Israeli live industry now operating without restrictions
Israel’s successful Covid-19 vaccination programme is allowing event organisers in the country to operate as they did back in 2019, after the country’s government abolished any restrictions for mass gatherings.
The country’s emergence from pandemic restrictions has been rapid, thanks to its hugely effective vaccination regime, which has already resulted in the majority of the Israeli population being double jabbed.
That situation has allowed local promoter Shuki Weiss to press ahead with its national tour of local superstars Fortisakharof, who currently find themselves in the midst of an 11-date tour which will culminate in a headline show at the sold-out, 12,000-capacity inDnegev Festival in late September.
“It’s been a bit of a wild rollercoaster ride, but the thirst for live events is now massive,” says Shuki Weiss managing director Oren Arnon. “Last year we had two periods of shows with restrictions in June and September, but it was disappointing as they were shut down again quite quickly.”
One ability that has been key to the restart is being agile, Arnon tells IQ, as the changing guidelines allow production crews to implement different configurations.
“The original Fortisakharof tour was set for two shows at Ra’anana in May 2020 and both shows sold out with about 16,000 tickets,” he recalls. “They were postponed to September 2020 and then May ’21. In May there were still restrictions here, meaning we could only play to about 3,000-4,000 cap. So we broke down those two shows into a five-night residency at Ra’anana and then essentially sold a bunch more tickets – we’re ending up with about 23,000 in total.
“It’s been a bit of a wild rollercoaster ride, but the thirst for live events is now massive,”
‘But meanwhile, before we played the first show, they lifted the restrictions and in theory we could play 8,000-cap, but we had already set up a design for the show for 4,000 people, which we were able to expand to about 5,000 people.
“And then we had a round of missiles.
“So those two nights back-to-back became five nights over about ten days with some of the other theatres intertwined between, because they were already booked for dates that were after the first run.”
Arnon states that the sad fact of like in Israel is that people are used to military conflict. “But as soon as it’s over, everyone is also just used to getting back to normal and in this case I think that was magnified,” he says. “In Israeli culture, being outside with lots of people is incredibly normal for us and it’s a big part of why concerts have been such a huge draw, disproportionate to the nine million people that live in this country.”
Keen to share his experience of emerging from the pandemic, Arnon reports, “The first month here was such chaos with everything just suddenly opening up. The thirst was incredible and anything that was happening immediately was just getting eaten up.
“Concessions and security teams are having a hard time finding casual staff, but that’s mostly because Israel gave everybody unemployment money up until the end of June. But with the technical crews and especially the more experienced ones, everyone pretty much is back in the game.
International shows will depend on other territories also reaching a status similar to Israel
“But everyone is rusty – the venue is rusty, the audience is rusty – the whole thing has been a weird experience even down to relatively simple things like shows in venues, which we have been doing forever.
“But our shows no longer have to involve social distancing, or masks, and as of last week, we are not even checking for the green passport which was issued to everyone vaccinated here.
“From 1 June, we don’t need any testing or proof of vaccination for any mass gathering in Israel,” he explains, adding that the speed of vaccination and the numbers of people who lined up for the injections helped infection rates drop massively.
“I think we reached 65 or 70% about a month ago and then the infection rate just disappeared, there haven’t been people dying of it, the hospital beds have opened up, meaning now you can go anywhere whether you are vaccinated or not and the only place where there are restrictions are at the borders, where you still need PCR tests and there’s still monitoring of who comes into the country.”
As for the rest of the year, Arnon reveals that discussions with international acts are already happening, but shows will depend on other territories also reaching a status similar to Israel. “A lot of the acts we are speaking to are very hesitant, so we’re going to have to see who else is able to play along because going from the US to Israel for a one-off concert isn’t going to make sense to anyone, but there are some bands who are playing in the UK later this year who are looking at plans to come here, too. So we’re optimistic and keeping busy with what we’ve got in the meantime.”