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New York mega-concerts lead US return to live music

Shows with tens of thousands of people will return to the US as early as this month, as restrictions are lifted for those vaccinated against Covid-19

By Jon Chapple on 08 Jun 2021

Foo Fighters will play to a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden

Foo Fighters will play to a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden

image © MSG Entertainment

Plans are underway for a summer concert for 60,000 people in New York’s Central Park, as the United States increasingly takes the global lead on the return to normality for the live music industry.

The open-air event, announced yesterday (7 June) by New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, will bring together eight “iconic” musicians for a three-hour show which will also be broadcast on television across the globe, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, the show is provisionally set for 21 August, forming part of a ‘Homecoming Week’ of events in New York city. The concert is being coordinated by promoter Clive Davis, 89, with Live Nation also involved in the production.

Provisionally titled ‘The Official NYC Homecoming Concert in Central Park’, the majority of tickets for the concert will be free, though Davis tells the Times there will also be limited VIP tickets available.

De Blasio told a press conference the New York-heavy line-up will bring together some of the world’s biggest stars. “I turned to Clive, I said, ‘I need the biggest, most extraordinary all-star line-up you can put together, heavy on New York artists.’ He said, ‘I’m on it,’” the New York Post reports. “Get ready for an unforgettable week, a once-in-a-lifetime concert and a moment that really says ‘New York City’s back’.”

According to Reuters, the concert is expected to have both vaccinated and unvaccinated sections, with about 70% of tickets going to fans vaccinated against Covid-19.

“We are excited to finally welcome a packed house of roaring, fully vaccinated fans”

Elsewhere in New York, iconic arena Madison Square Garden (MSG) announced today (8 June) that Foo Fighters will this month play the venue’s first concert since March 2020, with a full-capacity show set to the fill the 20,000-capacity Garden on 21 June.

According to MSG Entertainment CEO James Dolan, the landmark show is open only to fans who have been ‘fully vaccinated’ (ie two doses or the Pfizer and Moderna, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson, jabs) against Covid-19.

“The Garden is ready to rock,” says Dolan. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for 15 months and are excited to finally welcome a packed house of roaring, fully vaccinated Foo Fighters fans to Madison Square Garden.”

The New York concerts are the latest sign that parts of the US are gearing up for full-capacity shows from summer onwards, with festival favourites such as Chicago’s Lollapalooza (29 July–1 August), Tennessee’s Bonnaroo (2–5 September) and Governors Ball (24–26 September) in New York all betting on being allowed to go ahead in 2021, the latter pair having already postponed to later in the year.

And it’s not only festivals banking on a return to business as usual in 2021: Tour announcements have been coming thick and fast in recent days, with new or rescheduled US treks by the likes of Foo Fighters, Guns N’ Roses, King Crimson, Eagles, Kesha, Deadmaus and Kings of Leon kicking off in the months ahead.

Kesha, whose Kesha Live tour, featuring Betty Who, begins at the First Interstate Arena in Billings, Montana, on 13 August, says in a statement: “It’s time to celebrate the fact that we got through the past 14 months – holy shit.” She adds: “Thank god. Let’s party.”

Legal experts liken proof of vaccination to a ’no shirt, no shoes, no service’ policy

As in Central Park and MSG, permission to party will, in many places, be granted only to fans who can prove they are Covid-19 negative. Lollapalooza, for example, will require either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test for entry – as did Florida’s popular SOBEWFF (South Beach Wine and Food Festival) until the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, legally prohibited Floridian businesses from doing so by signing an executive order banning so-called vaccine passports.

“Under no circumstances will the state be asking you to show proof of vaccination,” said DeSantis last month, “and I don’t think private companies should be doing that either. If you want to go to an event, go to an event. If you don’t, don’t. But to be requiring people to provide all this proof, that’s not how you get society back to normal.”

While DeSantis is known for his outspokenness, he isn’t alone in opposing vaccinated-only concerts; the vaccine ‘passport’ issue has become politicised in the US, with Republican governors in states including Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Iowa vocally opposed to restricting access to certain spaces to people who have had the vaccine, posing a logistical headache for tour organisers.

Kim Reynolds, governor of Iowa, has said a system of Covid-status certification would create a “two-tiered society” divided between the have (had the vaccine)s and have-nots. “I strongly oppose vaccine passports, and I believe that we must take a stand as a state against them, which I intend to do either through legislation or executive action,” she said.

The US government, however, has said it will leave the decision to private businesses, which – outside of states where an anti-‘passport’ law is in place – are free to require their customers show proof of their Covid-19 vaccine. According to USA Today, “legal experts have likened the requirement to a ’no shirt, no shoes, no service’ policy”.

While it remains to be seen to what extent vaccine certificates are embraced by other US promoters, venues and sports teams, MSG’s Dolan is convinced of their merit both in keeping patrons safe and encouraging others to get their jab. Championing a recent double sell-out for two New York Knicks basketball games at the Garden, he said: “I hope everyone in sports and entertainment is listening because the public has spoken – they are fine with getting vaccinated and want to get back to the experiences they love.”


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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