In an alternate universe, Nic Weldon would be focusing one of his video cameras on Janet Jackson right about now. At 35, he’s spent most of his working life on road crews, as either a director or a cameraman on tours with the Eagles, Kings of Leon, and Ricky Martin. Thanks to him, footage of arena crowds is seamlessly woven together with shots of live, onstage antics and prerecorded visuals; he can be almost as integral to a major concert as the headliner.
But these days, instead of capturing Jackson and her dancers on her planned Black Diamond arena tour, Weldon spends every day in the same city — San Jose, California — heading not to an arena but to his local Whole Foods, where he spends his days chopping up chickens for customers, for $17 an hour. “I miss being able to create something big, to tell a story,” Weldon says one night at home after work. “I miss seeing the fans and their reactions. You can hear their cheers and screams when they see something cool on the screen. And you know they wouldn’t have seen that if it weren’t for you highlighting it. But no one has called.”
Covid-19 has impacted every aspect of life and work around the planet, and from delayed movie premieres to stalled TV productions, the entertainment industry has hardly been spared. But even in that particular ecosystem, the music world has been slammed the hardest. Recording studios locked their doors, album release plans were disrupted, and everyone from the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift has been forced to cancel or postpone major tours. “Everyone is just sitting around waiting to see when’s the best time to do this,” says Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, whose 50th-anniversary tour was postponed from this summer to next. “It’s a head-scratcher. It’s disappointing, but at the same time there’s not much you can do about it.”
Some tours have been postponed for at least a year, and many clubs have closed indefinitely — interruptions that have wrecked the livelihoods of an army of men and women who work behind the scenes. Back in March, Rolling Stone profiled some of these often-unsung stalwarts of the music world. Since then, that part of the business has fallen into even more dire straits. The truck drivers who haul a band’s gear to an arena, the roadies who prepare a stage before a show, the people who scan your tickets or sell you beer, the security guards who make sure that obnoxious person hasn’t taken your seat: Starting in March, when the concert business shut down, these people and others who do similar work in the business saw their paychecks and plans vanish overnight. “You were going 100 miles an hour for months or years, and then it goes from 100 to zero,” says Jerome Crooks, a veteran tour manager who was on the road with Tool when the call came to send everyone on his crew home. “That’s basically what our lives have been like.”
Restaurants, gyms, and other businesses have partly reopened, but after more than seven months, the live music business still has a “closed” sign up. In a first for this industry, those workers are now scrambling to make any sort of living they can — while coping with mental-health and identity issues that come from suddenly being cut loose from a world many have known for decades. “This is an all-new way of life,” says Weldon. “It’s very scary and unsettling. You just do what you can to not focus on it too much.”
By all indications, 2020 should have been one of music’s most profitable years, especially on the road. Experts predicted a $12 billion year windfall in the live-music business, and the workforce behind this industry was thriving before Covid. Last year, 271,948 concert and event-promotion employees were working in the U.S., according to the market research company IBIS World, which predicted the number would have risen to 274,275 in 2020. That would’ve been a 0.9 percent uptick in growth.
At the beginning of March, the truck-and-bus company Egotrips, run by Nick Weathers, was also on schedule to set records. Twenty of its trucks were assigned to the North American leg of Elton John’s arena tour. Last year, Egotrips had 100 trucks in use on the road, and this year, Weathers says, “We were going to be equally as busy if not busier than last year.”
Then came the calls in early March: Festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza were off, and soon so were tours. John postponed his shows, and an Egotrips truck filled with Beastie Boys memorabilia destined for the South by Southwest festival in Austin instead ended up in storage. Most of the company’s trucks and buses are now parked in facilities around the country, meaning Weathers is forking over an unexpected $8,000 a month in storage fees. “We’re probably going to gross 30 percent of what we would have made over the summer,” he says. “We’re talking gross numbers of millions of dollars lost.”
Representatives from AEG Presents — the second-largest presenter of live music and entertainment events after Live Nation — tell Rolling Stone that the company expects to lose 10,000 North American shows in 2020 alone, plus at least half of that in 2021. That’s a loss of $2 billion to $3 billion dollars. In a normal year, AEG puts on around 13,000 shows, meaning they’ve lost about 75 percent of their usual business in 2020.
Live Nation expects to lose more than 20,000 shows. The company was responsible for more than 28,000 North American shows in 2019, but their 2020 count — as of March 31st — was below 5,000. Live Nation also didn’t see its usual surge in peak-season hirings. The company, which employed as many as 28,000 seasonal and part-time employees last summer, says this year’s opportunities were just too few and far between.
Within the live-music world, furloughs and firings have happened industrywide. Paradigm Talent Agency alone laid off 250 employees at the beginning of March. After 44 years in business, one of Boston’s most-beloved music venues, Great Scott, closed for good — and now, iconic stomping grounds like that of West Hollywood’s Troubadour and New York’s Bitter End fear they may face the same fate. In the spring, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) surveyed 1,300 member venues — clubs that employ many technicians — and found that 90 percent did not have cash on hand to last more than six months without federal intervention, and 55 percent said they do not have enough to last more than three months.
“These independent venues are where tomorrow’s stars get their start,” says NIVA head of communications Audrey Fix Schaefer. “You would not have Lady Gaga if you didn’t have that 250-capacity room in New York City, the Bitter End. You wouldn’t have Elton John if you didn’t have the Troubadour.… I was talking to Paul Rizzo, the owner of the Bitter End, who’s owned it since 1993 — it’s a 60-year-old venue. He’s been absolutely mortified because he had to start a GoFundMe. This is a man who’s been able to do it all on his own. He told me, ‘We’ve been through every kind of recession, we’ve been through 9/11, we’ve been through disco, and we could still figure it out. But with this, we just can’t. If we don’t get federal funding, we’re done.'”
And those over 274,000 backstage jobs predicted by IBIS World? That 0.9 percent uptick in growth has since been adjusted to minus 0.9 percent.
Up until now, landing a job in the behind-the-scenes world of the music business could be alluring and profitable. Many roadies began working on crews in their twenties and immediately took to the on-the-road lifestyle and surprisingly high salaries. According to one sideman, touring musicians (in backup bands of solo artists) can earn between $1,500 and $8,000 a week, depending on the level of the acts. Crew members on the Stones’ summer 2020 tour — 150 of them — would have been paid between $30,000 and $150,000 for three months’ work. “One of the things I tell kids who say they want to get into this business is, ‘You sure you want to do this?’” says tour manager Malcolm Weldon (Nic’s father), who works regularly for Cher and other pop acts. “A young kid can make a lot of money — much more money than a lot of people with college degrees, or starting lawyers and doctors. And once you start doing it, it’s kind of like a drug. You get used to the amount of money you can make.”
That pay is often unreliable, though, since touring work is largely seasonal and usually obtained in a freelance manner. Moreover, roadies, unlike musicians, aren’t unionized and haven’t had any major advocacy groups. (The latter is starting to change, but more on that later.) “We don’t really have access to some of the support systems you might want at a time like this,” says Bryan Scheckel, one of Childish Gambino and Passion Pit’s production managers. “Most of us don’t have great health insurance and don’t have access to unemployment insurance or anything like that.”
At the start of the pandemic, most workers — and their bosses — assumed they would be out of work for a few months, and many filed for unemployment. Live Nation launched its Crew Nation initiative and raised $15 million to disperse to crew members early on, but applicants had to meet hyper-specific qualifications and could only receive a one-time payment of $1,000.
Some roadies were fortunate enough to work for some of the biggest acts in music, bands like the Eagles, Pearl Jam, and Tool, who qualified to receive PPP funds from the government. (These loans allowed the bands with salaried crews to provide financial assistance to their employees.) Although their summer tour was postponed, Dead and Co. paid its crew for its work. “We took care of them properly for the summer tour we missed,” says Mickey Hart. “If there’s no them, there’s no us.” My Chemical Romance made a similar decision. “MCR received PPP money to ensure their crew is funded in these times of uncertainty until we are able to be out on the road again,” the band told Rolling Stone. “We are so grateful to these skilled, dedicated people — some of them are parents, others caretakers, still others who simply have rent to pay — and this money helps them take care of themselves and their families.”
While that strategy may work for some big-time bands, it doesn’t work for independent venues and their in-house crew members. “We’ve been advocating for a future PPP plan to give flexibility [to venues] so that we could use it on our fixed costs like rent, utilities, insurance, and taxes — so we can hold on until we can reopen and then get our employees back,” explains Schaefer. NIVA, which didn’t exist until April, has started a movement called Save Our Stages in an attempt to pass new legislation — in the belief that venue-specific legislation is the priority during this waiting game. “Most of our members didn’t take the PPP program or couldn’t get it because the whole premise of it surrounds spending the lion’s share of it on your employees,” says Schaefer. “Well, [we’d] love to have employees now, but we can’t because we’re shuttered. That money would only represent more debt, which we couldn’t take on.”
Coping, If They Can
As the pandemic dragged on and it became clear that concerts would not be returning in the late summer or fall, many crew members were suddenly forced into other lines of work. Caitlin Ray, a tour merchandiser and VIP coordinator recently on the road with Avril Lavigne, volunteered for two months this spring at a makeshift homeless center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for women affected by the pandemic. She also began taking FEMA and EMT courses. Wardrobe specialist Jennifer Jacobs, who was supposed to go on the road with the Chicks (having just worked on their “Gaslighter” video”) and Earth, Wind and Fire, now delivers linens to wards at a hospital during the day and packs orders at an Amazon warehouse at night. In a schedule that’s arguably even more grueling than road work, she’s expected to be at the hospital from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays and at Amazon from 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. She says she’s exhausted. “I get to a point probably around 2:30 or three o’clock [at night] — that’s what I call my bewitching hour — where it just wears me out,” Jacobs says. “I’m so tired. I really can’t keep my eyes open.”
Brandon Blackwell, a production manager and front-of-house monitor-engineer for the likes of Lizzo, A$AP Rocky, Nicki Minaj, and Camila Cabello, is using his time to play the stock market, earning about half of the weekly wages he’d be making out on tour. “It’s not what I’m used to, but it is something, and something is better than nothing,” Blackwell says. “If I can continue to replace half — or more — of my weekly salary through stock, I’m basically covering my living expenses and am not necessarily eating my savings up.” In college, Blackwell was an avid gamer and used to film himself playing Call of Duty; he’s breaking those skills back out for Twitch and also posting highlights on YouTube. “It makes me feel like I have an actual work schedule,” he says. “And it’s technically live production, so it kind of feeds two of my needs there.”
Other road-crew employees are delivering mail, working as carpenters, training for appliance repair (especially appealing for guitar techs), and becoming life coaches. “We began telling people, ‘Hey, we’re not sure what’s going to happen, but your schedule is going to disappear pretty soon and we’re not sure when things are going to come back,’” says Crooks. “We didn’t have a game plan. We all just started looking for work.” Crooks himself has landed a part-time job booking private planes, which, if he’s lucky, gets him a day or two of work per month. He estimates he will lose out on about $200,000 this year.
Toni Globis and Brandon Burney, a North Carolina couple who both worked as crew members on A Bowie Celebration Tour when live music shut down in March, were denied a loan for a home they wanted to buy because they weren’t able to show proof of ongoing employment. As a result, they’re now living in a spare bedroom in Burney’s parents’ house. To help pay the bills, Burney is working for a company that installs displays at big-box stores, and Globis is hoping to take a test to become a real-estate agent. “It’s weird,” she says. “Most of my clothes are black or cargo pants and band T-shirts. I don’t have real estate clothes! But it’s like grieving. I’ve accepted the death part of it, and it’s going to be this way until whenever.”
Mike Stamps was gearing up for what looked to be a busy year. At 58, the trucker has been working in the business for more than 30 years, starting with Pink Floyd’s Momentary Loss of Reason tour in the late Eighties. In early March, Stamps was in Nashville, preparing to load up production gear for Elton John’s summer tour when he got the call to stop and put everything back in storage. “Within the space of two emails and a couple of phone calls,” he says. “A whole lot of us just went out of work. I have no marketable skills other than what I’m doing right now.”
Given his skills as a trucker, though, Stamps was one of the fortunate ones; his 18-wheeler can be used to deliver what he calls “common freight,” so he’s been working for Amazon and other companies. (Other drivers who would normally be driving for major rock tours are delivering hay and oil.) Even so, Stamps has had to take a pay cut, going from several thousand dollars a week (at best) to less than half that amount, and the work can be dispiriting, as in one of his recent drives to deliver goods in California. “When you go into an office to deliver a load, a lot of times there’s no restrooms, no lounge or anything to eat,” he said this summer. “They say step six feet back. Today, I drove over five hours. No food services, nothing. And it’s over 100 degrees.” He says he is “mentally devastated … It’s horribly lonely right now.”
Stamps derives a certain satisfaction from what he’s doing: “I’m helping my country during the crisis. I’m keeping things moving, so that’s a little pride.” But as he implies, the complete collapse of an industry, with little or not relief in sight, carries more than just a financial toll.
In a survey conducted expressly for Rolling Stone, Paul and Courtney Klimson — a couple who own their own concert company, Theory One Productions — emailed 400 fellow roadies about the negative side of gig life in general. Of the 179 who replied, a little more than half admitted to struggles with money and feelings of isolation, and 45 percent to mental-health issues; 18 percent admitted they were now coping with substance abuse. Covid-related pandemonium “just highlights so many of the problems that [we were already planning on dealing with] as a clinic,” Paul Klimson says.
“The problem is, what’s out there for them?” says Steve Kirsner, a vice president at the SAP Center arena in San Jose, which hasn’t hosted any concerts since the end of February. “People who tour have a unique skill set. The normal job of sitting behind a desk is not something they’re used to. It’s a difficult transition.”
The financial stress is itself overwhelming. Multiple concert workers — such as Debbie Taylor, a production coordinator for Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, the Stones, and BTS; and Malcolm Weldon, who was preparing for another run with Aerosmith in March — tell Rolling Stone they’ve been forced to dip into their retirement funds to avoid bankruptcy. “I’m living off of whatever money I saved for my eventual retirement, which I was hoping would be like 10 years from now,” Weldon says. “I’m dipping into something that I didn’t want to dip into.”
Many roadies are stuck at home or pitching in with domestic chores while they wait for the phone to ring. Some concert workers don’t even have homes to go back to because they’re gone so much. Candice Rukes, a wardrobe manager who worked on Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods tour, says she recently rented a room in East L.A., marking the first time she’s had a proper residence in 10 years. “I haven’t needed one,” she explains. “If I had a week or two off, I’d go stay with my family or go to Bali [on vacation.] I could do whatever I wanted.”
But there have been other, more unexpected consequences. As a black man who’s never had to settle down in America for this long a period, Nic Weldon is also experiencing a new level of fear. He says that life in a mostly white, rock-tour bubble — filled with nice hotels and metropolitan destinations — sheltered him from public displays of race-related violence. Suddenly stagnant in middle-class suburbia, he feels as if he’s seeing a part of America he’s never had to observe before. “Now, I’m forced to drive on my own, so I’m more likely to get pulled over,” he says. “There’s just a lot more weighing on my head now. I’m faced with the reality of civilian life in America.”
Even more chilling, according to one source in the business, are reports of suicide. On a recent night, one longtime tour truck driver who was watching TV at home with his wife, excused himself to go to an upstairs bathroom; there, he pulled out a gun and died by suicide. Allegedly, he had been worried about how he would support his wife. The source says that another technician took his own life in the weeks after the shutdown. Crooks and Marilyn Manson tour director Matt Doherty have formed a new support group, the Touring Professionals Alliance, to stay in touch with crew members. Neither had heard the suicide reports, but they also weren’t completely surprised. “People may start turning to alcohol and drugs, and we don’t want that,” says Crooks. “We want everyone to be of sound mind and body, and we want everyone to come back.”
The Road Ahead
At some point, the work will resume. The virus will peak, a vaccine will be available, and musicians will start rehearsing for shows; trucks will be loaded up with their amps and instruments, and road crew members will begin prepping stages and lighting gear once again. It’s the moment most of the now-unemployed armada of music professionals are waiting for, and it’s the reason most of them, at least now, are not fleeing their profession in large numbers. According to a survey of 1,350 live-industry pros by Pollstar and VenuesNow, 55 percent of those polled said they were not willing to leave the industry, although 42 percent admitted they were considering another profession.
Stacey Maranz has carved out her own niche in the business, organizing and arranging VIP tickets for major tours; this summer, she had been scheduled to work on Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival, where she would have spent time on the road with Nelson and, at various dates, the Avett Brothers, Phil Lesh & Friends, Alison Kraus, and Counting Crows. But since she doesn’t get paid until after shows take place, she needed work fast and opted to take a course to become a CCO (Covid Compliance Officer) — a virus tester — for Viacom/CBS, where she recently helped with temperature checks and PPE at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The salary, she says, is “livable,” but like many of her peers in the business, she’s hoping the job is merely temporary. “I miss my road family,” she sighs. “I miss being out there and putting on these shows and making people happy with the music. I don’t want to do something different. I’d like to go back to my job.”
But when will that happen, what will be left of the industry, and what will the work look like for music professionals? Those are questions no one can answer, and many are newly concerned that full-on touring may not resume until the end of 2021 or even 2022. “I don’t know how much of the industry would be left in 2022,” says Doherty. “They’re going to go find different jobs.” According to the Pollstar/VenuesNow survey, nearly a third felt that the industry would not be fully back in business until that year, and a third felt their businesses could close in the next year. Elton John’s recent announcement that his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour would not resume until January 2022 was worrisome for many in the industry, and hopes for a busy and hectic summer 2021 touring season are beginning to fade.
One thing is clear: The concert industry will not be revitalized by drive-in shows and livestreams. Tours can’t exist without venues reopening. And while some have considered opening up at partial capacity before a vaccine is available, many have begun to rethink that strategy. “For most [of these] businesses, the only thing worse than being completely shuttered is to open up at 25 percent capacity,” explains NIVA’s Schaefer. “You lose more money with all the expenses that you incur trying to be open than you would if you were shuttered.”
“Even if bands were touring, you can’t charge the people who are coming through your door four times as much,” she continues. “You can’t have the band charge you 25 percent. The economics of it just don’t work. The economics of this business are based on getting as many people into the room as the fire marshal will allow and them getting to enjoy beverages along with their show.” Schaefer says that bands are going to need some type of uniformity when it comes to regulations across the country to get back on tour. “They’re not going to get on a bus and go on a tour, hit one city, then have to bypass six to get to the eighth city.” In D.C., she says, there’s already a mandate that requires venues to stay shuttered until there’s a vaccine. “It’s just too expensive to tour for them to not be able to hit all of the towns they would normally go to,” Schaefer adds.
Furthermore, Schaefer says it will take approximately three to four months — once it’s safe to open up completely — for the concert business to bounce back because of the intricacies of scheduling all the tours: “Never before has an entire concert industry had a ‘on your mark, get set, go’ schedule. Now, you’re going to have thousands of venues and thousands of artists all trying to figure out what the schedules will be. It’s going to take time. Then there’s transportation and hotels to arrange.”
Even when the work returns, the scenario may not be the same one they left. Tour managers and venue owners alike worry about reduced employees: Fewer people in the seats means a reduced need for jobs like ushers and vendors, and road crews could double up on their work and rely on local stagehands to do the rest. “Maybe having a few less crew members and downsizing the size of lights and video,” says Crooks, who has only just begun considering options. “It’s going to be tricky.” SAP Arena’s Kirsner is talking of creating “seating pods” in his arena, reducing the capacity to 5,800 people from nearly 20,000 — four or six people together, separated by rows, which would likely mean less work for ushers and others who work in the building. (The food could also be worse; one tour manager wonders aloud if backstage food will be sandwiches and chips from a local deli instead of the catered trays.)
Moreover, those who toil in the business may not be eager to return to the usual working conditions, for instance, on tour buses that can pack in as many as a dozen people. “Sickness can spread really quickly, especially when you’re busing,” says Malcolm Weldon. “I’ve seen it go through a crew really quickly. And usually you start on one bus and it goes back to another bus [and] to another bus.” To reduce travel time and exposure, Crooks wonders aloud if pop acts should play multiple nights in certain major cities instead of playing two or three cities per state.
In addition to Crooks and Doherty’s Touring Professionals Alliance, which is in touch with dozens of road and tour managers, other fledgling organizations are rising up to address the harsh new world — and unknown future — of live-music professionals. The Klimsons have started the Roadie Clinic, a not-for-profit advocacy group designed to address the unique issues faced by live music’s gig workers, from their new home in Niles, Michigan — where they fled after the coronavirus slammed their former home base of New York City. According to Courtney Klimson, the Roadie Clinic would not be a rehab center or halfway house, but rather a place for crew members to turn for advice, assistance, or a comforting talk without fear of the repercussions that can arise in a world devoid of HR.
NIVA was hoping that Save Our Stages — the movement that’s pushing for new PPP funds for the clubs that rely on sound engineers and other workers, some of whom take those jobs when not on the road — would’ve been baked into other Covid-relief packages. When it wasn’t, “We thought, ‘Of course, Congress will have to pass something before they go on recess at the end of July,’” says NIVA’s Schaefer. “They didn’t. They just went on August recess without passing anything.” In October, the House passed a $2.2 trillion Heroes Act that included $10 billion for Save Our Stages, but the money is in limbo, largely due to President Trump’s mixed messages on stimulus talks and the stalled process overall.
“We were the first to close,” says Schaefer, speaking on behalf of America’s independent venues. “We will certainly be the last to reopen if we can hang on long enough to do it. The whole premise of this business is to be gathering places in close proximity. If I had a crystal ball, it would just be shards of glass at this point.”
But organizers of an even-newer initiative named Save Live Events Now argue that Save Our Stages is “only a first step,” albeit an important one. In the fall, a variety of music companies — including Live Nation, AEG, the Recording Academy, CAA, UTA, and WME — partnered to support Save Live Events Now, which is geared toward all live-events workers — including those hired for sporting events, conventions, et al. Because Save Our Stages focuses on keeping the lights on at a specific type and size of venue, as opposed to paying all out-of-work employees in the live sector, Save Live Events Now is asking the government to “broaden support and provide assistance to 90 percent of the 12 million industry workers employed by venues and businesses that don’t qualify for support under Save Our Stages,” according to a statement. SOS organizers estimate that 77 percent of live-event workers have lost 100 percent of their income. A list of demands, which includes the extension of a $600-per-week federal program, went live in October. That list also asks that decision-makers expand Save Our Stages to “include support for small venues under 5,000 seats and multi-use publicly-owned venues.”
There’s also SaveLive — which was started by former head of music at talent agency WME and Lollapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger — and is, like Save Our Stages, focused on small-scale, independently owned music clubs nationwide. Unlike Save Our Stages and Save Live Events Now, SaveLive is not charitable, nor is it reliant on federal funding. With this option, venues can sell majority ownership to Geiger, who’s raised $75 million for deals so far. According to an interview with The New York Times, Geiger plans to expand the indie spaces into “regional forces” with the help of sponsorship opportunities and create a “network effect.” But some indies who pride themselves on being truly indie are wary of this option.
Jacobs doesn’t think the industry will come back in full force until a vaccine exists. “Who’s going to insure that?” she asks. “With live-event insurance not covering pandemics, the legal and liability repercussions that will fall on artists and venues could be devastating if something were to go wrong,” Noamme Elisha, a tour and production manager who’s toured with artists such as Tame Impala, the Flaming Lips, and Sylvan Esso, confirms that scenario. “Everything will be about saving money,” confirms Taylor, who also points out that the big promoters are more likely to prioritize booking big bands. When the concert calendar opens up again, there will be a bottleneck — with every artist who hasn’t worked in over a year clamoring to get the same slots. But, of course, bigger names mean higher-priced tickets, so indie and upcoming artists will struggle for longer.
Ray, the tour merchandiser and VIP coordinator, thinks that fans should anticipate seeing more co-headlining tours. For the fan, this concept incentivizes the thought of spending money in a time when wallets are extra light. For the venues, it alleviates scheduling nightmares when two bands share a date. She adds that it’s also more cost-effective behind the scenes if the bands share lighting packages, audio packages, and/or their touring crew.
One way around that could be through package tours, which Christian Coffey — a tour director who had jobs lined up with Run the Jewels and A$AP Rocky — thinks fans will start to see more of. Similar to a radio show or a mini festival, package tours have multiple acts on one bill, which also makes the events more attractive to corporate sponsors. “But right now, venues can’t protect customers and guarantee social-distancing guidelines,” argues Elisha. “Even if fans are kept apart during the show by seating arrangements or plexiglass, we still don’t have the means to adequately control a rush to the stage or a crowded line at the bar.”
“Requiring gloves and masks to be worn by eventgoers and an obligatory temperature check at the entrance will be the new normal,” she continues. “We’ll need to train staff to identify symptoms and have protocols in place for illness, much like we do for weapons or violence. When metal detectors were first installed, we were worried about the negative effect it would have on the concert experience, but people adjusted, and they will adjust to this too.”
In the meantime, concerts’ unsung heroes will keep trying to adapt to the best of their abilities. Nic Weldon, who relishes the far-off thought of putting his arm around a friendly shoulder, attempts to lift his own spirits by encouraging lighthearted banter among his new grocery-store colleagues and clients — but to little avail. “I’m no longer this traveling man,” he says, wondering if and when his former life will return. “It’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s who I am. Now I’m just wrapping up chicken and slamming it on the counter.”