While governments around the world are creating different major event guidelines to help minimise the spread of Covid-19, the events industry has been typically dynamic and ingenious at finding ways to entertain audiences despite the stifling restrictions.
While there has been much frustration in the UK events industry at the sluggish pace at which the Government has inched toward providing a re-opening timeline, event guidelines and restrictions have varied considerably around the world. However, a unifying factor has been the inventiveness and energy shown in almost every corner of the Globe in an effort to get events up and running.
The UK has seen major events series such as Virgin Money Unity Arena in Newcastle, Glyndebourne and numerous drive-in events but overseas some promoters have literally pushed the boat out.
Among the more resourceful ways of ensuring social distancing at concerts has been the float-in music festival Laiva, which took place on Lake Jugla in Riga, Latvia on 8 August. The audience at the show consisted of 1,500 people watching a line-up of local talent from kayaks and small boats floating on the lake.
On the same day in Bangkok, Thailand, the Amazing Thailand Tuk Tuk Festival took place. As the name suggests, it was a drive-in event with the audience seated in three-wheeled motorised vehicles.
In Italy, where 1,000-capacity outdoor events with social distancing have been allowed since June, promoters Fresh Agency, Live Club, and Shining Production have come up with a rather more environmentally friendly version for the drive-in format – the Bike-In.
The Bike-In show concept sees audience members provided with socially distanced viewing areas complete with bike racks. A series of local artist shows are due to take place in early September at Campo Canoa in Mantova.
At a park in Mönchengladbach, Germany, a 60-show event series, with the audience members sat on socially distanced deck chairs, has seen more than 35,000 tickets sold.
The return of major events
The German government’s support for the arts and events sector has been far more substantial than that offered in the UK. In March it committed to a €50 billion (£44.5bn) aid package.
Large scale events such as festivals are banned in Germany until November unless organisers are able to prove that trace and track infections, hygiene protocols and social distancing guidelines can be met.
In early July promoters Newado Entertainment and Mö PR Event Productions teamed with event service supplier Major Compact Units to stage two 960-capacity outdoor concerts in Saxony, the first standing concerts in the country since lockdown began.
Not long afterwards Semmel Concerts announced a series of open-air concerts at the 22,000-capacity Waldbühne amphitheatre in Berlin in September. Social distancing measures at The Back to Live seated concerts mean the shows will operate at a reduced capacity of 5,000 per day.
Semmel CEO Dieter Semmelmann says the project has been an enormous challenge from a technical and organisational standpoint: “There are only two or four seats next to each other,” he says. “Only members of the same household may sit together, and masks must be worn throughout the Waldbühne apart from the seat.”
He says there has been huge interest in the shows, with 10,000 tickets for the five concerts sold within 12 hours, but the shows will not turn a profit: “They are made possible with big financial compromises by everybody involved. These concerts are about sending a signal: a sign of life by the live-music industry.”
The biggest show to be announced in Germany so far is Live Nation’s Return to Live, which will take place in September at the 54,000-capacity Merkur Spiel Arena, an outdoor stadium, in Düsseldorf. Acts including Bryan Adams will play to an audience of 12,000 socially distanced, seated fans.
Germany Promoter, ticket agent and venue owning powerhouse Deutsche Entertainment AG (DEAG) is one of the country’s biggest players. In a normal year DEAG, and its subsidiaries, promote around 4,000 events per year. It has a majority stake in numerous companies including Kilimanjaro Live in the UK, Switzerland’s Good News Productions and Germany’s Wizard Promotions.
Navigating regional restrictions
According to CEO Prof Peter Schwenkow, DEAG was in the rare position of being insured against Covid-19. That has given the company enviable financial stability. It has staged drive-in shows and has a series of Christmas Gardens events planned but
Schwenkow says the fact that Germany is made up of sixteen states, whose officials are taking different approaches to enabling shows, makes it extremely challenging.
“Regulations are different from region to region, which creates huge problems; you can’t really do any touring at the moment because in one area there is a ban on shows over 1,000 and in another it is 5,000 people. It’s total chaos,” he says.
Schwenkow is pleased with the Government funding awarded to the live sector so far and he expects it to be increased: “The politicians now really understand that music is soul food and people are hungry.”
Like all the country’s promoters, Schwenkow is eagerly awaiting the findings of a series of concert simulations carried out on 22 August at the 12,000-capacity Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig, with the aim of investigating whether the spread of Covid-19 at large indoor events can be prevented.
In neighbouring Switzerland, Europe’s eight biggest live music market, events with capacities of more than 1,000 people will, after much delay, be allowed from 1 October.
Over the border in France, there is a ban on events with audiences of more than 5,000 at concerts until September but among the events planned after that is heavy metal festival Storm the Arena at The Accor Arena (cap. 20,300) in Paris. Running from 11 to 12 December, it will host 14 acts across three stages.
The venue was one of the first to host a significant concert with social distancing in the country, with Christine and the Queens performing to a 2,000 socially distanced fans there on 9 June.
Some way ahead of the UK on the bumpy path back to normality, the Austrian government has given the green light for outdoor concerts with audiences of up to 10,000 from 1 September, so long as social distancing guidelines are followed. Indoor shows with audiences of up to 5,000 will also be allowed under the same constraints.
Ewald Tata, founder of the 55,000-capacity Nova Rock Festival and CEO of CTS Eventim-owned promoter Nova Music, has cancelled all his shows until the end of the year. “These new regulations are all based on seated situations and not standing, which makes no sense for us,” he says.
Unlocked and unrestricted
Further afield the situation varies even more greatly. In New Zealand there have been no restrictions on major events since 8 June. On 4 July Auckland’s 12,000-capacity Spark Arena staged a concert by reggae act L.A.B, without social distancing, that was attended by more than 6,000 people.
Mike Tucker, MD of the show’s promoter Loop, said the concerts “breathed air back into the lungs of the live entertainment industry” but with two weeks quarantine for artists entering the country he doesn’t expect there to be a flood of shows by interactional acts any time soon.
Government guidelines vary greatly across Asia, South Korea currently limits indoor gatherings to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 100 people, while the Japanese government gave the greenlight to indoor concerts and sports events with capacities of up to 5,000 on July 10.
Nonetheless Covid-19 has seen the back of Japan’s two biggest music festivals, with Creativeman’s 60,000-capacity Summer Sonic and the Smash Corp-promoted Fuji Rock (43,000) cancelled this year. While both festivals held streamed events on YouTube, the entry restrictions imposed on foreign travellers meant physical editions were unviable.
The Covid-19 related lockdown also wiped out the US festival season almost entirely, with all its major festivals, including Goldenvoice’s 125,000-capacity Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and C3 Present’s Lollapalooza Chicago (100,000), among the many casualties.
Among the more uplifting occurrences in the US was Live Nation’s launch of the relief fund Crew Nation. Created to provide financial assistance to out-of-work crew, the initiative has already raised more than $15 million (£11.27m), with $10m (£7.52m) coming from the global promoting giant alone.
In July the Canadian government announced a CA$20m (£11.36m) Covid-19 support fund for its live music industry. Canada has also seen its fair share of guideline-following ingenuity among its events industry, with Calgary’s Showpass and Livestar Entertainment among them.
In early summer the two companies partnered to launch Covid-safe concert series Hotels Live. The initiative involved hotels across the country being used to host concerts, with performances taking place around hotel pools and in courtyards, with the audience watched on from hotel balconies.
It has been a torrid time for the live events industry internationally, and while some regions are way ahead of others when it comes to re-opening their events industries, they are limited to staging local talent. World tours remain a long way off.
Despite the hardship, near unbearable uncertainty and stifling social-distancing guidelines that leave very little margin for profit, the international live event community has demonstrated its irrepressible inventiveness and ability to entertain audiences against all odds.