While most of us have been staying close to home over the past four-plus months of COVID-19 lockdown — including musicians who’ve had to park the van due to the shuttering of venues — a few acts have dipped their toes back into the live performance world.
Though experts have predicted that it could be a year, or more, until something resembling a normal touring scenario could be up and running, that hasn’t stopped a handful of early adopters from venturing out.
The majority of the shows so far that have had live audiences have been from country acts and, so far, rules of social distancing and mask-wearing appear to be difficult to enforce at mass gatherings where fans used to expect to mingle, dance, sing, shout and crowd in next to each other pre-pandemic.
Here’s a list of some of the shows that have taken place so far.
May 14 — Keith Urban
The country star snuck in an exclusive drive-in concert in Watertown, Tennessee, for healthcare workers from Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center in a socially distanced setting for around 200 people at the Stardust Drive-in movie theater, with fans enjoying the gig from the comfort of their distanced cars.
May 18 — Travis McCready
The lead singer of the Mississippi-based country rock band Bishop Gunn was widely credited with breaking the seal on the return of concerts with a socially distanced gig at the TempleLive theater in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The 1,100-capacity venue scaled down to 20% for the show, narrowing attendance to 229 for the much-discussed show that grossed a total of $3,700.
Fans were required to buy seats in clusters they called “fan pods”, with temperatures taken on their way in and masks required during the entire show. (The venue has upcoming shows on tap including a sold-out one with Parker McCollum – Aug. 29, TechN9ne – Sept. 4 and The Cadillac Three – Sept. 10.)
June 4 — Eli Young Band
The Texas band kicked off the four-night QuikTrip Concert in Your Car series in Arlington, Texas, on June 4 with a drive-up show in a socially distanced environment outside Globe Live Stadium. The same venue also hosted Whiskey Myers, Pat Green and Josh Abbott Band & Kevin Fowler the following nights.
June 13 — The Davisson Brothers
The indie band played a drive-in concert in Shinnston, W. Va., at the Sunset Drive-In, where fans were asked to remain in their vehicles.
June 14 — Collin Raye
Billed as the fist full-production concert in the U.S. since early March, the country singer’s twice-postponed show for an estimated audience of 5,000 in Cedar City, Utah, was part of a rally staged by the Utah Business Revival, put together by a local resident in protest of the state’s economic shutdown.
It was forced to move twice after local objections, and when it finally came off, celebrity chef Guy Fieri told the crowd it was his most important appearance to date. “This is a celebration of freedom and not living in fear, and moving forward,” he said. Photos reportedly showed little social distancing or mask-wearing.
June 25 — Scott Stapp
The Creed singer was among the acts who took the stage as part of Sherman, Texas’ annual Hot Summer Nights series, which also featured shows from the Tom Petty cover band Petty Theft as well as gigs by Deep Blue Something and the season-closing July 30 show by Lit.
June 27 – Chase Rice
In keeping with the string of country headliner shows lacking proper social distancing, country singer Rice played what appeared to be a regular show at Petros, Tennessee’s Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, which was converted from a prison to a venue several years ago.
Organizers told Billboard that the venue’s capacity was scaled down from 10,000 to 4,000 for the gig and that, “All local requirements were abided by for the recent concert, and numerous precautions were taken,” noting that there were fewer than 1,000 people at the concert, and everyone’s temperature was checked before they were allowed into the show. Vendors and and staff were “advised” to wear masks and gloves, though they were not mandated to.
“I understand that there’s a lot of varying opinions, a lot of different opinions on COVID-19, how it works with live music crowds and what all that looks like,” the country singer said in an Instagram video posted two days after the gig in the wake of backlash. “My biggest thing is y’all. Y’all are why I get to write songs, y’all are why I get to tour the country, why I get to do live shows and sing these songs to you guys and you guys sing them back. You guys are everything to me, so your safety is a huge priority.”
June 27 — Chris Janson
Janson took the stage at Gordy’s Hwy 30 Music Fest in Filer, Idaho, causing a stir on social media when it appeared that few fans were wearing masks or social distancing. The three-day festival’s organizer said the event took all legally required precautions. Working with state and local authorities to ensure COVID-19 pandemic safety guidelines were observed during the festival — one of the first to take place since the country shut down in mid-March — founder Gordy Schroeder said all attendees were instructed to use hand sanitizer as they entered and were provided with free face masks and gloves (neither of which are mandatory in Flier). There were also hand sanitizer stations set up throughout the Twin Falls fairgrounds.
July 25 — The Chainsmokers
The EDM duo played a controversial charity drive-in concert in The Hamptons last month that drew ire for footage of fans who did not appear to be socially distanced or wearing masks. Admission for the event ran between $1,250-$25,000, with profits going to local charities for the gig on a 100-acre outdoor sculpture park with an opening set from Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon (aka DJ D-Sol). Footage from the show drew harsh online backlash, despite the promoters’ claims that the event would follow all CDC recommendations as well as state and local health mandates.
Aug. 9 — Smash Mouth
The “All-Star” pop band were one of the headliners during the first weekend of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally’s Buffalo Chip concert series. And while the band’s manager said they took all possible precautions to keep the band and crew safe, due to the states’s lack of mandates about social distancing or mask-wearing, images from the show depicted a tightly packed crowd with few masks in evidence.
The 10-day event kicked off with Molly Hatchet on Friday, and included The Guess Who on Saturday, Sunday gigs by Fozzy and Colt Ford and gigs this week from Night Ranger, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Buckcherry, Saliva, Drowning Pool, Lit, .38 Special, Quiet Riot, the Rev. Horton Heat and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
Upcoming socially distanced gigs include a pair from indie stalwarts Dinosaur Jr. on Sept. 11 at South Farms in Morris, Connecticut, and Sept. 12 at Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey, New Hampshire. The former will require attendees to be contained to a “guest grid” and wear masks upon entering, exiting and traveling in the venue, as well as a health screening and temperature check upon entering, while the latter is a drive-in show with guests restricted to the area around their car.