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Music Industry Pushes Play On Big Festivals


And finally today, could it really be that music festivals and summer concerts are back? The music industry, of course, had to push the pause button on such activities when the pandemic started. But now, with more people getting vaccinated and the CDC easing some restrictions, it seems the industry is ready to push play again. Lineups for big festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Governor's Ball have all been announced, among others. So what are concerts and festivals going to be like this summer, and are they safe? Joining us now to talk about all of this is NPR arts reporter Andrew Limbong. Andrew, thanks so much for joining us.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: What's up, Michel?

MARTIN: So, you know, it wasn't so long ago that the idea of people being able to gather safely and openly, let's say, for a big music festival, seemed far-fetched. But every day, more and more festivals and lineups are announced. So are festivals really back?

LIMBONG: In a big way, yeah. You know, you'd mentioned some of the popular ones that attract national attention. Well, like the medium-sized local fests and the more niche ones catering to specific genres, those are back too. This isn't a small one, but Rolling Loud in Miami, the rap festival, that's set to take place in July. You got Electric Zoo: Supernaturals in New York for, like, EDM heads. And, like, Louder Than Life in Louisville for Hard Rock. So, you know, short answer - yeah, absolutely.

MARTIN: Are people really buying tickets for these shows? And I'm also wondering, maybe, you know, conversely, if there is pent-up demand for live music shows, what's that doing to ticket prices?

LIMBONG: Yes. So people are buying tickets to these shows. What it's doing to ticket prices, I think, you know, from when I was comparing everything sort of still frozen in amber from 2019, so prices are still the same. A couple of people in the concert and ticketing industry I talked to pretty much say that it's a little early to say how COVID impacts the ticketing industry or the economics thereof. So for that, we'll just have to wait a little longer.

MARTIN: So how are festivals planning to account for this new normal, or are they? Will there be extra precautions that people have not seen before?

LIMBONG: Well, every festival sort of says it's, you know, taking extra COVID precautions, but what that means varies pretty widely. A lot of them, if you look on their websites and try to click around to find the COVID precautions section, they don't really have that much information other than they are in touch with public health officials. And, you know, we'll update you as soon as we know more. Nobody I've seen is requiring any sort of social distancing. But a few fest organizers I've talked to, you know, they point out that, listen, you're outside. If you want to sort of stay away from other people, you have the ability to do that if you don't feel comfortable, you know, throwing down in the pit with everybody else. So I guess that's a form of safety.

From what I've seen, only Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, they are requiring masks. That's as of right now because that's also subject to change. And a lot of them really just pushed back a couple of months, you know, to start in like September or October. And that gives them, I think, a little bit of wiggle room if, you know, to keep track of vaccinations, if there are any variations, they need to cancel or, you know, just to be in touch with local municipalities to see what's going on.

MARTIN: What about being required to show proof that you're vaccinated in order to get in? Is anybody doing that?

LIMBONG: Yeah. Lollapalooza's actually the interesting one to look at here. They're going to require either a proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test every day you attend. So, you know, if you're going for the full weekend, you're going to have to show a COVID, test, you know, three to four times. So that festival takes place in Chicago, and it's the city that's actually working on its own form of an app or a database or whatever, you know, to try and prove vaccinations or a negative test.

But we don't really know what that's going to look like yet. It's a really big push in that city, at least, to use Lollapalooza to get people to get vaccinated. The city's public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, she teased this week that they might start tying, you know, getting vaccinated with opportunities for Lollapalooza tickets and stuff like that. So this is part of their big vaxx push.

MARTIN: So I get the impression from talking to you that musicians and fans are eager to get back after, you know, live music events have basically been on hold for over a year. But is anybody worried that this is too soon?

LIMBONG: Not that I've seen. I mean, everything points to outdoors being the way to go, at least, you know, for COVID precautions. And like I said, people, you know, whether or not people are the best barometer for safety, they are willing and ready to, like, go and buy these tickets. You know, at least even for stepping outside the sort of summer festival circuits, you take a star like Garth Brooks, who sold out concerts that are either at stadiums or even indoors, but that's like later on in the year, everybody is just like really ready to see some music.

MARTIN: That is NPR arts reporter Andrew Limbong with the latest on the summer concert series scene. Andrew, thanks so much for joining us.

LIMBONG: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.