Despite a host of issues leading up to it, the first socially-distanced concert in the US took place in Arkansas on Monday (18).
Bishop Gunn frontman Travis McCready took the stage at Temple Live in Fort Smith, AR for an intimate acoustic set, playing to a sparsely-filled room of masked concert-goers.
It was the first time since March that a concert with any sort of live audience had been held. The industry came to a halt once the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to North America.
Photos from the show, which can see on Loudwire, put on display the extent of the state’s reopening guidelines. The theater, nearly sold out at 20% of it’s typical capacity, holds small clusters of concert goers (fan pods) all wearing face masks and keeping their distance from one another. Other photos show people getting their temperatures checked before entering the building, arrows on the floor directing foot traffic in a singular direction and yellow tape roping off seats and toilets, barring people from getting too close.
It was unknown if the show would take place at all. Originally scheduled for May 15, three days before the state of Arkansas reopened concert halls, governor Asa Hutchinson sent a cease and desist to the venue to shut down the show. Hutchinson wrote at the time, “You can’t just arbitrarily determine when the restrictions are lifted. That is something that is done based on a public health requirement.” Venue spokesperson Mike Brown argued that the state was encroaching on their rights, claiming that there was no difference between a live concert and a religious service, which has less restrictions. In the end, the state got its way and the show was moved.
According to an article about the event in the New York Times, attendees agreed that it was worth going to the show even with the restrictions, saying that it was nice to have some normalcy and go see live music again.
Some promoters even felt this show was a great starting point. Independent Promoter Alliance co-founder Dave Poe, a New York-based promoter himself, told the Times that it was “a great jump-start to the industry.”
“With the economy being the way it is, and ticket prices the way they are, [promoters] are going to aim for smaller capacities to start out,” continued Poe. “It’s a regional, slow process at this point. I don’t see national tours happening.”
Even with the positive outlook and relatively smooth execution of this show, it is still going to be a while before live music comes back in any meaningful way. Even in states where social distancing laws are starting to ease up, there aren’t any shows being booked due to continued safety fears. Said National Independent Venue Association spokesperson Audrey Fix Schaefer to the Times, “There are some folks in places where they could restart shows but they don’t feel ready, because they want to make sure it’s done in a way that’s safe.”
He continued, “We were the first to close and we will be the last to open. We have zero revenue right now.”