As states struggle to keep COVID-19 cases down, the Midwest has become a hotspot for promoters specializing in regional Mexican music looking to keep their businesses running and artists working in a live industry sidelined by the pandemic. Following varying and sometimes vague guidelines set by state and local governments, for the last three months promoters have been holding shows with limited capacities at indoor venues like banquet halls, restaurants and at outdoor events including rodeos or drive-in concerts — laying down a blueprint for touring as the country gradually re-opens.
The shows in cities such as Omaha, Nebraska, Bridgeview, Illinois, and Columbus, Ohio, implement an array of safety procedures, ranging from seating pods to face masks and even some cutting edge disinfecting technology. In Illinois, for example, under phase 4 of the state’s “Restore Illinois” coronavirus plan, live music is permitted in restaurants and bars, provided employees and performers “follow social distancing guidelines, keeping the maximum distance possible from each other and from customers.” The state also directs performers to wear face coverings where possible and strongly encourages the use of barriers between customers and employees during the performance. Shows at traditional concert venues are also permitted, but with tighter restrictions, allowing up to 50 people or 50% of their overall room capacity — whichever number is less.
While most these events are being held at smaller spaces for several dozens or hundreds of people, the biggest show yet brought more than 5,500 fans to the SeatGeek Stadium — home to the Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League — 12 miles outside Chicago in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Sept. 13 concert featuring trap corrido artists Natanael Cano, Ovi and Arsenal Efectivo for indie label Rancho Humilde’s Smoke Me Out (S.M.O.) show marked the city-owned stadium’s first concert of this size since the start of the pandemic and operated at a state-mandated 20% maximum seating capacity for spectators. That dropped SeatGeek Stadium’s maximum 28,000 capacity down to a little over 5,500. Seating at the stadium was restricted to every other row with seats spaced “several seats” apart and “seating pods” in place on the field to allow for social distancing, accommodating 1,464 people — of the total 5,529 available seats. Attendees were required to wear face masks and maintain social distancing.
Bottles of hand sanitizer were handed out and the stadium was cleaned before and after using disinfectant and traditional cleaning methods. “It’s progress for the city and we’re going toward the right path by making sure to follow guidelines,” says Ray Hanania, spokesperson for the city of Bridgeview.
The stadium also tested new technology that could potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19: Three disinfecting door systems equipped with far-UVC lighting developed by Sigouros Systems Inc. were installed throughout SeatGeek. Using overhead ozone, far-UVC light and atomized cold disinfectant to kill RNA, the device also checked guests’ temperature before they stepped through for the eight-second disinfecting process.
“What this device does is that it helps bring down the potential of RNA [viruses] being dragged into the building, because you can disinfect the building a million times but people can bring in RNA from the outside,” says Jason Gobeyn, CEO of Sigouros Systems, which has also placed devices in The Venetian Las Vegas and in Dubai since the pandemic started. “For example, someone went to a Wendy’s before going to the venue and they sat down in a chair that wasn’t properly disinfected and used their hands to touch the seat, they can drag foreign RNA into the space that could potentially infect them or someone else.” Guests still had to follow the state’s mask mandate since airborne transmission is a contributing factor to the spread of coronavirus.
For Jimmy Humilde, founder and CEO of indie label Rancho Humilde, the new disinfecting technology was an incentive to hold the show. “Drive-in concerts weren’t an option for us and we were willing to wait for the right opportunity to do a real show,” he says. “I was notified by a promoter in Chicago that the stadium wanted to test out some disinfecting machines and so I thought, if that’s going to keep our people safe, then I’m all in.”
Agency Zamora Entertainment has been holding shows in Midwestern states that have gradually re-opened venues at 50% of indoor capacity of 50%. The shows, held in Pontiac, Michigan, Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana (all within a 350-mile radius of each other), have featured mostly regional Mexican artists who live in the U.S., such as La Reunión Norteña, Conjunto Primavera and Cumbre Norteña and travel in their respective bus to whichever city they’re playing at. But even if artists were to travel from Mexico to the U.S. for a show there wouldn’t be an issue since there are no restrictions for travelers from both countries.
The shows are held in more intimate settings where about 150 tables are spread throughout the dance floor with a maximum of five people per table. And they’ve been selling well. “These are smaller, indoor events, with 500-700 people, that we can have control over and manage social distancing,” says Pedro Zamora president at Zamora Ent., who plans to produce at least 20 to 30 more indoor events by the end of the year. “I’m constantly on top of the states’ guidelines and we of course require everyone to wear face masks inside and check their temperature before entering the building.”
As president of regional Mexican promoters’ U.S.-based association Promotores Unidos, Zamora has created an internal set of guidelines he’s encouraging all associated promoters to follow. Such guidelines include “the DJ must announce safety guidelines throughout the show” and “install banners and LED lights that show where the anti-disinfecting gel stations are located.”
Following their concert at SeatGeek Stadium, Humilde took his Smoke Me Out Tour to Texas and Oklahoma where they also followed state guidelines and made sure everyone on his team gets tested for COVID-19 while traveling from state to state.
“I’ve never seen my artists so happy to be back on a stage,” Humilde says. “We all got so emotional. If everyone practices social distancing and wears face masks, I don’t see an issue with these concerts. It was great to be back at work.”