When will we be able to attend concerts again? Fans and artists say safety first

By early March, Atlanta was tagged for at least 10 stadium concerts this year. From Kenny Chesney to BTS, Justin Bieber to The Rolling Stones, the city — and concert industry in general — was pumped for a major music year.

Of those stadium fillers, four remain, for now: Chris Stapleton in July and Guns N’ Roses, Green Day (with Fall Out Boy and Weezer) and Motley Crue (with Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett) in August.

The list of now-postponed or canceled concerts in Atlanta’s numerous amphitheaters, arenas, clubs and theaters could fill a roll of treasured paper towels. And with the always-lucrative summer concert season countable weeks away, it’s inevitable that the coronavirus fallout will extend far into the months when we’re usually outside sweating and tripping over fans’ coolers at Chastain.

So when will concert-going return?

No one knows. Not the artists nor the people who manage their careers. Not the venue operators or the concert promoters or the ticketing agencies.

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Music fans, concert industry dealing with major rescheduling

During a recent virtual town hall called "The Show Must Go On" organized by Backstage Productions CEO Patrick Whalen and Pollstar's Ray Waddell, a parade of music industry participants discussed the looming uncertainties.

When will it be prudent to allow 10-12 band members and touring personnel onto a bus without turning it into a mobile petri dish? How long will roadies and stagehands have to wear masks and gloves while loading in and out? How will anyone on either side of the stage know that it’s safe to be there?

Whenever concert venues open again, they might resemble hospitals, grocery stores and other mask-required locales.

It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that concertgoers will receive a scanned temperature check as they stroll through the metal detector or be asked to wear a face covering among their peers.

For regular show-goer Naomi Salad of Brookhaven, the thought of fans being required to wear face masks to shows is comforting, but there are other factors to consider.

Salad is holding tickets to the June 19 Steely Dan concert at Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park and the Aug. 12 Guns N’ Roses performance at Bobby Dodd Stadium. She worries that if the shows cancel, it will limit the possibility of seeing two time-worn acts who might not tour with the frequency of Top 40 stars. But she’s also concerned about what going to see their concerts will entail.

“With Guns N’ Roses, we’re talking August in Atlanta and heat and humidity, and I have a general worry about the health and safety of everyone being in large crowds and sweating. It doesn’t sound very hygienic,” she said. “But these are legendary bands, and you want to see them while you’re still able. Music unites us. It takes us away for a few hours, and right now concerts are something I’m looking forward to, but…I struggle with it.”

A call-out on social media yielded mostly trepidation among regular concertgoers, with the majority saying it would take a vaccine or at least several more months of curve-flattening to make them feel comfortable walking into a venue.

Jeffrey Mielcarz, who lives in midtown Atlanta, said in his “past life” — before coronavirus — he and his wife attended two-to-five concerts per week.

An avid Halsey fan, Mielcarz has general admission pit tickets to the singer’s June 24 concert at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood. But he’s already decided what he’s doing if the show does indeed go on.

“Am I going out of my mind in our two-bedroom, two-bath condo without live music? Sometimes, occasionally, yes! Am I emotionally or physically ready to jump back into a crowd of 21,000-plus? That’s a big old heck no,” Mielcarz said. “I know this isn’t about me. It is about me not picking this (virus) up surrounded by 200, 2,000 or 20,000 of my closest concert-going friends.”

Jason Brown, who attends Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, has a list of shows he planned to attend that have been canceled or postponed. He’s hanging on to his Camila Cabello and Lauren Daigle tickets and said he still eager to go whenever their respective concerts are rescheduled, even if precautions such as masks and temperature-taking are prerequisites.

“I’m very excited for when things open back up. I’m holding on to (these tickets) because things have to come back,” Brown said.

But a major challenge in the industry is figuring out when to reschedule shows.

It’s the equivalent of looking into an empty crystal ball.

“If sporting events aren’t happening, it would seem that concerts in those venues won’t be happening. The artists also have to be willing to play,” said Charlie Brusco, president of Red Light Management Atlanta. “But I think if the bands are there, you’ve got a pretty good chance that the fans will show up. They love the experience, and the artist loves the experience. I think the crowds will be more exuberant than they’ve ever been. But, the biggest issue is, when will it be safe enough to do it?”

Even some artists are hesitant to commit to a timeline to return to the previous normal activity of concertgoing.

“I think it’s going to be 2021 for sure,” said Ed Roland, frontman for Atlanta-based Collective Soul. “People have to find the courage and confidence to come out. How much confidence as a father do I have for my kids to go into a crowded area? I don’t. I don’t think there’s a date, but my guess is not this year. I want to be positive about this, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

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