The Return of Live Music is Closer Than You Think


The return of live music has been a distant thought for as long as anyone can remember. But now — finally, FINALLY! — it’s closer than you think.

At some point last summer I became so exhausted thinking about “when live music will return” that I decided I had to let it stop occupying my thoughts. I completely gave up, thoroughly uninterested in the rescheduled tour announcement of the moment. “Wake me up when it’s over,” my thinking became.

After a year of disappointment, we know better, anyway. At first we thought we’d be locked down for a month, then we’d be back to normal by summer. So naïve! Tours were rescheduled, then rescheduled again and eventually canceled entirely, and by last fall even the most optimistic amongst us realized that we were still in it for the long haul.

But something has shifted of late.

There’s been a change. It’s close now. I can smell it. I bet you can too. And I’m feeling more optimistic about the return of live music than at any point in the past year.

Sure, summer 2021 tours and festivals have already been axed. That was the right move; even if vaccination ramps up at an extraordinary rate, the time won’t be right for live events yet, from both a logistical and mental perspective.

But I’ve seen a mass shift in behavior, even just in the past month. The world is waking up. The slow grind back to normal has begun.

And it starts with this: every old person I know has now been vaccinated. Not only does that mean vaccination is quickly expanding to the rest of the population, but the biggest worry has been alleviated: no longer can we infect our parents and grandparents, the most vulnerable amongst us. Those with health conditions that put them at serious risk, regardless of age, have also now mostly been inoculated, as well as our teachers and essential workers. And what a relief! With the rest of the population way less likely to die from Covid-19 or contract a severe case of it, the pressure valve has been shut off.

What’s more, my social feeds show me a handful of posts every day of my peers proudly showing off their vaccination cards or posting a shot-in-arm selfie, many of them ordinary layfolk with no special qualifications that would land them an early vaccination appointment. Things are moving ahead. Slowly, but they’re moving.

And the impact of all of that has been immediate. This is purely anecdotal, but I see vaccinated folks jumping on airplanes to finally take a vacation, venturing out to visit family members they haven’t seen in over a year, eating out at restaurants, splurging on a massage… things that were deemed too risky before, they’re now pursuing with no fucks given. Whether that’s smart, I’m not sure but that’s what I’ve witnessed. What’s the point of getting vaccinated if you can’t finally do normal stuff, anyway?

Soon they’ll be going to concerts. Soon WE will be going to concerts.

And when live music returns, the appetite for it is going to be absolutely ravenous.

Whereas I previously thought there would be some hesitation to gather in a cramped room shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds or thousands of sweaty people, I have now become bullish on the proposition: there may be some initial weirdness, but for the most part people CANNOT FUCKING WAIT to do that again. And they will do so the very minute they’re vaccinated and the authorities allow it.

Mark my words: when touring returns, it’s going to be a bonanza. There’s going to be a ton of touring traffic — an entire year and a half of rescheduled tours all cranking at once, plus bands that had been eyeing the new time period to begin with — but I truly believe that every one of them is going to be packed. We’ve got lost time to make up for! And we’ve got money to spend — those of who haven’t lost jobs, of course — from a year and a half of no shows, expensive bar nights or eating out.

If the thought of a packed indoor venue gives you the heebie-jeebies, you’re not alone… I feel you. But once you’re vaccinated, and you’ve taken the baby steps of going inside someone else’s home (!) or eating inside a restaurant (!!) you won’t feel that way anymore. You’ll be ready, the band-aid ripped off. Maybe you’ve already begun dabbling in those behaviors. And that’s just for those of us who are on the more cautious side: there’s a ton of people who won’t think twice about packing into a venue the minute it’s allowed.

When exactly will that be? Well, I can’t say for sure, but the long-prognosticated “fall 2021” prediction — remember when this “health expert” headline made the rounds last April and we were shocked, couldn’t believe it? — feels right to me. It’s too late for summer tours, you can give up on that; the folks who organize them need more time to prepare, and the regulations between states and cities aren’t consistent enough yet to allow for it. There may be a few brave soldiers that can afford to embark on a socially distanced run this summer, like Corey Taylor, but that won’t be the norm, it’s simply not economically viable for most. On the other hand, looking towards fall for a return to full-scale touring? It’s doable.

President Biden went on TV last week and declared that by July 4, families would be able to host small gatherings safely. Patriotic symbolism of that date aside, I believe he set that goalpost intentionally far into the future so he can make himself look good when we beat it (as he did with his promise of administering 150 million vaccination doses in his first 100 days in office). Besides, vaccinated people are already doing this. Maybe you are too, even if you’re not vaccinated; I know I am… we had a fully vaccinated family over for dinner the other night, HUGGED HELLO AND GOODBYE, ate a meal at the same table, inside, no masks, and man, it was fuckin’ weird! By July 4 we’ll be having much larger gatherings than inviting your neighbors over for beers. And, by extension, we’ll be inside venues watching bands kick ass at some point this coming fall. September? Possibly, I’m not sure. But later on in the season, I’m confident in saying I’m nearly certain of it.

You’ve made it this far, an entire year. Only six more months to go until you’ll once again feel the force of speakers pushing air on your face, bass shaking your chest, lights assaulting your eyes and sound, glorious live sound, filling your ears. You can do it. Almost there. Hang in.

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