Live Concerts in Fall of 2020

On October 1st, Nashville club 3rd & Lindsley will also reopen, with Eagles and Fleetwood Mac tribute bands on the schedule, and the return of Western-swing band the Time Jumpers‘ Monday-night residency. As at the Opry, capacity limits, social distancing, and mask mandates will be in effect.

Other venues steeped in country history, like the legendary Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have already resumed live concerts. On August 8th, Warner Bros. Nashville artist Randall King played to a crowd of approximately 300 there — about a sixth of the room’s total capacity. Guests were stationed at bistro tables set up through the room and required to wear masks in and out of the venue.

“We asked them to social distance. They sort of did, they sort of didn’t,” Chad Rodgers, Cain’s general manager, says. “As the show went on, they got more close to the stage than I would have liked, but the band didn’t care.… You can only control them so much. Part of it also is you need the artist to be up there and say, ‘Thanks so much for coming out, but we need you guys to please keep your distance.’”

The following weekend, Cain’s expanded its crowd to 450 for Red Dirt singer Jason Boland. Rodgers says it went “pretty well” and reports more compliance and mask use all around, despite the larger crowd. Ahead on the schedule are Cody Canada, Aaron Watson, and Sunny Sweeney, though many fall tour dates are still in flux. (Often, a show will be listed as active on a venue’s website but canceled on the artist’s site, causing some confusion about who is exactly playing where and when.)

A few hours away, in Fort Worth, Texas, the cavernous honky-tonk Billy Bob’s has also reopened. A sprawling complex of 127,000 square feet, the building can hold 6,000 people. In order to get up and running, the venue petitioned to be recertified as a restaurant — an option that was available because of the numerous food-serving businesses operating under its roof.

“We’re high-tech redneck now, but if that gives us the opportunity to keep our doors open, it was worth the investment.”

When shows started again at Billy Bob’s with the Bellamy Brothers one night and Flatland Cavalry the next, capacity in the building was limited to 1,200, even though Texas laws would have permitted 50 percent of the total (in this case, 3,000). Guests were placed at tables of six to eight, and some general admission was allowed in spaced-out seats on a second level. The venue also invested in a thermal camera to flag anyone entering the premises whose temperature was above a certain level.

“We’re high-tech redneck now, but if that gives us the opportunity to keep our doors open, it was worth the investment,” says Keitha Spears, managing director of branding and marketing for Billy Bob’s.

For the most part, Spears said, guests were willing to comply with masking requirements and stay in their designated areas. The establishment took a hard-line stance on anyone who refused. “Some people were asked to leave because they didn’t want to wear their masks,” Spears says. “That’s not a personal opinion, that’s a Governor [Greg] Abbott mandate and that’s an executive order in Tarrant County. We’re just enforcing the rules. You don’t want a mask? Love you, mean it, come back when that’s not the rule. But you can’t be here.”

The event calendar at Billy Bob’s is surprisingly packed in the months ahead, with Riley Green playing two nights on September 24th and 25th, followed by Aaron Watson, Mike Ryan, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers, Eli Young Band, and Robert Earl Keen, among others. Other notable Texas venues, like Gruene Hall in New Braunfels and Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, have also begun adding shows. Floore’s has Texas favorites Bowen, Watson, and Pat Green on the books, and a solo show from the Mavericks’ Raul Malo on October 30th, while Granger Smith is set for Gruene on September 26th. The country performer Smith played one of the earliest socially distanced concerts in July, at a Texas minor-league ballpark — a model that the country trio Midland will follow on October 17th, with a limited-capacity, outdoors ballpark show in Frisco, Texas.

“Covid is probably here to stay, and everyone’s going to be assuming some level of risk,” says Midland’s manager Matt Graham, a founding partner of Range Media Partners and its head of music. “But country music is very often an outdoors experience. It’s fairs. It’s sheds. So, for many reasons, I think the country audience is wanting to come back to shows sooner. We’ve done everything that we can to be responsible, and we’ll be extremely considerate of our band and our fans.”

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