Live music concerts are starting to resurface in the Covid-19 recovery. This is what to expect when you go

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When Riley Cash, 31, of Denver, received his second vaccination earlier this month, the next big event on his agenda was a concert at nearby Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater.

The outdoor venue reopened this month with limited capacity and four nights of shows from a band called Lotus.

That the concerts were already coming back was a surprise, Cash said. But after a year of working from home, he was eager to see one of his favorite acts live.

The tickets cost about $91 per person, more than Cash expected. But he said he considered himself and his friend lucky to be able to get tickets within a few days of going on sale.

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“I just want to go do something,” he said.

Some smaller and open-air concert venues are starting to open, offering limited-capacity shows in hopes of finding visitors who feel the same.

Anecdotally, those locations say they have an easy time filling the seats they can provide.

“We haven’t had a single show on sale that hasn’t gotten out of hand right away,” said spokesperson Brian Kitts of Red Rocks, which is located near Morrison, Colorado.

The outdoor yoga series that Red Rocks offers is also selling out quickly, he says.

While it still looks a long way from other indoor forms of entertainment like opera and ballet to reopen, the first sales of the available events have seen a stronger start than expected, Kitts said.

That’s a big deal for the city-owned location, which lost about $52 million last year.

“No one saw this coming,” Kitts said.

“On any given night, we had 400 people working in the venue, and all those jobs were gone overnight,” he said.

As the show season begins, ticket prices have generally not increased, to the credit of the bands and promoters, Kitts said.

But new Covid-19 protocols are in effect.

There are no temperature checks at the door, nor requirements to show proof of vaccine or a negative Covid-19 test.

But other precautions have been taken. There is six feet of space between groups of cardholders, who now occupy only every other row. Masks are mandatory in indoor areas, such as bathrooms or the visitor center.

The location has also implemented contactless payment systems for all transactions.

We haven’t had a single show that we’ve put up for sale that hasn’t gotten out of hand right away.”
Brian Kitts
Red Rocks Spokesperson

Some concert dates canceled in 2020 have been pushed back to 2021. Still, new acts are eager to get on the calendar until October or even November, Kitts said.

“We will never again take for granted the opportunity to get together and see a concert or go to a sporting event,” Kitts said.

While some venues report strong first-time ticket sales, a recent Bankrate.com survey found that only 16% of adults have purchased tickets to a live event.

Concerts or music festivals were the most popular, with 8% of respondents. This was followed by live theater or comedy, 6%; professional sports or college games, 5%; or other live events requiring tickets, 2%.

One reason for the lackluster survey, which is as of late March, may be that consumers are still hurting from money they lost from last year’s events, said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com.

“We found last year that in fact, half of the people who had tickets to these events last year lost money,” Rossman said. “And I think a lot of people are shy because of that.”

Buying tickets now comes down to a “calculated risk” that you could get your money or credit back if events don’t go ahead as planned.

But Bankrate.com found that when people buy tickets, they spend an average of $227 for concerts and music festivals, $191 for comedy or live theater, and $387 for games and sporting events.

Some of those costs may include additional security protocols.

For some locations, implementing those processes was critical to luring visitors back in.

At City Winery in New York City, seating capacity will expand to 150 of the current 100 attendees per show beginning May 1.

That date also heralds a new vaccine-only policy for concertgoers, who can show evidence using the CLEAR app and fill out a questionnaire beforehand. Those who have not received the inoculation can get around the rule by getting a Covid-19 test beforehand or on site on the day of the event.

“We’re really excited to bring this up, so it’s a psychological comfort to be in a bubble knowing that everyone around you has been vaccinated as well,” said Michael Dorf, CEO and chairman of City Winery.

Still, the concert hall has no plans to relax protocols, especially regarding mask-wearing, until the government gives permission, Dorf said.

City Winery has faced various capacity rules and restrictions in other locations in cities like Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta and Chicago.

It was incredibly powerful and moving to see the live music ecosystem reborn.
Michael Village
CEO and Chairman, City Winery

But one constant remains the same: the fans’ hunger to see live music again.

“Everything we can offer for sale now… is enthusiastically sold out very quickly,” Dorf said.

Like many other locations, City Winery has struggled during the last year’s closure as it struggled with revolving rent, utility bills, and payroll.

But it has tried to keep its ticket prices, which are usually determined by how much the performers are paid, under control. Multiple night shows helped make up for limited ticket sales due to lower capacity.

As the pandemic continues to fade, Dorf said he hopes those restrictions come with it.

The introductory joke he tells the audience before each show is always the same, he said.

“Please don’t get used to so much space out there,” Dorf said. “We’ll crowd and lock you up here as soon as possible.”

The biggest reward was to see the joy the performers feel to get back on stage and the audience gets to witness it.

“To see the live music ecosystem re-emerge was deeply powerful and very moving,” Dorf said.

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