Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for FYF
It's an extremely fraught and uncertain time to be a touring musician. With the spread of COVID-19, known colloquially as coronavirus, the short-term future of live music and concert promotion is especially perilous. Cities like Seattle have banned public gatherings of more than 250 people, effectively canceling most live shows. Many of the industry's biggest festivals, including SXSW, Miami Ultra, Coachella, Stagecoach, Treefort, Big Ears, and Melted Music Festival, have canceled or postponed. On top of that, two of music's biggest concert promoters, Live Nation and AEG, have suspended all of their tours, causing Live Nation to lose $1.8 billion in a single day. Every hour, more acts currently on the road are postponing their gigs and going home.
Because of COV-19's devastating effects on the live music industry, many artists, touring managers, venue operators, and others who work in the field are losing the work they rely on. To get a sense of how it looks for musicians' day-to-day lives in such rocky times, VICE asked eight artists to give their thoughts on what the changing live music landscape will look like for them as the coronavirus pandemic worsens. Some of these acts have had to postpone tours that were routed through the now-canceled SXSW; some are weighing the moral implications of playing a public show, where fans could get infected and sick; others are debating even being on the road in close quarters; and a couple, because of the rapidly changing situation, had to postpone their upcoming dates just hours after our conversation. Read their stories below.
Jared Swilley (The Black Lips)
Every day when you wake up, the situation changes. I don't want to get into specifics but it seems like we're going to be out of work for a while. We have a lot of travel plans and we're just taking it day-by-day, but I have no idea what we're going to be doing. If we do our Europe tour next month, I don't want to be stuck somewhere. Luckily, I have some savings, but it's not looking good for us. It's completely devastating. Our whole thing as a band is being in places with a lot of people. I remember SARS and mad cow disease and all that stuff, but it seemed so distant. But with this, almost hour by hour, it keeps getting more real. It's seeming a lot more dire for touring bands right now. So far, with the exception of SXSW, all of our shows are still on. We're really concerned because who knows what will happen? I don't know how long this is going to go on. Does this change shows forever? Do I have to get another job? It's bleak.
Luca Lovisetto (Baseball Gregg)
In my city, Bologna, which is pretty close to the most affected area in Italy, I've been in self-quarantine since last week. There are several restrictions on travel since the last week of February. Because of that, I knew I wouldn't be able to meet my band and go to SXSW before it was even canceled. They stopped all the flights before I could leave. We just released an album, so the timing for this is not great. The rest of my band is based in the States, and as of right now, they're still playing some smaller shows without me. I don't know what's going to happen.We're just starting to see a pattern with how the virus acts, which is what we saw in China, now my country, and now in the U.S. Having this cancellation is a major economic problem for every artistic person. For people who make music, tour, work at clubs, or work with bands, they depend on getting paid for those gigs. After this, I think we'll [see] that culture is probably one of the most affected areas, because people are mostly freelance and doing gig jobs. We're seeing how fragile our system really is.
I had to cancel my March tour. The day SXSW canceled was a huge shock. I knew the city and the festival were attempting to address coronavirus concerns, because it's really sketchy to have such a large public gathering when a virus is spreading like that. Initially, we thought we could still make our tour to Austin and just book some unofficial showcases, but we had too much riding money-wise on the official showcases to make the tour worth it. It wasn't viable anymore. It wasn't the hardest decision to cancel, but it was just a bummer. it's been a while since I've had to cancel a tour, and I forgot how sad it [feels]. There's almost like a grieving process that you have to go through after you make a decision like that. When I know the dates are coming up and that I'm going to be gone, there's a lot of mental and emotional preparation, and then to have it be like "nevermind" five days before—it's jarring. On top of that, having the root of the cancellation be because of this disease, it's pretty bleak. I don't have another job right now so I'm going to find some work. My other band, Hoops, had this college show in New Jersey at the end of the month, but that just got canceled, too, because of coronavirus concerns. It's just this sort of bleak, depressing moment that everyone's sort of going through together. The one thing that we can all fall back on is it's out of everyone's control. It's a bummer, but it's not a personal failing on any musician's part.
Daniel Sheron (Balto)
[SXSW] not happening is a pretty massive blow for our band. We performed there last year for the first time, and it was sort of a dry-run in getting our bearings and figuring out how to do it, since it's such a big outlay of time, energy, and money to get down there as an independent band. We were excited for this year because we felt like we knew what we were doing and having conversations with a lot of label and industry folks we were excited about. This cancellation sort of cuts us back to square one, because it's like "Well, I guess that's that." It sucks, but it could've been worse. This ripples out and who knows what it's going to do to touring for everyone.
[Note: Since VICE reached Anna Burch she has since postponed her North American tour.] I actually got the news about SXSW canceling while I was performing at the Bernie Sanders rally in Detroit. Getting that email backstage sent me in a daze—it was so hard to process. While I tried to see if I could still make my March tour that was routed through the festival, hearing from other artists who were dropping out and seeing the situation, it just became clear it wouldn't be a fun or profitable trip. It was not an easy decision. I don't know what's going on with my album release run. I think a lot about the responsibility of hosting public events when social distancing is what we're supposed to be doing. It feels either too alarmist or too neglectful of public concerns.
I'm devastated. It really feels like everything is coalescing around this looming dread. It's just so hard to do this.
Dalton Allison (Post Animal)
[Note: Since VICE reached out to Post Animal, the band has since postponed their North American tour.] We're currently on our North American tour, and a few weeks ago were on a European tour with Cage the Elephant. Things, for the most part, have been pretty normal, but there's a little less enthusiasm about touring. We are trying to be super cautious about everything. The last thing we want to do is be a part of the spread of this. We're constantly talking about the virus as a band and we talk about it with our team. With the current momentum, it seems like maybe some of the venues we're playing on this run will cancel. Obviously, we have no problem with that. Our main concern is the health of those who are going to our shows. We don't want to be a part of transmitting the virus to more people. Because this is as serious as it looks, it won't be worth it to keep going. Obviously this is our job, our career. We're the ones who are taking on the expense of canceling shows. But we're still young. If these shows are postponed, we're going to have to come up with a way to reschedule them and brainstorm a way to make them up. This is a huge problem across the industry. We would rather be more cautious than push it to the limits and potentially act irresponsibly.
Ryan Meyer (Highly Suspect)
The show we were playing tonight in Zurich, Switzerland was almost shut down because the venue we had already booked was a government-owned venue, and they have a mandatory shutdown of any venue over 500 capacity. Because of that, we found a privately owned venue just under that. When we showed up, that place was thrilled to have us because so many other bands have canceled on them. It's affecting the bands, the venues, the roadies, and all of these people depend on this work. No one knows anything and everyone is panicking—our fragile system of life is being disrupted completely. We've been mostly missing the shutdowns in our European tour. We've also noticed our ticket sales aren't where they should be—New York is usually a great market and we're not seeing people buy tickets as much. I have these conversations and worries that I feel like are slowly bubbling up to the surface. It's coming. Canceling would affect us like everyone—it'd put us in a financial bind. These are wild times in our history.
Max Loebman (Rookie)
We just had the rest of the tour we were on with Twin Peaks postponed. We're talking about having to postpone our Chicago release show and the rest of our tour dates. This is wild. We're definitely expecting the worst case scenario with everything that's going on, but for the most part we're really just rolling with the punches. The health of people is really important. It's wild how much it's affecting the music community. One small hope is that it feels like there's a lot of grassroots movements to continue the shows in cities where bands are losing out on huge festivals.Our album comes out on Friday, so right now is the time that we really want to be touring. But we're just seeing what's happening and continuing as if everything is still happening. If not, we're ready to adapt and shift gears at any moment.It's really important for us to play music, but it's also important for everyone to be healthy. Not playing SXSW or Treefort is a bummer. This is our career and there aren't many other ways to do it. Those two festivals, which were both canceled or postponed, were the two main routing points of our tour. We're a startup band, and we all have part-time or full-time jobs, and to get all that time off work to finally tour and see that in danger is a bummer. I've spent today watching things get bleaker and bleaker for everyone in the entertainment and service industries.