Live Music Workers Want to Help With Vaccine Distribution

NIVA, Live Nation, and Senator Amy Klobuchar think President Biden should mobilize an unemployed workforce and shuttered music venues.
Chicago, US
Metro Chicago - Getty Images
The iconic Metro concert venue sits empty in Chicago, Illinois, on December 29, 2020(Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that there would be enough COVID-19 vaccine doses available for every adult in the United States by the end of May. That, however, points only to the production of vaccines and doesn't mean all Americans will receive shots by May 31. There are still lingering issues with distribution as well as infrastructure. Vaccine makers Johnson and Johnson recently announced that they fell short of their manufacturing goals, and thanks to the country's fragmented healthcare system, there's no easy way to schedule an appointment or see where you can get vaccinated. However, there is an available workforce and thousands of dormant venues that could help and become vaccination sites. Unemployed live music workers from touring crew to venue staff are offering the Biden administration assistance to help set up and organize vaccination sites at shuttered theaters and clubs across the country. 


This isn't a new idea: out-of-work roadies like Abbey Simmons (who's recently been merch manager for acts like Destroyer and Maggie Rogers) have been floating the idea since the pandemic halted live music. In January, live music organizations like NIVA, NITO, AEG, Live Nation, and more wrote an open letter to President Biden offering their services in vaccine distribution. This week, Senators John Cornyn and Amy Klobuchar sent Biden an open letter of their own. “Live event venues have been effectively shuttered by the pandemic and offer vast resources that could help to better facilitate vaccine distribution—including facilities that offer spacious interiors and are designed to handle crowd management," says the letter. "These venues are also located in urban, suburban, and rural communities throughout the country and are popular with the communities they serve, and they are well equipped to help provide access to vaccines regardless of zip code." 

To Simmons, who has been without steady work since March, this idea is a slam dunk. "Collectively, as a country, we need something to work towards together and that's one thing touring crews and venue staff are really, really, really good at doing," she says. "Even if it's just manual labor, there are bodies there and there are workers there who need work. It is insane to me that we're a year into this that it hasn't happened." The work that goes into building a show each day, setting up tables and booths and check-ins and places for crowds to wait, is directly applicable to the infrastructure needed for vaccine distribution sites. "Anyone who's on a venue staff, a tour crew, or who's worked in event catering, we've set these things up like this every day," says Simmons. "In every city, whether there is a major concert venue, there are teams of workers who are out of work right now that work well together on their feet, building things, making things." 

A mass-mobilization of unemployed workers is not a novel or outside-the-box solution in American history. During the Great Depression, New Deal programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps employed three million people while the Works Progress Administration provided paid work to 8.5 million, which included projects for unemployed writers, artists, and musicians. In just one instance of these policies’ impact, the iconic and still-running Colorado music venue Red Rocks Amphitheatre was built by WPA and CCC workers. "We actually have a successful and storied history and a blueprint for what worked the last time we faced an economic crisis like this," says Simmons. "Now we face a pandemic too. With the WPA and the CCC, they did all that before fucking emails and everyone having telephones in their house. Are people really saying we can't do this now?" 

It's been frustrating for workers like Simmons who have been forced to sit on the sidelines as they wait for their jobs to safely return. "We all have a really unique skill set for what is needed right now," says Simmons, "which is thinking on your feet, long days, and dealing with people who may not be happy."