Somehow living through 2020, we’ve simultaneously stayed frozen in time and arrived in November in the blink of an eye.
We stand on the verge of a new year — optimistically, the place where people plant a flag in the ground and claim a fresh start. Depending on the perspective, we’re either looking up, over the horizon or down at the tide receding just before the wave crashes. Anyone connected to live events or entertainment as a means for living, passion, or both, probably feels the latter.
Summer 2021 appears to be the goal for major tours and concerts revving up again. However Marc Geiger, the former head of music at William Morris Entertainment, said in Variety on June 17, not to expect concerts before 2022. What would this time be without continuing contradictions?
Music professionals and the fans are left with a proverbial shoulder shrug for the immediate future. The main focus of the entire industry from the pop stars to stagehands, has been bringing awareness and advocating support for the Save Our Stages Act making it’s way through Congress. The National Independent Venue Association or NIVA has been spearheading the campaign, Most notably, they organized the Save Our Stages Festival on Oct. 16-18.
Some of the biggest, current artists performed from various independent venues around the country, audience-free and live-streamed. This included Foo Fighters at The Troubadour, Miley Cyrus at The Whisky a Go Go, Dave Matthews at The Jefferson Theatre, Jason Mraz at the Belly Up Tavern and The Roots at the Apollo Theatre.
This fundraiser, even before the relief bill has passed, generated over $1.3 million. With two more chances to pass through Congress this year, this is at least a positive note for those whose livelihoods depend on various hallowed artistic ground.
Since the Internet became integrated into our everyday lives, it became a permanent game-changer for artists and bands. No longer were they beholden to the gatekeepers of their careers. Everyone can create their own frequency instead of consuming one from a handful of radio and television networks. The challenge lies in finding your own audience and tapping into their frequencies. You must find them, not the other way around.
This has never been more true during the pandemic. It’s a massive test of marketing, social media presence and creativity all in one moment. Some can afford to be more experimental with their approach and the fans are willing to make the leap. As the inimitable Hunter S. Thompson said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
My favorite example of professional weirdness during this time is hosted by The Flaming Lips. For those unaware, they are a psychedelic Rock band that formed in 1983, in Oklahoma City. They have won three Grammy Awards and collaborated with artists like Nick Cave, Kesha and Erykah Badu.
A signature portion of their live show is lead singer and founder Wayne Coyne climbing into a giant plastic ball he’s dubbed the “Space Bubble” and rolling over the top of the audience.
Recently, they took it to a new level, performing “The World’s First Space Bubble Concert,” Dec. 11 at the Criterion Theatre in OKC. The objective is to take an audience of 100 people and place them in “space bubbles,” along with the band. They have filmed two live music videos with limited capacity as a test run for this new model. Visually, these videos are equally surreal and beautiful. It’s a perfect summation of trying to connect with our fellow humans during the most bizarre circumstances. Coyne recently released a 12-minute video answering questions about how this show will work, covering everything from bathroom breaks, airflow, cleaning each bubble and entering and exiting the venue.
Along with this glimmer of hope, Taiwan recently held the first in-person music festival. It’s the first to be held anywhere in the world, since March. Going 200 days without a locally transmitted case, Taiwan became the location for the Ultra Music Festival, an Electronic music gathering that was canceled earlier this year.
Personally, these moments provide me with hope for the future.
No, they aren’t necessarily applicable to every artist or scenario. I seek the romantic in what may be benign. Instead, they illustrate what can be achieved with creativity and everyone working together.
It requires a team to make any event happen — stagehands, audio engineers, lighting designers, rigging and safety people, road managers, instrument technicians, musicians and artists. Everyone is apart of a ecosystem.
This is also a direct reflection on society. At this moment of trying to bridge a divide in this country, we can learn an important lesson from this ecosystem. It doesn’t require an unrealistic kumbaya moment, just a simple understanding and respect that we are all “essential.”