Live Concerts in Fall of 2020

At a Distance

While many venues remain shuttered and in danger of staying that way permanently, the Ryman and a handful of other spaces, many of which have a stake in country music, are cautiously reopening their doors to varying degrees. Nashville is one of the few cities that loosened Covid restrictions to allow concerts this summer — an allowance that other metropolitan areas including New York and Los Angeles have not yet made. But even entire states are now following suit. On Wednesday, Indiana announced that “indoor and outdoor venues can operate at full capacity.”

All of the partial reopenings are being handled with increased safety measures — such as limited seating or audience capacity, removal of high-touch offerings like bar service and food stands, temperature checks, and mandated masks for audience members and employees — with the aim of reducing the risk of any potential Covid spread for concertgoers, showrunners, artists, and crew alike.

But all those extra measures can be costly, particularly if third-party medical contractors are involved. In the Ryman’s case, the business is relatively protected: As part of a larger corporation that owns several entertainment and hospitality properties, it doesn’t have to worry much about the short-term issue of cash flow, and it can direct resources and finances to exploring options like its livestream-with-audience initiative.

“We looked at it as an opportunity to leverage both technology and a modified or a hybrid model, since we don’t have any ability to pack the house,” says Scott Bailey, president of Opry Entertainment Group, which owns and operates the Ryman.

Live at the Ryman” kicked off August 14th with the duo For King & Country and was initially a virtual concert series, with no in-house audience. At the same time, Opry Entertainment Group was working closely with the Nashville Public Health Department to define a set of protocols that would allow it to return to hosting live audiences. One week after McCreery’s show, the audience doubled to 250 guests for another country singer, Brett Young. The next week, 400 showed up to see Old Crow Medicine Show. The concerts ran through September 18th, but Bailey says they’re open to adding more if circumstances with the pandemic remain unchanged.

“We’ve built the entire product in a way that an artist can come to us and have a turnkey solution specifically for a hybrid model that includes pay-per-view [and] production,” Bailey says.

Across town, the Grand Ole Opry is gearing up to once again host fans at its 95-year-old radio show. Beginning with the October 3rd broadcast, 500 ticketed guests will be allowed inside the Opry House, the venue announced on Thursday. Physically distanced seating, mandatory masks, designated restrooms, and temperature checks are among the precautions being taken ahead of performances by Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Lorrie Morgan, and Terri Clark.

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