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As Live Nation rolls out socially distanced concerts in New Zealand and new drive-in venues launch in Australia, live in the time of Covid is getting closer to its roots
By IQ on 19 May 2020
Socially distanced shows, both in venues and in parking lots, are slowly becoming a new reality for music fans the world over, as the live industry finds a myriad of creative and innovative ways to keep the live experience alive despite the Covid-19 crisis.
From virtual shows and in-game concerts, to fan-less performances and “to-go” concert services, new kinds of shows that allow fans to adhere to social distancing measures while putting a spin on the traditional live experience are becoming more and more common.
More recent examples of drive-in gigs and socially distanced shows in real-life venues are allowing the live experience to be recreated in ever-more realistic ways.
The first-ever socially distanced concert took place at a venue in Arkansas, USA, last night (18 May), as venues in some US states are allowed to open their doors once more. Initially due to take place on Saturday, the owners of venue Temple Live ran into licensing difficulting with state governor Asa Hutchinson, who had decreed that venues were only permitted to reopen from Monday, and with a capacity of 50 people.
The show did go on, however, with 229 people – a fifth of Temple Live’s full capacity – watching Bishop Gunn’s Travis McCready perform live, while sitting 1.6 metres apart from those not in their households in pre-appointed ‘fan pods’, or clusters of seating for two to 12 people.
The venue almost sold out, with tickets priced at $20. However, at 20% of its full capacity limit, the show made a loss. Lance Beaty, president of the company that owns Temple Live told the New York Times that, while “clearly not a financial decision”, the show offered “hope to a lot of people” and acted as “an experiment” for a burgeoning socially distanced show model.
As countries including Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain give the go-ahead for live shows to return – subject to stringent restrictions – in the next few weeks, live music behemoth Live Nation is already preparing to launch its first series of socially distanced shows in New Zealand, a country which is widely regarded as having kept the Covid-19 crisis at bay.
“It is an opportunity for us to unite and celebrate the power of live with some of the country’s first socially distanced shows”
Live Nation New Zealand’s Together Again concert series debuts next weekend (29 to 30 May), with shows by singer-songwriter Hollie Smith and comedian Urzila Carlson at Auckland’s the Tuning Fork.
Capacity will be limited to 100 people, with temperature screening and contract tracing in place. Staff will wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and all food and drink orders must be made via an app.
“We are excited to be welcoming back live events in New Zealand,” comments Live Nation New Zealand chairman Stuart Clumpas.
“[The Together Again series] is an opportunity for us to unite and celebrate the power of live with some of the country’s first socially distanced shows.”
Tickets for the first too Together Again concerts go on sale on Wednesday (20 May) at 12 p.m. (NZST), priced at NZ$25 (€14).
In neighbouring Australia, which began to emerge from lockdown at the beginning of the month, live music is returning in the guise of drive-in concerts, following a format that has already been introduced in the United States, Germany, Denmark and Lithuania.
Drive-In Entertainment Australia has teamed up with local councils to set up eight Covid-proof venues across New South Wales and Victoria, which will hold 600 fans each. A free drive-in concert will be trialled at the Robyn Webster Sport Centre in Sydney on Thursday, with a performance by Australian singer Casey Donovan. The full programme will roll out across venues from 18 July.
“Entertainment is what keeps the light on in times like this, we want to keep Australians hopeful and keep entertainers employed”
As well as receiving live audio through their car radios, fans will also have an option to livestream visuals from the shows via video-conference platform Zoom, providing an opportunity for artist interaction.
“We, like most people in the entertainment industry, were left devastated when our gigs evaporated overnight,” comments Drive-In Entertainment Australia managing director Samwise Holmes.
“Rather than let it defeat us, we sought to innovate. Entertainment is what keeps the light on in times like this, we want to keep Australians hopeful and keep entertainers employed – while adhering to strict health regulations.
Under stage three of Australia’s lockdown exit plan, set to be put in place in July, gatherings of up to 100 people will be permitted, but “that is not sustainable for most live performances”, says Holmes.
“With the Drive-In Hubs, performers will have the ability to entertain up to 300 cars. And that’s a lot of people having a great night out – safely!”
Elsewhere, in Europe, Serbia’s Exit Festival hosted the first official post-lockdown event in the country, as restrictions were eased earlier this month. The invite-only event saw DJs play to just 50 people at the festival’s Dance Arena at the Petrovaradin Fortres, which usually accomoodates 50,000 daily visitors.
“Our festival started as an exit from the isolation and civil wars that former Yugoslavia had in the 90s, but now the whole world needs to be united in order to exit from this huge crisis,” comments Exit Festival founder Dušan Kovačević.
A special “Fortress Stream” will be broadcast on the Exit Festival Facebook page in coming weeks.
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