Socially Distanced Concerts Are The Way to Save Live Music

photo via Granger Smith

On Saturday, July 4th, Texas music artist and BBR Music Group signee Granger Smith held an Independence Day concert at the Dell Diamond minor league baseball ballpark in Round Rock, TX—a suburb of Austin. The 90-minute concert was proceeded by a city-operated fireworks display. Granger Smith’s alter ego Earl Dibbles Jr. also performed.

Coordinated with the Round Rock Express baseball team, the City of Round Rock, and radio station KASE 101, the event set up a stage in the outfield of the ballpark, and then sold tickets to 15% of the seats and 11-acre field of the facility. The Dell Diamond park was divided into individual square pods measuring at least six feet by six feet, with each pod accommodating up to four guests. There was also a six-foot safe and clear path surrounding all sides. The existing seating bowl of the ballpark was also reconfigured to maintain social distancing between guests. Every other row of seats were removed from inventory, and all groupings of seats were six feet or more away from the next grouping of seats.

Physical barriers were also put place to enforce the restrictions in the seating bowl, as well as on the baseball field to avoid the rushing of the stage that was seen at a recent Chase Rice concert. Temperature checks were done at the gate, and masks were required. They even put into place a guided dismissal system that assured that after the event, attendees would not bunch up on their way to the exists, with the seats nearest the exits being dismissed first, and the subsequent groups being dismissed in a tiered system.

“Amazing job from Round Rock TX, and [The Round Rock Express] for a unified effort to achieve a properly executed socially distanced concert,” Granger Smith said the next day. “Music can heal. Music can restore. Music can save lives. We can make sure music still gets delivered with cooperation at all levels of an event like this.”

As many municipalities across the United States cancelled fireworks displays, the entire 2020 minor league baseball season has been cancelled, and there seems no end in sight for the moratorium on music concerts, Granger Smith, the City of Round Rock, and the Round Rock Express just presented the perfect template for how to move forward with large events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’re looking for a solution of how to solve the crisis facing live music at the moment, this is it. And it’s not a hypothetical. Thanks to Granger Smith, his fans, and a forward-thinking city and baseball team, they’ve proven safe music concerts can be done, and done successfully. There is nothing stopping this same template from being implemented in open spaces all across North America and the world to help support music artists, facilities current sitting empty, local economies and workers, while offering weary music fans starved for entertainment an escape in the current environment.

So the next question is, why aren’t we doing this all over the United States and World right now, why haven’t we been doing this and planning for it for months, and what is stopping us from moving forward with this idea now? Why aren’t we putting club acts into theater/amphitheaters, theater acts into arenas, and arena acts into stadiums, utilizing these facilities that are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and sitting fallow to bring live music back? What is keeping us from having socially distanced festivals all across the country that take this Granger Smith model and put it into practice?

What happened in Round Rock, TX is not a novel idea. Virgin Money Unity Arena at the Newcastle Racecourse in Gosforth Park, U.K. is planning to open from August until mid-September in a socially distanced configuration. It will feature 500 individual viewing platforms for each household of ticket holders overlooking an outdoor stage, allowing for a maximum of 2,500 attendees. Each platform will spaced two meters apart from the next. And if by chance there was an infected person at one of these events, not only would they be more isolated, but you would be able to contact trace for the people close to them since everyone has an assigned spot. This is much safer than the environment of a grocery store, a restaurant, or bar where there’s no tab on who enters, and where they may have been.

Of course, this is not a panacea for live music. To pay the topmost live acts, you must be able to assemble large crowds for the hefty price tag they require of promoters. But this is a pandemic. Everyone must be willing to give a little. By allowing capacities at 15% – 25%, artists are going to have to understand they’re not going to make as much for performing. It’s also no solution for small clubs, though perhaps they could partner with bigger venues to help offer logistics and staffing, and share in the revenue. Something is better than nothing. Crowds and revenue could also be bolstered by live streams of the events, and you would get much more of a live feel from an event with an actual audience present as opposed to some of the streaming events we’ve been witnessing over the last few months.

And there’s no time to waste for this idea to move forward. We’ve already breezed through the spring and half of the summer sitting on our hands, bickering about how best to move forward, which brings you to the biggest barrier of the Granger Smith model being adopted worldwide—the politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of crafting and implementing pragmatic and safe solutions for how to save live music like we saw with the Granger Smith concert, the focus of many in the music industry, and especially the media, has been to shame artists and fans not staying home, with many artists themselves participating in the online shaming. When crowds gather too close and it puts people at risk, the worry and shame is warranted. But shots of individuals safely socially distancing in city parks and on the beach are often cited by internet busybodies, spoiling the collective will to find a safe and smart way forward through the crisis. It’s not just the fear of the Coronavius that is keeping live music from happening in a safe manner, it’s the fear felt by performers and their fans of being shamed by peers and the media on social networks.

Personal responsibility of the artists and their fans is still key to making this model work. At the now widely-admonished Chase Rice concert on June 27th, capacity was capped (despite some in the media misreporting the story), and people were requested to socially distance and wear face protection. The problem was that observation of these rules broke down, and nobody stepped up to stop attendees from rushing the stage. Even if fans believe the concerns about the Coronavirus are overblown, practices such as social distancing and mask wearing are vital to allowing local health officials and promoters the latitude to allow these events to happen.

Scenes of a crowd densely packed around the stage from the Chase Rice concert went viral due to the shock and rage they inspired. But scenes from the Granger Smith concert should go viral too from the path they chart forward for live music amid the current pandemic environment. And time is wasting while the good weather months tick by, and artists, promoters, and venues teeter on the brink of collapse if a solution isn’t found. The good news is, one has been. We now just need to put it in practice.

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