The Summer Concert Season on Pause

In the wake of the pandemic, artists and venues try to adapt and survive

| 16 Jul 2020 | 03:03

All across the city, from tiny clubs to massive arenas, the summer is a time for concerts. Or at least it usually is. As the COVID-19 pandemic has turned life on its head, live music has been hit harshly. With close gatherings in enclosed spaces being among the riskiest activities for virus transmission, live music has been put on pause until further notice, leaving artists and venue employees alike looking for new ways to connect with fans and stay afloat.

One method has been through the emerging world of online concerts. Internationally successful Korean pop stars like BTS, who had to cancel their May shows at MetLife Stadium, and NCT 127, who called off their June concert at Madison Square Garden, opted for paid online concerts. KCON, the yearly K-pop music festival that had to cancel its dates for this year, including a June visit to MSG, held a weeklong online event, featuring seven days of concerts and 33 performing artists.

Owing to the calmer coronavirus situation in South Korea, these concerts were able to approximate the lavish arena shows they’re taking the place of, with lighting effects, video screens, and costume changes, in a studio, streaming to fans across the world.

Such live streamed events from Korean artists have found massive success. BTS’ Bang Bang Con concert garnered a reported 756,000 viewers, NCT 127’s Beyond the Origin had 104,000, and KCON’s KCON:TACT boasted an attendance of 4.81 million over its weeklong span. While this phenomenon of online live stream concerts was born out of the pandemic, one can easily see them continuing in some form into the future, allowing live concerts to be seen beyond a local audience.

At-Home Acoustic Performances

Given the harsh realities of the pandemic in the United States, American artists haven’t been able to put on such elaborate productions. Many, like All Time Low, a rock band who were set to headline the Sad Summer Festival, a touring emo and alternative rock festival that planned on hitting the Rooftop at Pier 17 this month, have taken on a more casual style. All Time Low, alongside countless other musicians, have taken to social media platforms like Instagram live for at-home acoustic performances.

Televised concerts for charitable causes, often global and local efforts to fight COVID-19 and help those affected, have also taken off. In May, the Rise Up New York telethon featured musicians Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, and Sting alongside famous New Yorkers from Spike Lee and Barbra Streisand to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to raise money for the New York-based anti-poverty nonprofit Robin Hood.

SummerStage, the largely free summer concert series put on by the City Parks Foundation, has transitioned to a variety of online content. The SummerStage Anywhere series features not only musical performances, but conversations on culture, DJ sessions, and even meditation workshops, all in efforts to create a sense of community, remotely.

Of course, the indefinite closure of venues has affected more people than the artists who perform at them. Venues across the city are a source of work for many, from crew to security to bartenders, who have been put out of work as a result of the pandemic. While there is no solid date for when live music may return, the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway theaters expect not to reopen until late December or early January at the earliest, indicating that venue employees may face months more of unemployment.

On the small scale, venues have started crowdfunding campaigns on GoFundMe to benefit their employees. Some, like the GoFundMe for the employees of Lower Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge, have not yet been able to reach their fundraising goal even months after their creation.

Venues themselves, particularly small, independent ones, also face hardship. With each passing month, an increasing amount of rent looms over venues with no source of income. While New York State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris’s rent suspension legislation proposed in March would have included concert venues, it has thus far failed to gain enough traction to pass.

With concerts likely to be among the last aspects of life to reopen as the pandemic eventually fades, artists and venues alike have turned to the internet as a lifeline. While times are tough financially for many, those with money to spare might be wise to contribute to the fundraiser for a preferred neighborhood venue, so that when live music can resume, there are still places to see it.

Owing to the calmer coronavirus situation in South Korea, K-pop concerts were able to approximate the lavish arena shows they’re taking the place of, with lighting effects, video screens and costume changes, streaming to fans across the world.