Every show has to play. If a band member, even a member of the entourage, gets infected with Covid-19 it’s a disaster.
Don’t expect the hoi polloi to understand touring, after all they can’t understand ticketing, not even the government can understand ticketing, the public thinks that Ticketmaster gets all the fees and the scalpers are such good lobbyists that elected officials end up with a skewed vision of the landscape and no regulations are put into place. But it gets even more complicated, in many cases promoters are in bed with the secondary market, offloading a chunk of tickets reduces their risk. Confused yet?
So the bottom line is these acts that barnstorm across the country, from arena to arena…it’s not four guys in a station wagon. It’s trucks, carrying production, never mind other infrastructure, both physical and human. It’s a business. So, you spend a lot to make a lot. Now more than ever. Belief is the audience won’t put up with a show that’s only four guys on stage and that’s it, that at these ticket prices people expect, demand production, I’m not sure that is true, but that’s the standard of the industry, that’s the way it is. So, the numbers are big. Let’s say you play twenty dates. At best only the last five are profitable. The previous fifteen, even if they all sell out, are all about recovering costs.
Don’t feel too bad for the acts, the percentage looks bad on the surface, but those last five dates can be EXTREMELY profitable. But if you have to cancel a few of the twenty for Covid reasons, you’re screwed.
This is the dance that’s being done now. Especially since acts have gone on the road and encountered this, Kiss and the Doobie Brothers had to shut down, and other performers too. For those acts now on the sidelines, getting ready to go…
So you think the business is back, but the truth is it’s still in flux.
But one thing is for sure, the acts that are out there, the big ones, have Covid protocols that will blow your mind. Bottom line, you may work for the band and be unable to see them perform. You’ve got to stay in the bubble. To make sure the tour can go on, that there are no blips on the radar screen.
The truth is everybody needs the money, but some need it more than others. Meaning there are acts that do less than arena business, who are willing to take the risk, otherwise they’re going to go broke. But not all of them. I was speaking to a musician who pulled his tour because it was just too dangerous, he played a couple of dates and then went home. Then again, the next dates on the schedule were in the southeast, he didn’t want to play Russian Roulette.
And then there are the no-shows.
This is a phenomenon previously unseen at this level. People who bought tickets but just won’t show up, because they’re afraid of getting Covid. They don’t want to risk their lives for a couple of hundred bucks. The truth is almost nobody wanted their money back from shows canceled in 2020, they held on to their tickets, but now that the dates are playing…some are unsure.
And these people staying home, writing off the cost of tickets, tend to be older. So acts that appeal to this demo take a higher risk in business. Does it make sense to put up a tour now?
What we do know is the fifteen to forty year olds will all show up. Except maybe for those older in the demo who have kids and are afraid of getting Covid and infecting them. This generation feels invulnerable, they believe they won’t get infected and if they do they’ll live through it, willy-nilly. So they’ll show up. Then again, do the acts want to tour everywhere these people are? Already there are acts avoiding certain states. The more unvaccinated, the more the vaccinated are wary of going.
But it gets even worse. It’s not only restaurants that can’t get help, this is happening in touring too. Sometimes despite being hired, workers just don’t show up. And the workers are in control, you can say you’re going to fire them because the truth is you’re begging them to come at all.
So at some gigs the concession stands can’t be fully open. There are fewer merch tables. It’s kinda like Brexit, the surface issues are obvious, you think you’re immune to the consequences, and then you wake up and you realize you’re caught in the quagmire too.
So what is going to happen?
So, Covid infection rates should get worse as the temperature drops. This is complicated. But the more your indoors, the higher the odds of infection. That’s one of the reasons the south was hit so hard this summer, because it’s so hot and they all retreated inside into the air conditioning.
But will the tours be impacted, will they stop?
Well like I said, the performers are creating leakproof bubbles. Because no one can get infected, it ruins the economics of the whole tour.
As for checking vaccination status…
That varies from gig to gig. I hear constantly from people who say their vaccine card was only barely checked, if at all. They flash their phone, the ticket taker barely glances and they’re in. Then I know other shows where the promoter hires a whole new team just to check vaccination status, even asks patrons to show their driver’s license to cross-check the information.
Now you can’t even do that in every market. Hell, if Texans are beating up the hostess at a restaurant in New York for asking their vaccination status, imagine what it would be like at a gig, where someone has already committed, already paid for their ticket.
Bottom line, the touring business is going to an all vaxxed model, there’s just too much at risk. It’s not a matter of politics, it’s a matter of economics. Furthermore, promoters have the right to do this. Then again, never underestimate the long arm of the law to get involved but…the bottom line is most governments want shows to play, for their economic reasons, it brings money into the community.
No one can state definitively how it will play out, but these are the issues.
Responses from Bob’s readers. These comments are not edited for grammar or content.
You are painfully spot on about those last few shows of a tour making up for the first several that break even or maybe even lose money. That is one thing making this summer very difficult. Most people can’t wrap their heads around a band selling out the Garden and not making a cent, but it’s simple math. Playing the Garden is a look, or an Instagram picture. There’s quite a few gigs like that. This summer has been an absolute shit show, if it’s not covid problems it’s smoke from wildfires or backlash from fans on both sides of the aisle about how we handle playing during this time. and every show that drops off is a huge blow.
When you have to cancel a show last minute like we’ve had the displeasure of doing a few times so far this summer, you don’t just lose the money from the show you also have to pay the crew wages, travel, hotel expenses and trucking your gear, production in. It costs so much more than just losing the money from that show.
My band lives in a vacuum sealed bubble- no one allowed in from outside. We’ve made huge sacrifices in our lives and our family members lives to continue working the safest way we know how. We are trying to do everything right and the stress of that has been unbearable at times.
I told a guy working in catering last week to pull his mask up over his nose. Any act of laziness or stupidity is a threat to our livelihood. People need live music. It heals. It’s not just that we need to start making money again, we need to start feeling human again. I don’t care about the people’s feelings who haven’t gotten the shot yet. If you want to see a show and you’re not vaccinated, tough shit.
I’ve been consistently saying that we gotta make proof of vaccinations mandatory at our events. Turns out, not even that is enough. The live business won’t be back until 2023 at least. Why? The pandemic ain’t over and it won’t be because of the f…ing anti-vaxxers.
So, I’m writing this from COVID QUARANTINE. I’ve been fully Moderna vaccinated since April 14. Always tested negative. Until last Thursday. Thanks to the anti-vaxxers I caught the Delta variant sometime early last week. In majority vaccinated NYC!!!
Now. If I hadn’t been vaccinated, I’d be really f…..d now. Nonetheless, I’ve been assigned monoclonal antibodies therapy, just in case…
How am I supposed to be putting on live superspreader events when even vaccination don’t protect folks from break-through infections thanks to the virus variants continuously evolving among the unvaccinated?
Fact is, the only responsible thing for us promoters to do is to keep sh*t shut down until this thing is done and the vast majority of the country, indeed of the globe, is vaccinated. It’s gonna cost us, certainly me, money. Lot’s of money. But it’s either that or, thanks to the ever evolving variants, inevitably get people, including vaccinated folks, infected and sick. Money ain’t everything.
Oh. And one of my partners and best friends died of this thing last month. This thing is no joke. Forget about live for now.
All the best,
Just got in from a show (Jason Isbell) in Boston. They were pretty carefully checking vaccination status at the door. I was a bit early, and got in _very_ fast (they were pretty well organized staffed). Isbell thanked the crowd for cooperating, but didn’t make any speeches. It was also “wear a mask”. I’d say 95% of the crowd was cooperating with that, although since folks take them off to drink, I wouldn’t say this is a highly effective measure. Show was almost sold out in an indoor 3500 seat venue, although I did observe some sold but not occupied seats (I was pretty near the front).
Last week, I went to Gov’t Mule at the downtown open-on-the-sides tent venue (capacity 6500, I believe). Very sparse crowd. Maybe 20% full? At that show, the vaccine card “checker” barely glanced at my card and did not check my ID at all. It’s true the Mule crowd skews older, so maybe that has something to do with it.
I have tickets to a number of upcoming live events. I guess I don’t perceive this as particularly risky for a vaccinated person in a relatively low covid19 prevalence state. I’m 60 & healthy. But I could change my mind if covid surges more in the winter months.
P.S. For the Mule show, I went with a college buddy who was a good friend of Warren Haynes’ in high school (btw, we both enjoyed your podcast with Warren). Anyway, my friend emailed a contact in Warren’s camp asking if he’d be available before or after the show. He got a polite, but firm reply the no one, not even family, was seeing Warren on tour.
I went to see Jackson Browne the other night. Have several friends in that band. Couldn’t see any of them because of covid protocol. Can’t blame touring bands. You can’t take any chances of infections with so much money on the line.
As a long time tv, live stream & touring video director I have been lucky. I live in LA, and have some great relationships. My road thru this has been a mixed bag, but tenable. But for most gig workers, this has been a disaster obviously. Most folks in my world are figuring we’ll lose somewhere north or south of a third of all our sub contractors. Gig workers. Some folks discovered home, and family anew. Some fear the virus. Some just plain ‘ol got jobs, so they can pay the bills. I think a lot of us will be forever grateful to both sides of the aisle for the extra unemployment, and PPP loans. It helped a lot of people in our industry survive. But this was always gonna be a long road back… most of us knew that. It wasn’t gonna be a light switch moment, “hey, we’re back”! No way, this is something we’ll be dealing with for a few years in the touring music business. Like most, I’ll endeavor to persevere. It’s gonna take a while…
Hopefully folks will just go get vaccinated!
I am doing shows with a band. We are a national touring act. We do what we can to stay healthy.
I have gotten 3 calls this weekend to fill in for tours who have had a crew member test positive ……..
We are far from “business as usual”.
Tonight Dawes cancelled their Orpheum Theater gig at about 7:30, the scheduled show time. They held doors, admitting no one, and then the cancellation was announced. I was at the VIP soundcheck earlier, so sometime after soundcheck, there was a positive test. What disruption for the next few weeks.
What timing you have!
My mom and I were supposed to see Dawes at the Orpheum in Boston last night. We get near the venue and we see a ton of people in Dawes shirts walking in the wrong direction. Huh. Okay. We go to the Orpheum and a guy asks us if we’re going to see Dawes, we say yes, and he says it’s been postponed. We didn’t believe him! We honestly thought he was joking but he was not. He said, “due to medical reasons the show is being postponed.” Code phrase for Covid.
I checked the band’s website before heading out as well as my tickets and there was nothing about the postponement. The band posted on their Facebook page an HOUR before showtime announcing that there were positive covid tests and symptoms within their operations. And then at 10pm last night, two and half hours after the show was supposed to start, Ticketmaster alerts me that the show has been postponed. Thanks, TM, I already knew that.
Leon Bridges was also playing in Boston last night and canceled. He had played in Texas just a few days prior. Jason Isbell was also playing and he actually DID play. Jason has also had strict safety measures in place since day one. But still, it’s a gamble for every single tour.
I have tickets for arena shows beginning in February and at this point, anything could happen. I hope more people get vaccinated so we can all go party with Dua Lipa!
Keep fighting the good fight, Bob.
Cogent analysis, as always, Bob. The bottom line to me is as you say, “The more unvaccinated, the more the vaccinated are wary of going.” So venues and promoters have no choice but to put into place “vax only” policies—though yes, most of us are allowing those with a recent negative COVID test to attend the show also—and hope that enough vaccinated patrons show up to get us to somewhere better than breakeven. And most of us, at least in the Northeast, are also requiring masks (“unless actively eating or drinking”), another annoyance to many concert-goers. It’s far less than ideal, but at least the venues are open, musicians and their touring staff are working (if they want/need to), and Americans are able to see some high quality LIVE entertainment (I don’t know about you but I just can’t watch one more livestream of someone, however talented, playing their guitar and singing in their living room). It ain’t great, but it’s all we’ve got at the moment.
Union County Performing Arts Center (Rahway, NJ)
I’m just about same age as you Bob…we have Hall and Oates tickets…originally schedule for March 2020…been postponed I think 3 times and now scheduled for November this year…
First I doubt it goes off cuz Hawaii is not really on top of all this Covid stuff…if it does…as of now pencil me in to the no show category…never say never though…
Tom on Maui
Thoughtful as usual. Been to two shows post Covid. Billy Strings at the Fox in Oakland and just could not get comfortable with half the crowd unmasked and a large amount of people packed into the hall.
Last night, Darrell Scott at the Freight in Berkeley and it was much better. They did not allow drinks into the hall because they wanted everyone masked at all times. Smaller more comfortable venue and I felt totally safe. For now, it’s small seated venues for me. Feels good to hear love music again but need to be careful and cautious about the choice of venues even with mandatory vax situation up here in Bay Area.
Andrew M. Zacks
Funny, and that guy is probably the first to say he won’t watch NFL because of Kaepernick or some shit like that. One of the problems I’ve seen with the fire service, and how different individual views have skewed so far apart, is that people all live in zones scattered from MAGA country to liberal country. And even within those areas we have vastly different views. A few are smart enough to at least vote the way the union (California Professional Firefighters) recommends: No on the recall, because Newsome has been a huge proponent in protecting our PERS retirement, into which I put 12% of every paycheck. Everyone thinks our retirement is just free government money, which it isn’t. So we got pro recall guys, just like you said, because they’re either MAGAs, or pissed at Newsome for eating lunch against the rules, which is voting completely against their own best interests.
As for working enough overtime to make $275k, it can be a physically taxing job. Not because fighting fires is the hardest part. The hardest part is the sleep deprivation. Getting out of bed at 3am, if you’ve been to sleep at all, to go out and help people. Sometimes they are dying and sometimes they’re just a little uncomfortable for one reason or another (but we knew that when we took the job, so we just drink a lot of coffee and try not to complain). So my policy is just go to work for my 56 hour work week, and my 24 hour mandatory overtime (if I’m lucky enough to get just one), do my job, and don’t d
We had Life Is Beautiful and the I-Heart Radio festival this weekend..
Vax (or test) only..Addition staff required to process the attendees..
Everyone showed up..The kids relented, and got the jab, their FOMO was greater than any hesitancy/inconvience..
Same deal at the Raiders Monday night football opener..A stadium packed with thousands of hard core, ridiculously costumed Raider nation devotees…All vaxxed! And stringently screened..
The Clear app makes it easy..Scan your ID, vax card, and photo…Boom, you’re in..
Public health? My ASS..Follow the money..The economy, stupid..Paul Anka knows..
Positive reinforcement (be a good citizen, get cash, etc.) FAILED…The fearful only respond to negative reinforcement.
I went to Hamilton in San Francisco, they were cross-checking vax cards with photo ID before you even got to the ticket entrance.
Thanks for speaking Bob.
I have an old friend who just spent 3 weeks on a vent. He got caught up in Trumpdom/no vax land. He lost 73 lbs and can’t walk or use his hands. Enough. Our hospitals here in Southern Illinois have no room in the Inn. I’m done with covidiots.
i hope your fans read my email and here’s an update:
My partner is now on a ventilator and is doing poorly. This morning I was told he’s got a 50/50 chance of leaving the hospital. This incredibly strong man who followed all protocols could possibly lose the covid battle. The antibodies ( regeneron) do not keep you out of the hospital or off a ventilator. Stay safe, be vigilant about protecting yourself and your family. Vaccination is the ONLY way to get protection.
Please forward to sari leon. He’s getting the wrong medical advice. Get some F’IN Ivermectin and inhale hydrogen peroxide to rid him of the virus. https://riordanclinic.org/nebulized-peroxide/. Continued use of steroids is damaging, he’s weak enough. There are excellent docs out there beating covid, but not those buying into big pharma funded mainstream BS. https://doctorsbeatingcovid.com/
(I only print this to show how embedded misinformation is.)
Thanks Bob for keeping focus. Here’s my 09/10/21 canceled tour text from down here in the b/c level of touring.
It is with a sad heart and profound frustration that we must cancel our Joseph Parsons Band & support (The End Of America) October tour in Germany & Denmark.
The risks are too great for our fans, supporters and our families. The internal decision has been hard but not nearly as hard as the struggle those we know who have gotten this terrible virus. And for those who’ve died, the ruin in their families. For all of this, it begs the question: Could this possibly be worth the risks? I’ve been a risk taker my whole life. All of us are who have this calling. But this is different. This feels selfish if I were to push through this tour. I need to make a living, but at what and at who’s cost?
Live performances will return for us all one day. And it will be free of masks and fear of being near and/or hugging our extended families on the road. How awful has this been. This is no time to take undue risks. It is a time to protect each other. Especially those of us with kids. Since we do not know the long term effects of Covid19, I think we need to do whatever we can to protect our kids from this virus.
Sadly, we will have to make up this tour at a later date when possible.
The decision to cancel this tour is a difficult and multi layered one. Here is my ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ tour reasoning. I think it only fair you know how my brain works. This is my/our third canceled tour since it began, so it adds a huge dose of angst on top.
If we do the tour and any one of the band or support gets sick – it just happened to a band I know – the entire tour is over. And if a fan gets sick (or worse!) because of us having a concert and asking folks to come hear us, that would be forever devastating for me and the band.
Additionally, we are not a rich band, one that has built up resources that can weather the blows and still support our families and crews. For us it means a financial disaster: quarantine for the rest of the band, hotel costs, food, cancelled and new exorbitant flight costs, tour bus rental fees, lost salaries, venue & booking fees, promoter & staff losses, lost merchandise & promotion costs.
And what may seem trivial with all of that said – but means the world to me – is: Instead of a wonderful memory of a great concert or tour, there would be a terrible feeling with this memory attached to it. Forever.
To NOT Tour:
The Band(s), Agents & Promoters would take a terrible hit – so much time, energy & love go into putting on tours and shows at our level. People are not doing this just for the money but the love of bringing us all together, the music and bringing something wonderful to their part of the world. The fans and the band would not have a chance to see each other for an additional long, long time if we don’t tour. Some of the sponsored venues would be able to absorb the hit. But for the clubs & organizations or private ones, it could cost dearly.
My deepest apologies to all the fans, agents & promoters who’ve planned and worked so hard to make the tours happen. Again.
Joseph Parsons Band
I’m on tour in Europe right now. Just a dude with his guitar traveling around. After all my self booked stuff went down in 2020 (three tours canceled is a lot for someone that does the driving, the booking, the stage managing AND the performing) It’s much smaller here right now. I’m doing more house concerts and the folks putting them on are very demanding of inviting only the people they know are vaccinated.
I had a “big” show booked – opening for Milow in Bremerhaven. Milow is huge over here, if you don’t know him, it only takes a google to see what I’m talking about. I was scheduled to open for him on Sept 23. At my show yesterday, one of my fans told me they couldn’t buy tickets because the show was canceled. The show got scrubbed from the artists website, from the venue website all before anyone even told my agent it was happening.
It is still tough of course, the mountains of paperwork needed to be filled in just to travel was intimidating and last minute changes by individual countries (Netherlands) meant rebooking and scheduling trains and hotels – and those trains and hotels not offering refunds or exchanges – that part has been financially difficult.
The first two years/times I toured in Europe were just money losses where I was building a touring base, the next 10 years were solid. Now I feel like I’m back at year one.
Yeah, this is hurting the big acts but it’s killing us smaller acts.
GET THE FUCKING VACCINE.