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The Fall Touring Season is Going to Be a Disaster

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The fall touring season is going to be a disaster. If you think otherwise, you’re deluding yourself. 

This fall was supposed to be the time it all came back. After a year of rescheduling and rescheduling again, this past spring, bands, their managers and their agents eyed the fall as a time it could realistically all work, finally. After a slow start, vaccinations were on the upswing and things were looking good. Tours were booked, then announced, seemingly all at once, to great fanfare. FINALLY! That cathartic release we had all been waiting for was coming. 

But as spring turned to summer it became clear a lot of folks were opting not to get vaccinated. And as summer drags on, Covid has once again taken hold, as it tends to do. 

It started in early July as orange and red splotches of Missouri and Arkansas, places with low vaccination rates. In a few short weeks it spread throughout the south, and here’s what it looks like now: 

Coronavirus infection rates are on the rise... which means concerts will likely go away as quickly as they returned.

From where I sit, things up here in the Northeast still feel pre- and post-pandemic normal. Cases are still low. Folks are enjoying summer like the Before Times, both outside and in, packing restaurants and sports stadiums, hardly a mask in sight. 

But we’ve been through this before and we know how it goes. This moment, right now, feels like February 2020, when the coronavirus first took hold in northern Italy, then Washington state, then New Rochelle, as we all watched in disbelief. “It’s happening there, but it can’t happen here,” we told ourselves then as we tell ourselves now. 

Except it can. And it will. 

It’s already spreading. Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas, all orange and red now. Certain counties in northern states are starting to turn as well. Thankfully, more folks in these areas are vaccinated, but while the vaccines are extremely effective at protecting against severe illness, hospitalization and death — even in so called “breakthrough” cases, which are getting a lot of media attention but are still quite rare — the Delta variant is capable of passing through a vaccinated individual and into an unvaccinated one. And it’s the unvaccinated who are driving this current wave: 97% of hospitalizations are of unvaccinated people. Mostly younger, many considered to be healthy. Not a day goes by where I don’t see a Twitter thread written by a widow or widower whose dead loved one confessed in their final days they wished they’d gotten the vaccine. 

The nationwide picture, as a whole, is grim, even if things in your area aren’t bad. And a nationwide tour can’t happen if it’s not safe everywhere. Promoters in areas with low case rates aren’t going to want bands who just played in red zones coming into their venues. They won’t allow it, even if the bands are willing. 

And the fans are hesitant, too. As if cramming into a crowded room after so long isn’t weird feeling enough as is, we all know that all it takes is one infected person in a cramped, sweaty club to infect a dozen or more others by ordering drinks, talking to friends, moshing, headbanging… or just breathing. It happened in the winter of 2020 and it’ll happen again, especially with the Delta variant twice as contagious as the initial version of the coronavirus. 

That’s if the busy slate of fall tours even begins. Several will surely be called off preemptively and punted into 2022 when vaccination rates will be higher, led by increasingly aggressive mandatory employer vaccination campaigns like the ones recently introduced by Walmart, Disney, Netflix, Fox, Tyson, Microsoft, and the city of New York. Agents, managers and bands see the writing on the wall. The Deftones were smart to call off their late summer / early fall tour early, sensing what was coming. Bands like Sevendust and Guns N’ Roses, who aggressively launched tours earlier in the summer, got lucky; that ended up being the only good time to conduct a full trek.

Some fall tours will begin as planned, sure. But they’ll be skating on extremely thin ice; all it’ll take is one band or crew member on the whole tour getting sick and the whole thing comes crashing down. By the time someone shows symptoms, they’ll have been riding in a van or bus with their own band for a week, interacting with the other bands, local stage hands, crew, fans buying merch, etc., potentially infecting countless others. No promoter or venue on the rest of the tour will allow them to play. The bands can’t afford to wait it out for two weeks burning money to stay on the road with no income. So the tour ends. Any tours that begin will be operating in the most fragile of environments… how many will be canceled mid-run? A lot, I’d wager. And a ton is at stake: bands desperate to tour after a year-and-a-half off have already dropped tens or hundreds of thousands on merch. They stand to lose a lot on top of what they already lost, and it isn’t looking good. 

True, a lot can change between now and the time the fall tours are scheduled to begin en masse. A month from now, based on the past eighteen months of history, it’s likely that case rates in places like Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas will be back on the way down (although still elevated from June’s lows). Even so, is this an environment bands will want to tour in? Hospitalizations and deaths, which typically lag infections, will be peaking. And case rates in places like the Northeast, Upper Midwest and California will be higher than they are now. What band will want to leave home amidst all this?

It’s too late for the September tours at this point. They’re likely screwed. There is hope for October and beyond, but using last fall and winter as a guide, that will come just at the moment folks head indoors from the cold weather, leading to even more infections. The only protection against THAT is more vaccinations, and as keep seeing, the anti-Big Pharma / anti-government mindframe, like a rebellious 16-year-old, is strong in this group of full-grown adults. 

As I write this, I’m on vacation in Maine, compelled to speak up as we reach an inflection point. Very few people here are masking as they continue to ride out the “end of Covid” summer honeymoon, and my assumption about those who are masked has shifted: these are the vaccinated folks, doing the responsible thing at this important juncture. My family and I have shifted our mindset: it’s time to start masking indoors again. I live with an immunocompromised person, and after three months of unmasked freedom, we simply can’t risk it with the Delta variant rising. It won’t be long before government mandates/recommendations or plain old fear of getting sick bring the masks back here, too, as infection rates rise. 

If you are able to enjoy any shows this fall, it will be with masks on. After this summer of peace, the threat feels foreign… that’s only happening down south, it’s THEIR problem, those unvaccinated cretins ruining it for us all! And indeed, that’s true — if you have the means to be vaccinated and you’ve chosen not to, this is partially your fault.

But it’s our collective problem now, and I’ll conclude this editorial as I started it: we’ve seen this before and we know what comes next. This fall will not bring the return to live music we’d all hoped for just a couple of innocent months ago. 

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