Nashville’s Opry House and Ryman, and a handful of other U.S. live-music venues, are opening their doors. From limited-capacity clubs to outdoor farm shows, this is how concerts will look…
*This article is a re-post from RollingStone.com
Scotty McCreery didn’t have any idea he was playing the Ryman Auditorium’s last pre-pandemic show. For the most part, his March 11th performance at the historic Nashville venue was business as usual, with the country singer turning in a full set of hits for a lively, enthusiastic audience out front. Backstage, however, the vibe was odd and tense.
“We did a media thing before the show, and it was the first time I saw people [bumping] elbows and air high-fives instead of shaking hands and hugging,” McCreery recalls. “Folks I’ve hugged forever, everybody was leery of that.”
Within mere days of McCreery’s Ryman concert, it wasn’t just backstage hangs that had changed. The entire live-music industry had ground to a halt: Tens of thousands of shows and tours were canceled because of the imminent Covid-19 pandemic, and financial losses were estimated in the billions. Pollstar, the trade concert publication, projected that U.S. revenue loss from the stall of live events could total $9 billion in 2020 alone. The concert business was struck dead, with no indication of when it might be revived.
Adding insult to injury, live concerts have been cited by health experts as among the most risky activities for spreading and contracting the virus. Both artists and fans spew aerosols and droplets while singing and shouting, and traditional venues — especially those indoors — can find it difficult, if not impossible, to enact social distancing and maintain good air circulation.
And yet, as we enter the fall season, when fears of a second wave of the virus loom, concerts are somehow returning across the country. Live shows, with actual human beings present, are being staged at drive-ins, in parking lots, at farms, in “pods” in fields, and even indoors.
McCreery himself returned to the Ryman on September 4th to headline the venue’s first limited-capacity concert, part of the auditorium’s hybrid “Live at the Ryman” streaming series. At 125 people, it was a small fraction of the crowd McCreery entertained in March, but it was something. It was, if not exactly normal, a step in that direction. “We’ve never played a show where they’re so spread out, everybody’s wearing masks,” he says. “It was just different. Once we got out there, it was a blast. You couldn’t see their mouths smiling, but you could see their eyes were smiling.”
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