When Prince Royce arrived at the Forum in L.A. on March 12th, 2020, he had already learned that the growing coronavirus pandemic had wiped out the remainder of his world tour, costing him untold amounts of money. But he had a more immediate concern: that night’s show, and the agonizing decision whether to cancel it or forge ahead.
“I’m very stressed,” Royce remembers of the uncertain hours before his headlining gig at the Forum, which ended up taking place. “There are lines of fans out in the rain with their umbrellas [outside the arena] for the meet and greet. The word was, ‘Hey, we’re ready to do this show — it’s really just up to you.’ I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’”
That very same day, live music conglomerates Live Nation and AEG effectively ended mass touring in the United States, issuing a joint statement recommending that “large-scale events through the end of March be postponed.”
What the touring industry assumed would be a several-weeks-long postponement has, of course, resulted in a lengthy shutdown that has devastated the music industry. One year ago today, on March 12th, 2020, four arena concerts took place around the United States: Prince Royce in Los Angeles; Billie Eilish in Raleigh, North Carolina; Post Malone in Denver; and Lauren Daigle in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Eilish and Malone declined to be interviewed for this story). There have been a handful of indoor arena shows in American since then, but March 12th, 2020, was the last time there were multiple, large-scale indoor concerts in the United States.
It was a time of unprecedented upheaval for the world at large, but within the music industry, things were particularly chaotic. That same night, the country duo Dan + Shay canceled their scheduled arena show in Philadelphia; the organizers of a benefit show that evening at New York’s Beacon Theatre decided to livestream the show without a live audience (several of the performers at the Beacon that evening ended up testing positive for Covid weeks later). “In 48 hours, it went from a trickle to a full blast of cancellations,” says Dennis Denehy, AEG’s chief communications officer. “It was like going from a train delay at one station in the subway system to shutting down the entire MTA.”
The evening of March 12th remains singular in the eyes of those who attended any of those four arena shows: the last moment where tens of thousands of people crammed into a common space for an evening. “Everything went as perfect as it could,” says Nayelli Medrano, a Prince Royce superfan whose seats were upgraded to the floor that evening due to the many fans who, concerned for their safety, didn’t show up. “Right before everything went to shit.”
This is the story of that night, told by the artists who performed, the workers who made the shows possible under unprecedented circumstances, and the tens of thousands of fans who witnessed this one final night of pop spectacle before arena concerts were suspended for the foreseeable future.
Part One: It Just Wasn’t Serious Yet
Leigh Holt, Lauren Daigle’s manager: We were [on tour] in Australia for three weeks in January. When we landed in the Melbourne airport, there, on all of the TV screens, it was “Virus breaks out in China.” Our tour manager had N95 masks with him because of all the wildfires in Australia, and he handed us the masks when we got off the airplane. We were like, “What are these?”
Tyla Yaweh, Post Malone’s opening act: We didn’t realize what was going on when we were on tour. We’d see a few things on our cell phones about [the virus], but it was just one of those things we thought would be like ebola or something.
Abner Ramirez, Johnnyswim (Lauren Daigle’s opening act): The [week] before [March 12th] we still went out into the crowd.
Amanda Sudano, Johnnyswim: He was eating food off of people’s plates.
Abner Ramirez, Johnnyswim: There was a family and somebody was having cheese nachos, and we were running out into the crowd and I ate some cheese nachos. Amanda was like, “What are you doing?”
Nayelli Medrano, Prince Royce fan: I met Prince Royce a week or two weeks before his show. He always does meet and greets when he puts out an album, and I always catch them. The coronavirus was a thing, but it just wasn’t serious yet. He still did a meet and greet with hundreds of girls. It was like, “We’re so lucky that he was just more about the fans than the safety.”
Nancy Marban, Billie Eilish fan: I was on Twitter on the days before the show, and there were a lot of people asking [Billie Eilish] to cancel. I had already asked for my day off at work. At first Covid didn’t seem that serious to me. I never thought it was going to be what it ended up being. I didn’t want her to cancel.
Tyla Yaweh, Post Malone’s opening act: It was before the masks and the gloves, and you could tell everybody’s vibes were different, like “Should we even be in this restaurant with each other right now?” We didn’t know what to do, to be honest. It was so brand new. It was like, “What the fuck is going on?”
Prince Royce: We had done a few shows and were kind of scared, and I remember I was in my house in L.A. and Tom Hanks [announced he tested positive]. That same day, later that night, the NBA gets canceled. This is the day before my show [at the Forum], but still, for whatever reason, I wasn’t thinking about my show being canceled. I don’t know why it wasn’t something that was on my radar.
Lauren Daigle: I had actually flown in [to Grand Rapids] the night before [March 12th], and all of the tour buses drove up from Nashville. And the craziest thing happened: All of the buses, with the exception of, like, two, broke down. It was kind of the start of what was about to come in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, when I landed at 11 p.m. in Michigan, I was driving around looking for this coffee shop called Madcap, just to see how close it is, so that we can go the next morning. We see this person get assaulted really bad on the street. They were laying in the middle of the road I was driving down, in a pool of blood. I pulled over, called the police, and the ambulance came.… Everything was just off.
Part Two: Oh, My God, It’s Packed
Adam Weiser, vice president at AEG (Dan + Shay, Lauren Daigle): Dan + Shay [who had an arena show in Philadelphia scheduled on March 12th] were not there yet. They were on their way from Nashville. That makes the decision [to play or cancel the show] different. You don’t have everybody on the ground already. You’re not loading in yet. It makes those decisions a little bit easier. In the case of Lauren Daigle, the tour was already there, so we’re starting to load in. That changes the context of the conversation throughout the day. For Dan + Shay, because they weren’t loaded in, we did make the decision [to cancel] earlier.
Prince Royce: I’m on my way to the show in a car, and my accountant calls, and they’re telling me how much money I’m going to lose on the tour. He’s giving me numbers: “This thing’s going to get canceled, and this is how much you’re going to lose.” I’m like, “What?”
Maria Hernandez, Prince Royce fan: I’m part of Prince Royce’s fan club. A lot of friends flew in [for the show] from New York, and at the time, we had this mentality that people were catching the virus through airports. The first time meeting [the Prince Royce fans from New York], I didn’t hug them when I said hi. I was so with that fear of “Oh, my God, they just got off a plane. What if they have this?”
Mark Tepsic, freelance photographer in Denver (Post Malone): As far as credentials getting approved for events, a lot of times we learn a little bit late, but this one was way late. Even on the day of the show, we still didn’t know if it was going to happen.
Alex Rangel, lead audio engineer at Denver’s Ball Arena (Post Malone): My console is [just above] the 300 level of the arena, so you have a bird’s-eye view for watching these huge productions get put up. Post Malone had come through a few months before, so I knew that production already, and I was able to compare what it was like that day and how fast it was going up. Stuff was just still on the ground and not loaded in because they were going back and forth talking about “Are we going to do this?” Shortly thereafter, we got word that “Yeah, we’re going to go ahead and press on.”
So stuff started back up again: They started putting up the truss and beams and the lights, and then word comes out that Live Nation was telling all their crews, “Tomorrow, you’re coming home.” These dominoes all just started following. So then, stuff started to slow down again, because everyone’s wondering, “Is that going to affect us too?” Everyone was wondering what we were going to do, because it was getting close [to showtime]. We build in buffer time just in case, but we were kind of running out of time. They went ahead and said, “We’re going to pack it up as of tomorrow, but we’re going to go ahead and push through and do the show tonight.”
Adam Weiser, vice president at AEG (Dan + Shay, Lauren Daigle): We were on the phone until 2 a.m. talking about it the night before. I fell asleep at some point. At about 3:30 in the morning there was a conference call between our teams, but they couldn’t wake me up. So at 6 a.m. [on March 12th] we continued the conversation. The purpose was to get ahead of it and know, “Should we be loading in? Should the staff not go to the venue?” All these sorts of things. In the case of Lauren Daigle, they were [already] loaded in by the time we had gotten on the phone.
Prince Royce: I remember having a little meltdown on my bus. Trying to decide, “Can I do this? Should I do this? Am I going to get criticized for doing this?” I had never been in a position where “Am I putting my fans at risk by doing this? Am I putting my peers, my friends, the people that work for me, at risk?” It was scary. “Should I jump into the audience like I normally do? Should I bring a girl onstage like I normally do?”
A lot of my friends didn’t come to the show. They were like, “Yeah, we’re not going to go.” Which was all good. Usually, as a singer, you never would’ve thought that singing at a concert would be something dangerous. It was definitely a rough decision. I felt like I was, not pressed to do it, but, you know, another thing is that there are contracts, there’s things like, “What’s going to happen if I don’t do this show?”
Lauren Daigle: [On March 12th], I slept through my alarm and missed my interviews, which I never do. I wasn’t even focused on [the virus]. Later, at the coffee shop, I get about 50 texts from my manager: “Where are you? It’s an emergency.” She was like, “The police are here. I’m getting 900 phone calls.” I was like, “The police?” And then I realized, “Oh, the police are coming to get information about the assault I witnessed last night.” My manager told me not to leave the coffee shop, and I see her and my road manager running in and I was like, “What is going on? This feels like The Twilight Zone.”
What they were coming to tell me was, “Hey, everything’s about to get shut down.” We went into my manager’s car. It literally went from zero to 100 in the time we sat down in the car. At first it was like, “Hey, it seems like we might have to cancel this weekend and next weekend.” That was as far as the conversation went. Then, in 30 minutes that we were in the car, it went from that to Coachella, to “OK, now we have to cancel a month out,” to “OK, now we just have to cancel.” It was just a domino effect. Every two minutes, we got another call from WME.
Leigh Holt, Lauren Daigle’s manager: By the time I met Lauren at a coffee shop at 3:30, it was, “We can definitely play tonight, and we can definitely play tomorrow night, but Saturday’s canceled.” I sat down and gave her the game plan. Fast-forward to 5 p.m. at the venue, and that’s when I got the phone call that we had to cancel the next night and turn all the buses around. We had to make the decision: Do we play this show or not? At that point in time, we already had doors open for VIP entry, so we had about 400 people in the building. Our staff and our team were all in the building, and we had thousands of people outside. We had the local police there, and we had been consulting with the city of Grand Rapids, and we decided to play the show. From 5 p.m. to 7:30 was the most amount of pressure I’ve ever felt as a manager.
Maurice Cordova, executive chef at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids: There were some concerns throughout the building, but we didn’t know enough about it to be scared.
Abner Ramirez, Johnnyswim (Lauren Daigle’s opening act): Everybody was trying to stay normal.
Lauren Daigle: Every minute [of March 12th] felt like an entire day within itself.
Mark Tepsic, freelance photographer in Denver (Post Malone): As a culture and as a country, and especially as a state, we were still fairly relaxed about it, because it was all so new. It was like, “OK, the show’s on, so everyone’s going.”
Bridget Chapman, reporter at CBS Raleigh (Billie Eilish): We went outside the PNC arena, and fans were all lined up. My main thing that day [as a reporter] was asking people if they were concerned because of Covid. I remember one fan was worried about Billie Eilish’s health. I ended up quoting her. She was like, “I’m worried for her doing all these tours.”
Bethany Mulder, Lauren Daigle fan: My 11-year-old had never been to a concert, and when she was in recovery from anorexia, Lauren Daigle’s music was a huge part of her recovery process. In the midst of a really difficult time, those words were the only thing that would calm her down. So this concert was super special to us, but we also wanted to make the responsible choice. We went back and forth on it literally up until the last minute before we had to leave.
Meanwhile, we had a lot of friends saying they were really disappointed that the show wasn’t canceled because they didn’t feel comfortable going. That made us think, “Should we stay home?” Ultimately, we decided to go. A big reason was our daughter. We looked at the [infection] numbers, and we just felt like it was going to be OK. Then, when we were there in line for the meet and greet, we got word that the next day would be the last day of schools, indefinitely. So you’re standing there in line thinking, “Should we leave now? Are they going to cancel?” There was this ominous feeling as we were standing in line of “Is this the best decision?”
Abner Ramirez, Johnnyswim (Lauren Daigle’s opening act): We’re really touchy, [bandmate] Amanda and I. Whether it’s a small venue or an arena, we’re going to be in the crowd. Our meet and greets are a lot of hugs. That night [in Grand Rapids], at the meet and greet, we were hands in pocket.
Tyla Yaweh, Post Malone’s opening act: We still did a meet and greet (laughs). It was a little sketchy.
Bridget Chapman, reporter at CBS Raleigh (Billie Eilish): It was a really weird [work] day because I think I knew I was not necessarily in a safe atmosphere, just based on how many people were there. Especially with the governor [of North Carolina] saying these events should not go on any longer. I remember feeling, “Let’s not get too close to the [fans in line outside the arena]. Let’s not shake anyone’s hand.” We just knew that the storm was coming.
Prince Royce: I always ask my tour manager to send me a picture of the audience [before I go on], especially the big shows that I care about. L.A. was going to be one of those shows. But I remember that night, I didn’t ask for a photo. I’m like, “Listen, I don’t care if it’s empty out there.” Then, I remember the curtain falls and I see it’s pretty packed, and I’m scared. I’m like, “Oh, my God, it’s packed.”
Leigh Holt, Lauren Daigle’s manager: We had about nine or 10 thousand people show up. I think about a thousand people didn’t come.
Nayelli Medrano, Prince Royce fan: The [arena] was really empty, which was weird because his shows are always sold out. We got inside and there was this guy staring at us, and he ended up asking if we wanted floor seats. So we ended up right up in the front. It was the one good thing [to come] from the virus.
Mark Tepsic, freelance photographer in Denver (Post Malone): I’m in the media room hanging out with people, a lot of whom I’ve known for a long time, and we can keep our distance. When we come out into the photo pit, I’m not going to be crammed up next to anybody. We talk about keeping six feet of distance. I pretty much had that, for the most part. Normally there’s protocol [in the photo pit]: When you’re walking behind someone, you give them a quick tap so they don’t back up into you. It was a little less hands on that night. If I was a ticket holder that day, I don’t know if I would’ve gone.
Hannah Mitchell, Billie Eilish fan: We didn’t really know much, at the time, about the virus. It was kind of scary. We were like, “We’re going to keep our distance, use a lot of sanitizer.”
Prince Royce: I was surprised a lot of people went [to the show]. I thought, “Maybe no one comes and I just comply with my contract or whatever, and sing to two people.”
Bethany Mulder, Lauren Daigle fan: The atmosphere did feel different, I will say that. There were many empty seats. We questioned if we should put anything on social media that we attended, because we might be judged. Ultimately, we still did that: We had front-row seats. Lauren Daigle waved at my daughter. We were never going to have this opportunity again. We had been through a lot in our family.… I have no regrets about it.
Hannah Mitchell, Billie Eilish fan: It was like any concert I’d been to: Scan your ticket, find your seat, hundreds and thousands of people walking around. I do distinctly remember thinking, “Wow, I’m around all these people.” One of the first things I noticed is that [Billie’s] opener wasn’t there, and we didn’t realize that at the time. We sat there for a while and were like, “So, I guess there’s no opener” [Editor’s note: Eilish’s opening act, Jessie Reyez, did not perform at the PNC Arena on March 12th.] I do distinctly remember Billie commenting that this is gonna be the last night for a while.
Maria Hernandez, Prince Royce fan: The arena was half empty. It was a weird vibe. People were trying to move away from other people. I was not really enjoying it as much, because I was thinking about not touching my face. My cousin and friend [I went with] had a similar experience, because even during the middle of the show, they were asking for hand sanitizer. They had the mentality of “If I touch this, and then I touch my face, I could catch this virus.” My friends knew not to hug and to keep our distance, but mentally, I was just thinking about the virus and thinking, “Oh, my God, why am I here?” It was a lot of regret once I was there.
Nancy Marban, Billie Eilish fan: It was a weird time to be at a concert. I was just like, “YOLO: You only live once.”
Tyla Yaweh, Post Malone’s opening act: The show did not stop at all. People didn’t even care. They were like, “We understand what’s going on but this is the last show, so we have to enjoy it.” It was just a last moment where [everyone] could turn up and have a drink and do certain things. We even had an afterparty that night, too.… Honestly, me and [fellow opening act] Swae [Lee] met up that night — me and Swae got lit.
Abner Ramirez, Johnnyswim (Lauren Daigle’s opening act): Onstage, for me, I think it was the most disconnected I’ve been for a performance in a while. I was like, “I need to make sure this gets home, our flight’s early, we have to drive back to Nashville that night [and then fly home to Los Angeles]. I want to make sure this guitar comes home with me.” Some stuff of mine had been traveling in crates, in road gear, so onstage I was kind of making my list of things I need to make sure I pull out of our road cases. I was somewhere else a little bit, during our set.
Prince Royce: The feeling [of that time] reminded me of when I was in New York for 9/11: There was kind of that feeling of this global or national panic. And here I am doing this stupid show, or having to sing in front of people and having to act like I’m feeling normal onstage and like everything’s OK, when it’s not.
Abner Ramirez, Johnnyswim (Lauren Daigle’s opening act): It felt like the end of the world, dude. It felt like we might leave the building and there would be ash in the air, entering into a new apocalyptic era.
Nayelli Medrano, Prince Royce fan: There was a part of the show where [Prince Royce] literally got off stage and ran into the audience. Everyone ran for him, a bunch of people touched him. He really did that during coronavirus. I even touched his arm. A security guard almost ran me over, but it was worth it.
Prince Royce: The audience was great. I remember there being such a positive energy. It’s really weird — it ended up being an amazing show.
Bethany Mulder, Lauren Daigle fan: I don’t remember seeing one person in a mask. We would’ve been the first ones to wear masks if that had been the recommendation [at the time]. And I would remember if I had seen anyone in a mask because that would’ve added to our anxiety: “Should we have brought masks?” But everyone was singing along, shoulder to shoulder. It feels so odd now, but it was definitely normal that night.
Maurice Cordova, executive chef at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids: At the end of the show, Lauren’s team came to us and said, “Hey, we’re pulling the plug on our tour. Would you be interested in all of the food for the rest of the tour?” They had their cooler trucks all packed for the very next show, so they were fully stacked with enough food to feed roughly 200 people — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — for the next day at the next venue. I gave the food to a homeless shelter and a community of churches. But that was the scariest part: We thought we were giving away to the community in need, and then we found out a week later that everybody in the industry ended up being in need.
Leigh Holt, Lauren Daigle’s manager: We had a little afterparty. Our tour manager brought a bunch of food trucks out in the back for us so the whole team could eat together and have a little sendoff and have a good time.
Nancy Marban, Billie Eilish fan: After the show we were like, “We gotta shower because we’ve been with all these people.”
Part 3: I Don’t Think I Regret Doing It
Lauren Daigle: Getting on the bus that night, turning back around [to Nashville], that was when the tidal wave hit me. I woke up in a sweat. I was so overwhelmed. I’d basically had every day planned for the last seven years.… Then, a week and a half after [March 12th], my manager calls me and she’s like, “Hey, it looks like it’s going to be the rest of the year.” I went through a pretty dark time after that.… This isn’t public knowledge, but I ended up getting Covid the first week that things shut down.
Alex Rangel, lead audio engineer at Denver’s Ball Arena (Post Malone): When it was time for load out, it was almost like a funeral. That day, March 12th: the production D-Day. It was literally the day the music died.
Prince Royce: After the show, it was bittersweet. I said goodbye to the guys, and we sent all the trucks back, and I went back home. After that, it was just confusion. I remember thinking, “It’s gonna be done in a month.” I did things with an organization in the Bronx to raise money for masks and computers, and then I got Covid a month later and that was weird. I don’t even know how I got it. I went out like two times to these restaurants in Miami, outdoor seating, and then, “Boom.”
Tyla Yaweh, Post Malone’s opening act: I ended up linking with Post [Malone] right after the show: A few weeks later we ended up shooting the “Tommy Lee” music video in Utah, just chilling in quarantine.
Hannah Mitchell, Billie Eilish fan: Even though we had that kind of scary experience, it was still one of the best concerts of my life. To this day, I’m so glad that we went.
Prince Royce: I’m so grateful that, at least that I know of, nothing bad happened and nobody from my team and no fans, that I know of, got the virus. But that was definitely a concern. I remember getting some criticism in the news. Was it risky? Should I have done it? I don’t think I regret doing it or anything like that, but definitely I knew that was going to be the last one.
Maria Hernandez, Prince Royce fan: I regret going. But I’m glad that everything was fine and we didn’t get sick.
Hannah Mitchell, Billie Eilish fan: I joke around with my friends sometimes, “That was my last night of freedom.”
Maurice Cordova, executive chef at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids: [During the shows] I usually go up to the top [level] and take pictures, because I’m just in awe. On social media, I show people what I do, what I get to live on a daily basis. So [that night] I went up top and I looked down in the arena, and I saw 12,000 people having the time of their life. For those 12,000 people loving Lauren Daigle that night, that’s the last show they got to be a part of. They had no clue that that was the end of music right there.