Concert halls rely on vaccine evidence or negative tests to woo fans
MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. – Fans of the band Wilco could have reasonably interpreted singer Jeff Tweedy singing “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” during a concert on August 13 at St. Louis Music Park as the universe explaining the past year.
For example, 30-year-old fan Lazarus Pittman had planned to see Wilco and his co-star Sleater-Kinney in August 2020 at the outdoor site in this suburb west of St. Louis. Then the show was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pittman fell ill with the coronavirus. He quit his job as a traffic engineer in Connecticut to move to St. Louis for his girlfriend – only to see her break up with him before he moved out.
But he still walked from New England to Missouri in a converted minivan for the rescheduled outdoor show. âCOVID has been tough, and I’m glad things are opening up again,â he said.
Yet hours before Pittman planned to cross the concert off his bucket list, he learned the last wrinkle: he needed proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from the previous 48 hours to participate. concert.
The bands announced the requirements just two days earlier, sending some fans scrambling. It was the latest hub of the concert industry, this time amid an increase in delta-variant infections and lingering concerns that the recent Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago was a high-profile event.
After more than a year of no live music, promoters, bands and fans are eager to continue gigs, but uncertainty remains as to whether vaccine or negative test requirements actually make large gigs safe. , even if they take place outside.
âAbsolutely not,â said Dr. Tina Tan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Northwestern University. “There is simply too much COVID circulating all over the United States”
During the first few months of summer, large outdoor venues such as Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado and Ruoff Music Center in Indiana once again hosted bands such as String Cheese Incident and Phish, with crowds in attendance. Sold out counters composed mostly of people without masks inhaling marijuana or any other possible particle. about.
Then, the delta variant’s push in July sparked new concerns about large gatherings, even in such open-air venues.
Tan and other medics have warned that Lollapalooza, with around 385,000 participants from July 29 to August 1, was a “recipe for disaster,” even though organizers instituted a requirement for a vaccine or negative test.
As it turned out, Lollapalooza was not a large-scale event, at least according to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr Allison Arwady, who reported that only 203 attendees were diagnosed with COVID- 19.
Tan said she was skeptical of those numbers.
âWe know that contact tracing on a good day is difficult, so think of a place where you have hundreds of thousands of people,â Tan said. “It only makes it much more difficult to find contacts, and people are always hesitant to say where they are.”
But Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at the University of Arizona, said she viewed Lollapalooza’s data as “a very good sign.” Still, an outdoor gig with the new entry rules isn’t without risk, she said, especially in states like Missouri, where the delta variant has flourished.
âIf you are considering an event in a high or substantial transmission area, now is probably not the perfect time for a large gathering,â Popescu said.
Recently, two of the country’s biggest live music promoters, AEG Presents and Live Nation Entertainment, announced that they will start requiring vaccination cards or negative COVID-19 tests where the law allows from October. . But not all groups and halls institute such measures. And some just postpone the shows again. For the second year in a row, organizers have canceled the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival scheduled for October.
Theresa Fuesting, 55, had no plans to come to her first Wilco show, even though she had four tickets, until bands announced the new rules.
âI still think it’s a threat even though I’m vaccinated,â said Fuesting, who lives just across the river from St. Louis in Illinois.
For promoters, making sure people like Fuesting feel safe enough to use their tickets affects their bottom line, said Patrick Hagin, who promoted Wilco’s concert and is the managing partner of The Pageant and Delmar Hall in St. Louis. Even though tickets are already purchased, bar and merchandise sales on the site suffer if fans don’t show up.
“Also, you worry: will that person who bought a ticket even come in the future?” Hagin said.
In non-COVID times, more than 90% of ticket buyers end up attending, Hagin said. During the pandemic, that number was as low as 60%.
Hagin said he was temporarily offering refunds for shows at his venues. St. Louis Music Park did not offer a refund for Wilco’s concert and told fans on its Facebook page that it was instituting the requirements “based on what each show wants.” The exhibitors did not answer questions for this story.
Jason Green, unable to get a refund for the August 13 show, sold his two sixth row tickets for $ 66, $ 116 less than he paid for the pair in March 2020. He was concerned that the new demands of the place are not sufficient. .
âYou want to wait and see if it’s a legitimate thing that is keeping things from spreading,â said Green, 42, who lives in St. Louis and is fully vaccinated against COVID.
He skipped the gig even though he and friends from a comic book collective liked Wilco enough to name a recent comic after the band’s album “A Ghost Is Born”. The band enjoys a loyal local following: Tweedy hails from Belleville, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River, and the band performed their first gig in 1994 in St. Louis.
Fuesting and Pittman took a chance.
It was the first visit for many fans to the new venue, an open-air space under a curved roof. It was scheduled to open last year but has been delayed due to the pandemic.
Fans walked through metal detectors and quickly showed their vaccination cards or test results to people seated at tables. Out of about 2,500 participants, the place had to refuse only four people; one of them left, took a test and then came back, Hagin said.
âI was very encouraged by how positive the compliance was,â he said.
Fortunately, Pittman had a photo of his vaccination card on his phone, which organizers accepted.
âIt was so much fun,â said Fuesting, who wore a mask the entire show. âI just liked the energy of the crowd. They were all great fans and sang every song. “
The band did an encore with their classic tune “Casino Queen”, the name of a river casino in East St. Louis, Illinois.
âCasino Queen,â Tweedy sang, âmy lord, you are mean. “
COVID-19 too. But for Pittman, who didn’t wear a mask, the spectacle was worth the gamble. He said he was so into music that he could get the coronavirus out of his mind, at least for a while.
âThey just played all my favorite songs, one after the other,â Pittman said. “I didn’t even think about it.”