Early this week, Dolly Parton tweeted footage of her receiving a Moderna coronavirus vaccine shot. Among veteran musicians, it turns out she’s far from alone when it comes to getting the jab: More and more classic rockers and country acts over 65 are being vaccinated, leading to new conversations about when they — and fans who are in their same age group — can once again experience live shows.
In addition to Parton, the list now includes James Taylor, Elton John, Graham Nash, Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson, David Crosby, John Fogerty, Loretta Lynn, and Kiss’ Paul Stanley. “My arm was a little sore,” Nash tells Rolling Stone; he also asked around about the effects of a second shot. “And they said, ‘Well, you know, you’ll probably get fevers and body aches and lack of energy. And your arm will probably really hurt.’ And right now, my arm doesn’t hurt and I have no fever. I have no sweating. I feel fantastic. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m fine.”
To date, none of those acts or their peers have announced an imminent return to live performances. (And others who have also been vaccinated — including Joan Baez, Robbie Robertson, and Dickey Betts — have retired from touring.) But given the growing number of vaccinated artists — and equally mature fans who may also have received one or two shots — some in the industry wonder if those artists could return a bit sooner than younger acts. As one concert source says of veterans who rely on touring income, “They’re the ones who were hit the hardest.”
The Chicago-based Mint Talent Group books shows for a number of classic artists, some of whom — including Mavis Staples, Allman Brothers Band drummer Jaimoe, jazz musician Charlies Lloyd, and the Blind Boys of Alabama — have been vaccinated. “Once the vaccine started rolling out, the conversations changed from ‘We’re all going to wait and be safe’ to ‘Can we go out in a safe way with socially distanced seating for the artists and the workers?’” says owner and agent Patrick McAuliff, who says most of the artists have currently only mentioned socially distanced outdoor shows.
Mint has not yet booked any new shows for their acts, but McAuliff says that discussions are already underway with venues about how to proceed. Concert riders, for instance, will be revamped to make the road safer for artists now in their seventies and eighties. Artists and agents will have more control over catered food backstage to avoid infection. “All the requests will be different than they were before,” McAuliff says. “The backstage will look different. There will be more skeleton crews and [we will keep] the bubble as small as possible.”
The City Winery chain of clubs, which operates in seven major cities across the country, has regularly hosted legacy acts; before the pandemic, the New York club presented the likes of Nils Lofgren, the Yardbirds, and Christopher Cross. Thanks to newly announced rules from New York State, the club can reopen its 400-seat Manhattan space next month, as long as it limits capacity to 100 non-vaccinated customers and requires them to wear masks and use socially distanced seating.
“When you book a David Crosby, for instance, your average age [of customer] is going to be 70, so there’s a good chance that 95 percent of the room will be vaccinated. They’re going to embrace going out, especially if they know they’re surrounded by other vaccinated people. That’s very different from 20-year-olds.”
For City Winery owner Michael Dorf, those plans may be doable, especially for older artists he may want to chase. “When you book a David Crosby, for instance, your average age [of customer] is going to be 70, so there’s a good chance that 95 percent of the room will be vaccinated,” Dorf says. “They’re way more cautious and have zero hesitation about wearing masks. They’re going to embrace going out, especially if they know they’re surrounded by other vaccinated people. That’s very different from 20-year-olds.”
In the meantime, other classic artists are waiting it out. Elton John’s farewell tour is not resuming until 2022. A joint James Taylor/Jackson Browne trek, scheduled for last summer, is still currently set to resume in May, although Taylor assumes it will most likely be postponed again — to the fall at the earliest. “That was one I was really excited about,” says Taylor, who tweeted out photos of him and his wife Kim receiving their shots this week. “We’ve never toured together, but we’ve worked in the same context; my band worked on Running on Empty. So I feel a real connection to him. But we’re waiting to find out what’s happening, and when we’ll be able to expect our audience to feel safe about going out again.”
Additional reporting by Angie Martoccio