With a statewide spike in COVID cases caused partly by the Delta variant, the live music industry is trying to find ways to avoid mass concert cancellations and venue shutdowns, which caused a $30 billion loss of revenue to the concert industry in 2020.
Last week, Texas averaged 90 COVID-related deaths per day, while Dallas County had over 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID.
The concert business is looking for solutions to keep the industry afloat without contributing to Delta’s spread.
Country star Jason Isbell was the first artist to announce that proof of vaccination or of negative COVID test results would be required at his concerts, including his Aug. 13 stop in Fort Worth, which was rescheduled from Panther Island Pavilion to Billy Bob’s. The latter venue was widely criticized by anti-COVID-vaxxers for honoring Isbell’s request, comparing its management to Hitler.
Billy Bob’s general manager Marty Travis said that requiring proof of vaccination was akin to asking patrons to prove they’re of drinking age.
“To me, operationally, it’s just another checkpoint,” Travis told Rolling Stone. “You have to have an I.D. to get a stamp to get a drink. You have to have a ticket to get to the door. Well, now, you have to have the vaccine card or a 72-hour COVID test.”
Soon, other artists such as Maroon 5 and Dave Matthews followed suit by announcing the same policy at their concerts. Others announced the opposite. During an Aug. 7 concert in New York, country musician Jason Aldean took it a step further, praising his audience for not wearing masks.
“The coolest thing about all this, the coolest thing to me right now is that I’m looking out, seeing all you guys, and I don’t see one fucking mask,” Aldean told the crowd.
“I wish to say that I will not perform on any stage where there is a discriminated audience present,” the musician said in a statement. “Unless there is provision made for all people to attend, I reserve the right to cancel the show.”
But no matter their position on vaccines, testing and masks, artists will be hard-pressed to find a promoter willing to back a major concert without requiring a “COVID passport” from audiences — and from them.
This week, Live Nation announced that starting on Oct. 4, all attendees, staff, crew and artists will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result in order to attend any of its shows.
“Vaccines are going to be your ticket back to shows,” said Live Nation President and CEO Michael Lapino in a recent statement.
“Vaccines are going to be your ticket back to shows.” – Live Nation President and CEO Michael Lapino
Live Nation, which announced its merger with Ticketmaster in 2009, is the largest concert promoter in the U.S. Another promoter, AEG, which runs massive festivals such as Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage, made a similar announcement soon after.
This means virtually any show by any major artist in a large venue such as an arena or stadium, will likely follow this rule.
The legalities of businesses regarding proof of vaccination are splitting more than public opinion and creating an endlessly confusing web of misinformation online. On social media, detractors and supporters of COVID policies shared endless posts citing opposing laws regarding businesses’ rights. Many users widely (and wrongfully) pointed to the Fourth Amendment as a reason venues are barred from discrimination among patrons. Others made the case that businesses such as music venues have the right to enforce age requirements and dress codes.
In July, Gov. Greg Abbott mandated that businesses receiving government aid could not require people to show proof of vaccination and said the Texas Beverage and Alcohol Commission had a right to strip the liquor license of any business that didn’t comply.
In a fit of apparent amnesia — for example, of a well-documented history of state schools requiring proof of vaccination from students — Abbott cited citizens’ right to privacy, calling COVID health information “protected.”
Artists and promoters have traditionally established their own rules regarding attendance, with compliance from their hosting venues. Jack White, for example, does not allow concertgoers to have cell phones and set up special cases in which concert attendees are required to keep their devices locked.
Billy Bob’s Travis told CBS 11 News he was not certain of the law for businesses when requests came from the artist or promoter using the venue for an event.
“We’ve interpreted the laws and the mandates, and we’ve reached out to all the different levels of government, and we think we have the right to do this,” he said.
Billy Bob’s does not maintain an official COVID policy. Just consider the fact that the venue will host four Kid Rock concerts (and his QAnon-following fans) in August.