Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
With Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out as we speak, the big topic in the entertainment industry this year is the possibility of the nightlife and touring world returning in 2021.
The conversation about how to return to normal once restrictions are lifted has created many questions, most of which cannot yet be answered. Will proof of vaccinations have to be confirmed before entrance? Will there be rapid tests on-site before entry? Will a six-feet-apart rule be enforced? Or will promoters, venues and artists just have to further adapt to digital concerts and perfect the streaming experience for fans to better enjoy from their screens at home? What will our new normal be like for the creatures of the night?
The nightlife industry has had it so good for so long. There is absolutely nothing like walking into a hot, steamy room filled with people who share the same passion for music as you do and dancing in a euphoric state with a DJ controlling the room with music selections they’re making on the fly. The thrill of spontaneity and a room full of people singing a song in unison is nothing short of a religious experience, which is why everyone is so eager to get back to our beloved nightlife.
There is simply too much to consider when thinking of venues and bars filling back up with people socializing, drinking and losing themselves in the moment without the consequences of a spike in Covid-19 cases that could impact attendees’ ability to work and even their health. It’s too early to make plans for a tour and not expect problems, postponements, numerous cancellations or even backlash from fans due to a premature return.
As it stands, promoters and club owners will still struggle for the next several months in hopes that Covid-19 vaccines are distributed quickly and effectively before they can consider a safe and proper return to group gatherings. So many venues across the U.S. have already closed or are on the verge of closing. Those that are holding on have been forced to adapt by attempting to stay connected and create revenue through Twitch parties, livestreams, Bandcamp Fridays and even crowdfunding, all means of counting on their community to help them to maintain and survive. Luckily, communities have responded with support for these new means of connection in an effort to keep our beloved venues afloat a little longer. With all this said, we will likely see more landmarks and cultural institutions on the brink of closure if things continue to stay on hold for another year.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel now that Congress has passed the Save Our Stages bill that provides $15 billion to assist the independent venues most in need. This certainly is a step in the right direction, but it’s up to the Small Business Association to decide where the money goes. Not only that, but the application process can be intimidating, and it could be difficult to receive the funds because thousands of applications are being submitted. The question is: For those who do qualify for relief, is it enough, or worse, is it too late?
Even if Covid-19 was somehow eradicated overnight and clubs opened up this week, there is a lot of work ahead of us before a band can go on tour and get back in touch with its audience. So many lives have been put on hold or completely changed in the last year, meaning it will take more than money and the thumbs-up from city officials to get things back on track.
There’s a good reason it’s called “nightlife.” It’s a life of its own, an ecosystem that thrives due to the many roles involved behind the scenes to create the experiences we can all get swept away in. A concert or a dance club gives so much life to those experiencing it in the flesh, but it also takes so many lives to keep the dancehalls moving and the stages filled. The cogs in the machinery of the nightlife industry are all too often overlooked when discussing our current state of live entertainment.
Aside from the artists themselves affected by the harsh shutdown, many other behind-the-scenes roles have been impacted but are often forgotten. From the independent promoters booking underground artists to club DJs exposing us to new music to independent club owners, talent buyers, stage crews, roadies and all those who add to the sensational experience — go-go dancers, door hosts, bartenders and so on.
It’s hard not to want to put your finger on the trigger and start planning for the near future, but how soon is too soon? The pandemic has no timeline, and the ever-changing “new normal” is hard to keep up with. Prematurely opening doors could lead to surges in infection rates in cities, effectively setting everyone back months and instilling more fear into the already fearful audience.
So before we leap into filling calendars and budgeting tours, we must consider how it affects the ability to get back to business as usual sooner. We must further explore other creative ways to satisfy and stimulate the patron and generate a means for the artists and those who keep the parties going.