Industry leaders tackle COVID-19 crisis amid many unknowns

Featuring Jake Berry, Jake Berry Productions; Stuart Ross, Red Light Management; Dayna Frank, First Avenue Productions; Alex Hodges, Nederlander Concerts; Adam Kornfeld, Artist Group International; Mike Downing, Prevent Advisors; Jim Digby, Event Safety Alliance; Antony Bonavita, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse; Doug Rountree, Pioneer Coach; and more.

Moderator and organizer Patrick Whalen of Backstage Productions began “The Show Must Go On,” a live entertainment town hall meeting, by saying the panel of industry leaders would not be able to answer many of the pressing medical questions or when live music would start back up, but those topics clearly weighed heavily on everyone’s minds.

“First of all, I wish I had a crystal ball. That’s the great unknown,” said tour production mainstay Jake Berry, echoing what has been the case from the start of COVID-19 effectively shutting down the concert business for the immediate future. Simply no one knows when the concert business will be able to resume or what it will look like when it does — yet.

Berry was one of the many high-profile members of the business taking part in the town hall meeting for a spirited discussion of more than two hours.

The discussion was staged in collaboration with Pollstar and drew more than 2,000 live viewers for most of the broadcast, which can be viewed in full on YouTube below.

The panel discussed myriad topics such as what the business may look like when the concerts come back. Downing mentioned the likelihood of contactless ticket entry, social distancing at concerts, clear plastic bags or even no bags allowed, and temperature scans before entry. Flexible capacity at venues could also be a factor, Hodges said, perhaps allowing for general admission venues to still practice social distancing.

There was no ignoring, however, that in all likelihood shows would not be coming back anytime soon, with mayors and governors in California and New York among those saying no concerts will take place at all in 2020.

“The truth is, we’re talking about moving back into a house that’s still on fire,” said Kornfeld, agent or co-agent for major artists such as Metallica and Def Leppard. “OK, so maybe the fire is a little more controlled, but it’s still on. … A lot of this seems premature. I think we’re unfortunately a ways off from large social gatherings, be it at music or sports.”

The panel, however, did explore whether some shows will be able to take place in certain markets before the whole country — or world — opens up completely. While not everyone agrees what that would look like, surely the live entertainment business will have to adapt and be quick on its feet.

“The house is on fire, but the whole neighborhood isn’t on fire,” said Oak View Group’s president of Media & Conferences, Ray Waddell, who co-moderated the discussion. “When (things reopen) it will favor the nimble. … When it comes back and artists are ready to play, guys like you will be ready to present them. … I know people will be ready for live music.”

Many panel members, however, were quick to note the importance of not opening up too quickly, which could prolong the shutdown or make things worse.

“Let’s not let desperation to get back to business make a crazy decision that leads to a second wave of infection, which would be catastrophic in terms of human cost,” said The Event Safety Shop director Tim Roberts. “If we come back too soon, all the pain we endured now would be for nothing,” he said, adding that waiting is the only option and that it’s not practical to try to implement social distancing for large-scale, festival-type shows or “to wait for 100,000 kids to get their masks on before they get out of their tents. … Let’s do the right thing but not the quick thing.”

While people are hurting right now during an unprecedented dark period, live music will surely find a way.

“While the house is definitely on fire and this could be an unparalleled crisis, but (I’ve been) seeing just how strong the house is,” added First Ave’s Dayna Frank, who added that she’s been watching “hours a day of livestreams to fill this need for live music.”

“It’s going to be back, and it’s a matter of how we do it right and sustain our employees and business in the meantime to get through.”