Live Concerts in Fall of 2020

The Texas group Flatland Cavalry played both Cain’s and Billy Bob’s and have a handful of other shows lined up through year’s end, primarily in their home state and Oklahoma. The band wrestled with the decision to return to performing. “We stayed off the road as long as we could,” Cleto Cordero, the band’s frontman, explains, noting that they’re basically a small business with around 10 employees. “Our main concern was people’s safety and social distancing, and I thought, ‘Man, it’s gonna be hard for us to put on a good show and have fun and do our job if we’re having to worry about people doing whatever they want to.’”

So far, Cordero says, venues where Flatland Cavalry have performed have done their part to keep everyone safe, and the limited-capacity audiences generally have been willing to comply with the rules in order to hear a little live music.

“It’s in its infancy of people feeling out these shows, but I believe people want live music to return,” Cordero says. “So, it’s in everyone’s best interests to play it as by-the-rules as you can.”

Taking It Outside

There’s one promising alternative to tricky concert-hall shows: outdoor performances. Whether attended by fans in cars or fans seated in chalk-outlined “pods” six feet apart, these shows — which started bubbling up in the U.S. a few weeks ago as Covid cases scaled slightly back — are more familiar to artists and can offer a crowd energy that is markedly higher than, say, an indoor auditorium filled to only 25 percent capacity.

Drive-in shows were the earliest live performances to appear in the pandemic era, with artists like the DJ D-Nice and country star Keith Urban playing to audiences of Civics and Subarus. “Our goal right now is to provide entertainment,” Scott Hayward, owner of the Tupelo Music Hall told Rolling Stone in May. “This is one of those situations where 100 pennies makes a dollar. We’re just gathering as many pennies as we can.” Tupelo charged $75 per car — a price that is a fraction of what it usually charges for live shows, compared by square footage occupied per person. The smattering of drive-in shows sponsored by large corporate brands has been able to target a wider range of price points, but also offers a bigger production budget and a different scale of experience for fans.

Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in North America, debuted a weekend of drive-in shows across Missouri, Tennessee, and Indiana in July that featured Brad Paisley, Jon Pardi, Darius Rucker, and Nelly. The company will continue the experiment in mid-October with shows at Atlanta’s Ameris Bank Amphitheatre from Jason Isbell, Indigo Girls, Blackberry Smoke, and Yacht Rock Revue. Isbell, who this time of year would ordinarily be hosting his annual Ryman Auditorium residency, recently announced three nights of socially distanced shows in October at the Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee. For $125 per person, fans will be seated in outdoor “pods” that can accommodate two, four, or six guests at a time. A fourth concert was added after the initial three quickly sold out.

Colorado’s open-air Red Rocks Amphitheatre has tentatively returned to hosting shows as well, albeit at the extremely reduced capacity of 175 guests. Nathaniel Rateliff held a five-night stand there in mid-September, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters turned in a doubleheader on September 22nd. Dutch DJ Tiesto is slated for September 24th, with Fitz and the Tantrums on September 25th. Other artists are using the scenic venue only as a backdrop: Bluegrass phenom Billy Strings will play a crowdless livestream show on the 26th; Rateliff returns to do likewise on September 30th.

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