The live music, theatre and hospitality industries revolve around social contact. These are industries where social immersion and contact is intrinsic, so it’s no wonder Covid-19 has struck them hard.
One of the main features of gigs and live music is the crowd itself; the sites of muddy festival-goers in welly boots, the smell of hotdog sausages, burgers and beer. Classical music events, opera and ballet are the same - attendees are the lifeblood of the events industry, no matter what the event, genre or occasion.
The UK Gig Scene
Each year, the UK usually hosts to some 30 million gig-goers per year that provide 50,000 jobs directly through event production and hundreds of thousands more indirectly through the venues and arenas that host the events themselves.
In 2018, some 12.5 million ‘music tourists’ travelled around the UK to various gigs, festivals and productions. This multi-billion pound industry has halved in value this year and continues to drop towards an all-time low. Musicians have lost two-thirds of their income, and venues are shutting down left, right and centre.
Whilst the impacts on the industry itself is clear, many of us are wondering when we’ll ever get to go to a gig again, or at least get to go to a gig that in any way resembles a ‘normal’ gig.
Gigs under lockdown
Gigs have been taking place under lockdown, but with strict social distancing rules enforced.
Sam Fender played in Gosforth Park, Newcastle, to an audience of 2,500 segregated in scaffolded socially distanced seating. It certainly looks bizarre, but the feedback was generally sound with some gig-goers reporting that the audio was great and the view was better than ever.
Plans began to unfold for more socially distanced events, including a series of drive-in concerts that were due to take place throughout summer. Unfortunately, these folded as social distancing fears and travel restrictions began to resurface.
There was a glimmer of hope in July when the government began drafting the tier system with plans for outdoor events to continue at limited capacity. Venues such as Glyndebourne in East Sussex and Cornwall’s Minack Theatre opened their doors to limited audiences, and since then, new event programs have begun to roll in.
Winter has made things more difficult but events such as this outdoor concert at The Caverns in Pelham, that took place in October, have become more common and for Brits willing to brave the cold, live music is flowing again, even if slowly for now.
The Tier System and live music
The government’s new tier system makes provisions for events in tier 1 and tier 2.
Only tier 1 and tier 2 are allowed to host any live events at all, and these can take place indoors or out provided that strict guidelines are adhered to.
Covid enforcement officers are making regular patrols, and visits of live events taking place under the tier system and the fines are harsh.
However, this is a lifeline for an industry on the ropes, and for us gig-goers, it means that live music experiences are well and truly back on the cards.
Events under tier 1
The government’s ‘medium alert’ tier 1 permits outdoor events of 4,000 people max OR 50% of capacity, whichever comes first. So, a 2,000 capacity venue will only be allowed 1,000 people regardless of the maximum cap. Larger venues will be able to hold the maximum of 4,000 people (if they have at least an 8,000 capacity).
4,000 people may seem like a huge amount, but, with social distancing and other rules applied, it’s tough to max out attendance in most typical venues. Two-metre distancing and the ‘rule of 6’ still apply.
Tier 1 allows you to mix with six others from outside of your household both indoors and outdoors. So, you’ll be able to attend events in tier 1 with friends or family outside of your support bubble/who you don’t live with.
Events under tier 2
Events are still taking place under tier 2 restrictions. The limits are cut to 2,000 people outdoors but remain the same as tier 1 with 1,000 people indoors. Again, strict social distancing rules apply.
The rule of 6 in tier 2 means that no indoor socialising is permitted with anyone outside of your household or support bubble, so you’ll only be able to head to outdoor events with friends or family outside of your household/bubble, and not indoors.
Events under tier 3
Indoor and outdoor events are severely limited under tier 3 with no public attendance allowed. Hospitality venues also have to close and socialising is not allowed anywhere other than limited public spaces.
It’s worth noting that it’s only this simple if you also live in tier 1. If you come from tier 2 or tier 3 to tier 1 (and you’re only allowed to do that under specific circumstances), then you essentially bring your tier’s rules with you. So, if you come from tier 2 to tier 1 for a live music event, then you won’t be able to attend an indoor concert with those outside of your bubble/household.
What about 2021?
The tier system will be in force for the foreseeable future, so any future gigs are held under these rules until further notice. Most major tours and events had already been scheduled to 2021 in the hope that regulations will become more relaxed and turnouts can increase.
There are at least 21 major tours rescheduled for 2021 ranging from artists such as The Who to Sting, Lady Gaga to Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, McFly, Queen and more.
For both venues, the music scene and gig-goers, this does represent some progression towards normality. However, the truth is, gigs taking place under the tier system will still struggle as ticket sales generally fail to make the costs of putting on events.
Going forward into the summer of 2021, we can remain hopeful that outdoor events at least will grow bigger once more and with the promise of the vaccine, this only seems more likely.
Of course, the only way to stay up to date is by following government guidelines. Rescheduled gigs and tours can be found on all your major ticket operators and music sites ranging from Ticketmaster to See Tickets and StubHub so if you do hold tickets, make sure to check what’s going on.