinen, Shirley Douglas, Neil Lasher, Bill Withers, Ellis Marsalis Jr., Gary Salzman, Adam Schlesinger, Wallace Roney, Alan Merrill, Jan Howard, Ken Shimura, Joe Diffie, Mark Blum, Bill Rieflin, Manu Dibango, Kenny Rogers, Jim Salzer, B.P-Orridge, Bryan Dilworth, Max Von Sydow, Reed Mullin, Bob Sahne, Kobe Bryant, Don Shula, Terry Jones, Jim Lehrer, Jimmy Heath, David Olney, Neil Peart, Carrigan Shields, and Harry Haines.