Are vaccine passports the future of live music? Gigs are returning but with conditions

Vaccine passports, negative lateral flow tests, temperature checks on the door; concerts are coming back but we haven’t left the COVID-19 pandemic behind just yet.

As live music returns after what feels like forever, the industry is discovering how to make it work in a post-pandemic world. A year of lockdowns have devastated the music industry which relies so heavily on live concerts for income. Venues, managers, roadies, and of course the artists themselves have faced a struggle like never before. Whilst more time at home has given listeners the opportunity to stream music more than ever, giving artists and labels a much needed boost, the effects of a near-total end to live music has been huge.

However, the sun is appearing behind the clouds and vaccine roll outs are helping bring about the return of the experiences that we’ve missed so much in the last year and a half. No matter how excited we may be getting about all of the upcoming gigs and the festivals which have helped to reinvigorate our Summer, we have to remember that we’re not out of the woods just yet.

What will be required to go to events now?

Live Nation and AEG have both recently announced the upcoming requirements to attend any of their festivals or event at their venues. They will require event-goers to show proof that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID, or alternatively they can show proof that they’ve tested negative within 72 hours leading up to the event.

Live Nation intends on implementing their requirements from October 4th whilst AEG will be putting the rules in place a little earlier on October 1st. Live Nation’s president, Michael Rapino confirmed that the requirements won’t necessarily be enforced at third-party venues where they’re promoting, saying that they “can only commit to what we control right now”.

There is no blanket rule for what live events should be doing and it of course varies from location to location and depending on the size of concerts. For example, the requirements for a local band playing at a bar is going to be different to a stadium gig on an international tour or the management of a festival that sees thousands mixing and camping together for multiple days.

Ultimately it is up to each individual event organiser how they intend to approach the allowance of attendees and whether they put any requirements in place to attend. Vaccine proof and negative tests are becoming a standard but there are a number of organisers who are not putting any restrictions in place, particularly at smaller venues with quieter gigs.

Do vaccine checks and negative test results really stop the spread at events?

When Live Nation announced their upcoming admission requirements, they touted the success of the recent Lollapalooza festival as informing their decision. The world-renowned festival went ahead for it’s 30th anniversary with strict enforcement of point of entry checks in place, demanding that each attendee showed proof of a negative test or vaccination.

Nicole Haiimpoor, writing for Digital Music News, said: “Leading up to the festival, people were wary if there would be an actual check or not. As I attended the festival myself, I witnessed people getting turned away from the gates multiple times if they did not have the proper documents.”

With hundreds of thousands of attendees mixing in tents across four-days, the potential for spread was huge. In the ten days after the festival, Chicago health officials reported only 203 cases of COVID-19 that they reckoned to be linked to the event. Considering its size, that is considerably low and not what we would call a “superspreader event”. In other words, a success and testament to rigorous checks.

That’s not to say that checks are the b-all and end-all, allowing us an assured safe return to events. The recent seaside festival Boardmasters in Cornwall had demanded proof of vaccination or negative tests upon entry in hopes to prevent spread of the virus. The festival saw considerably less traffic than Lollapalooza with roughly 50,000 attendees but reports suggest that nearly 5,000 cases of COVID may be linked to the event.

Whether Boardmasters was as rigorous in their checks as Lollapalooza, we can’t know. However, it is evidence that putting these checks in place is not a definitive solution to stopping the spread. The success of Lollapalooza shows that it can work and ultimately, if we want live events to return then we have to be willing to risk some spread. Vaccine proof and negative tests are probably the best solution to managing the spread until we’re in a more comfortable place with the virus.

I for one am thrilled to see the return of live music and believe that if we all act as honestly as we can in what events are asking of us, then we have the most reasonable route to bringing back the entertainment that we love so much in-person.

Writing about music, listening to music, and occasionally playing music.

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