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Venues open up, but doors remain closed to public

Artists are starting to return to venues - albeit empty ones - in Europe, the US and Latam, as virtually ticketed concerts are broadcast live from behind closed doors

By IQ on 20 May 2020

Venues open up but doors remain closed

Opera singer Katherine Jenkins performed to an empty Royal Albert Hall on 8 May

image © Colin/Wikimedia Commons

Venues the world over are beginning to experiment with behind-closed-doors gigs, with talent including Laura Marling, Jorge Drexler, Katherine Jenkins, Keith Urban and Pipo Rodríguez among those to perform to empty concert halls.

The coronavirus crisis has seen no end of creative alternatives to traditional live shows, with concerts performed via videocalls, in-game live performances and the rising phenomenon of drive-in concerts.

Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino has said the company is “going to dabble in” some such alternative concert formats, such as fan-less concerts, reduced-capacity shows and drive-in concerts.

Indeed, a handful of venues have already started to bring live events back home, broadcasting performances live from their empty concert halls.

An early pioneer of the fan-less concert format is Uruguayan musician Jorge Drexler, who performed to an empty Teatro Melico Salazar in San José, Costa Rica, on 10 March, after his shows at the venue were cancelled due to the onset of the coronvairus crisis.

A few days later, French ska band Tyro played to a desolate AccorsHotel Arena (20,300-cap.) in Paris, on the very day that prime minster Édouard Philippe outlawed events of more than 100 people in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.

The AccorsHotel Arena is set to stage another, larger-scale fan-less event on 19 June. All Together for Music (Tous ensemble pour la musique) will see dozens of artists perform from the arena in support of venues that have been shuttered and festivals called off due to the current crisis. The show will be broadcast on TV channel France 2.

“It’s still magic, still sounds good, feels rich and feels special. That just shows how special this place is”

In the US, country stars Keith Urban and Kelsea Ballerini performed at the 2,362-capacity Grand Ole Opry in Nashville last week. Ballerini, who said she was “interested” to see what it would be like to perform “without full pews”, comments on the night that: “It’s still magic, still sounds good, feels rich and feels special. That just shows how special this place is.”

Other upcoming fan-less shows in the US include Dropkick Murphys’ performance at an empty Fenway Park (37,731-cap.), the home of baseball team the Boston Red Sox, on 29 May. Bruce Sprinsteen will join the band as a “virtual” special guest.

The show will be livestreamed for free at 6 p.m. (EDT), hosted by Boston tech company Pega.

In the UK, where the government recently announced that live events would likely be able to take place behind closed doors from 1 June, venues are taking the opportunity to return to some sort of business.

The 900-capacity Union Chapel in London is putting on a ticketed livestreamed show by singer Laura Marling on 6 June.

“The announcement also offers a tentative step in helping to aid the flagging live sector, and sets a potentially positive new precedent for other artists suffering from the loss of live earnings,” reads a statement from organisers.

Fans in the UK and Europe can purchase tickets for the show, priced at £12 with the option of making an additional charitable donation, here. A separate livestream is available for fans in the United States for US$12.

“This offers a tentative step in helping to aid the flagging live sector, and sets a potentially positive new precedent for those suffering the loss of live earnings”

Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins performed a one-off live show at the 5,272-capacity Royal Albert Hall – the first UK arena to completely shut its doors as a result of the coronavirus outbreak – to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

The sold-out performance, available to watch back here, also featured a virtual duet with Dame Vera Lynn, who sang to British troops during the Second World War.

Elsewhere, London’s 545-capacity Wigmore Hall last week announced a twenty-show concert series, featuring classical musicians including singers Iestyn Davies and Roderick Williams, as well as pianists Benjamin Grosvenor, Angela Hewitt and Paul Lewis.

All concerts will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and will be available for 30 days after the live show.

“When we shut the hall on 16 March we made sure to leave the piano on the stage, and the camera and audio equipment – all of which can be operated remotely – in place,” says the venue’s artistic director, John Gilhooly, tells the Guardian. “With only one or two performers on stage it’s very possible to make this work within government guidelines observing social distancing.”

Fan-less concerts are also taking off in Mexico, with venues in Mexico City and Guadalajara opening up behind closed doors as part of the Reactivation of entertainment and music in Mexico (REMM) programme.

The scheme, which has been initiated by operators of Mexico City’s Pepsi Center WTC (7,500-cap.) and the Conjunto Santander de Artes Escénicas (1,700-cap.) in Guadalajara, along with local booking agencies and promoters, aims to create over 1,000 jobs in the two cities.

“With only one or two performers on stage it’s very possible to make this work within government guidelines observing social distancing”

Artists billed to play at the venues include cumbia singer Pipo Rodríguez, who will perform along with a 20-piece orchestra, rock group El Haragán y Compañía and Afro-Argentinian reggae musician Fidel Nadal.

The performances will be broadcast live via streaming platforms. Those wishing to watch in Mexico can purchase virtual tickets, priced between 60 (€2.35) and 100 pesos (€3.91) on the Acceso ShoWare website.

Shows will be broadcast internationally in collaboration with Mexican telecommunications company Alestra and live entertainment platform Switch it.

All revenue generated by the concerts will be distributed to the musicians and live event professionals involved.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the game for the entertainment world,” Norma Gasca, CEO of REMM co-founder Rock Show Entertainment. “This is a small step forward – once we see the outcome [of these concerts] – to continue proposing different formats until we are able to return to live shows again.”

Rock Show Entertainment is also among companies taking part in the Auto-Conciertos #DesdeTu Auto (Drive-in concerts #FromYourCar) initiative, along with MH Music Live, Switch it, Meximm Mexico Internacional Music Market, Blu2 Entretenimiento, Wild Side Press, Capital Nation and HM Entretenimiento.

The concerts are expected to take place in Mexico City from the end of June.

Read more about the drive-in concert boom here.


Drive-in concerts get live back on the road

Photo: © User:Colin /Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)


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