As mask and vaccine mandates fall, Covid rates soar among musicians


From the TSA to the Coachella festival, from your local supermarket to your local music club, mask and vaccination mandates continue to roll in across the country, in the face of all the credible scientific evidence that another coronavirus outbreak has not only place, but rages . Considering this, it’s no surprise that touring music artists keep postponing dates as band members or crew test positive.

While no definitive numbers exist, one need only check social media to see dozens of concerts or tours postponed or canceled due to a positive test by a band member or staff member. the tour. That’s been the case since touring began to resume in earnest last summer, but there’s no doubt the situation has gotten worse in recent weeks – as documented in well-reported articles from Pitchfork and The New York Times. to the “Dada Drummer” of musician Damon Krukowski. substack and, sadly, feedback from countless artists who were forced to reschedule dates. And in the wake of last weekend’s Coachella festival – the biggest music festival in North America – it remains to be seen how many artists will have to cancel their appearances at the second of the two-weekend event.

Some musicians have gone so far as to demand, if not beg, their audience to wear a mask. “I’m not a big band,” indie musician Sasami tweeted earlier this year. “If we get COVID and have to cancel shows, I’m completely FUCKED. If you love me at all, please wear a mask and buy some merchandise so we can keep filming. At a Sparks concert at New York City Hall earlier this month, the band insisted that the audience wear masks – most if not all of them did, but it was a Sparks audience in New York. It’s hard to imagine a similar scenario with many other artists or parts of the country.

However, while it’s easy to point fingers at local or venue protocol (or lack thereof) or major live entertainment companies, anyone who’s attended a concert in the past few months can’t help but notice the low percentages of people wearing masks, even in “woke” cities.

“When the band are the only masked person in the room,” wrote longtime indie band Superchunk on social media, who had to postpone several gigs due to Covid on the tour, “it’s clear that this stage of the pandemic is going to last for some time.

The problem goes all the way to the top – Elton John, Justin Bieber, Jon Bon Jovi, Kiss and Jazmine Sullivan are just five major examples that come to mind – but the mid-tier and indie tier hit much harder. touring, those that depend on live performances for a living and earn little revenue from streaming.

These artists also play in venues that are much smaller than the Elton Johns and Justin Biebers of the world – which increases the risk of infection exponentially – and they tour with fewer people, which increases the impact when a member of the tour tests positive. A postponed or canceled date has a much greater impact on these artists than a superstar, who have larger teams (and can therefore absorb the loss of a staff member or two much more easily) and can afford more easily. costs associated with deferrals.

“Every day I see one in five artists whose tours or dates are postponed because a band or crew member has tested positive,” says Brian Long of Knitting Factory Management, who handles artists. independents Jose Gonzales, Bedouine and !!!, among others. “It’s very, very scary as a manager to see that.”

Mitski was forced to postpone a headlining date at New York’s prestigious Radio City Music Hall, as well as two other shows, “due to a positive test while on tour”; and as Krukowski noted in his “Masks Are Off” article published earlier today, a partial list of the last two weeks in the indie rock world single-handedly lists Bartees Strange (April 2), Car Seat Headrest ( April 3), Low (April 8), Superchunk (April 9), Circuit of the Eyes (April 11), Brian Jonestown Massacre (April 14), Spoon (April 14), Jon Spencer (April 16), Sea Power (April 18 ) and Bob Mold (April 18) — and there were many, many more.

The costs for when shows have to be postponed are daunting: “If someone on the tour tests positive, you still have to pay for accommodation and food, and for a bus or other vehicles if you hired them – and there is no money to come. for these shows,” Long says. “And,” he adds, “if the canceled show is a festival date” – which, like other “tentpole” dates on a tour, are often much more lucrative than club shows – “it can mean that a tour that was profitable is suddenly unprofitable.

This all goes against the sunny touring season predictions of Live Nation and other major live entertainment companies, which, like much of the rest of the country, is “returning to normal” despite overwhelming evidence and advice from the CDC that we are still a long way from getting back to normal.

During the company’s latest earnings call in February, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino predicted “record financial performance” and “the strongest multi-year period ever for the live music industry.” Omar Al-joulani, Live Nation’s co-president for touring, told The New York Times last week, “It feels like we’ve gotten back to a normal pace and cadence a lot more,” noting that up until ‘to 40 tours are in preparation. for next year and beyond.

“Large swaths of the live music industry are too eager to pretend we’re out of the pandemic,” Speedy Ortiz vocalist-guitarist Sadie Dupuis told Pitchfork. “We are leaving behind many disabled and sick people, which is not a new issue – just a new way in which the ableism inherent in many spaces is expressed since COVID.”

While a small number of sites continue to require proof of vaccination and masking, in practice this is often much easier said than done: in some states they could potentially be at risk of a lawsuit by imposing this requirement, and the mask requirements are extremely difficult to enforce. if someone has a drink in their hand – that’s the main source of income for most sites. Add to that, like musicians, venues are recovering from two brutal years without any income, making them reluctant to alienate audiences (adding to the sizable number of people who stay away from smaller venues in general ).

In the long term, those who are generally the most harmed by these postponements are the very people that the public comes to support: the artists. “They’re the ones in the crosshairs and they’re the losers in this situation, along with the public,” Long says.

And as with so much else in the last two years of the pandemic, we cannot wait for the authorities to fix the problem: the solution is with us. So without stressing it too much, hide yourself.


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