If You Want to See Live Music Anytime Soon, You’re Gonna Have to Get Vaccinated

More and more artists and venues are requiring fans to get the jab in order to attend their shows

Jason Isbell
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit performing

As cases of the Delta variant continue to rise, those late summer and fall concert tickets we all rushed to purchase months ago suddenly feel a little more precarious. Artists like Fall Out Boy and Counting Crows have been forced to cancel shows after members of their touring parties tested positive for COVID-19, while others like Bright Eyes and Stevie Nicks have scrapped planned tour dates out of an abundance of caution. New Orleans recently canceled the 2021 edition of Jazz Fest due to the high case numbers in Louisiana. If things continue on this trajectory, we could be headed for another live music drought. But is there anything that can be done to avoid it?

The answer, of course, is to do the same thing that’ll help you avoid COVID-19 in general: get vaccinated. The show must go on, especially after nearly a year and a half of canceled shows and lost income for musicians and venue owners alike, and the only way for that to safely happen is for festival organizers and other live music venues to require attendees to provide proof of vaccination to enter. On Tuesday, Bonnaroo became the latest major festival to do so, announcing that ticket holders will have until Aug. 19 to get vaccinated ahead of the festival, or else they’ll have to provide a negative COVID-19 test that was obtained within 72 hours of the event. Unvaccinated fans with a negative COVID-19 test will also have to wear masks at all times during the festival.

It’s a wise move. Asking fans to be vaccinated (or at the very least, masked and COVID-negative) not only protects fans, staff and artists — it also protects promoters from having to cancel or suffer a public relations nightmare if their show were to become a superspreader event. But it also prevents them from having to scramble to make last-minute changes to their bill when artists who are not comfortable performing for large unvaccinated, unmasked crowds drop out.

Jason Isbell made headlines when he announced earlier this week that proof of vaccination or a current negative COVID-19 test will be required to attend all of his upcoming shows, regardless of whether the venue is indoors or out. “If the venue won’t allow that, we won’t play,” he tweeted. (Recently, he had to make good on that threat, canceling a performance at Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion after the venue was “not willing to comply” with his safety standards.)

Japanese Breakfast announced a similar policy for her upcoming tour dates, and many more artists could soon follow suit after Live Nation — the largest live entertainment company in the world — announced that it will allow artists performing at its venues to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry.

“We are working to ensure we are reopening in the best way possible for staff, artists, crew, fans, and communities at large,” the company said in a “best practices” document it issued last week. “Our teams have worked together to put new processes in place so that artists doing shows with Live Nation in the U.S. can require all attendees and staff to be fully vaccinated or show a negative test result for entry, where permitted by law. We believe this is a great model, and we have already implemented this successfully at many major shows including Lollapalooza. We know people are eager to return to live events and we hope these measures encourage even more people to get vaccinated. That is the number one thing anyone can do to take care of those around them and we are encouraging as many shows as possible to adopt this model.”

Of course, a negative COVID-19 test is better than nothing, but it’s not foolproof — neither, even, are vaccines, but they do severely diminish your likelihood to both contract and spread the virus — and some venues may elect to take their safety protocol one step further and require all fans be vaccinated to attend. That’ll be the case in New York City beginning next month, after the city became one of the first in the nation to require a COVID-19 vaccination to enter indoor spaces like restaurants, gyms and, naturally, concerts and Broadway shows. That means, obviously, that if New York City music venues want to remain open at all, they’re going to have to get onboard with the vaccine requirement. Given that the city’s such a major market, perhaps it’ll inspire other municipalities to follow suit. After all, thanks to the general uneasiness about the spread of the Delta variant, making concerts vaccinated-only events might actually boost attendance. Vaccinated fans who were previously on the fence about attending because they were worried about the risk of potentially contracting the virus from an unvaccinated person in the crowd can rest easy and finally pull the trigger on those tickets they’ve been eyeing.

But aside from being a smart business decision, it’s simply the right thing to do. We need to curb the spread of Delta in order for the live music industry to stand any chance of returning to normal. (And more importantly, we need to stop the spread to protect at-risk individuals or children under 12 who are too young to get vaccinated from contracting a deadly illness.) Performers, venue owners and promoters already suffered a financially and emotionally devastating blow during the peak of the pandemic; they can’t afford another shutdown right as they’re trying to bounce back.

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