Global music concert industry in flux as coronavirus pandemic hits the US in a major way

Multi-platinum rock band Third Eye Blind had never cancelled a tour, even when its members “all had salmonella poisoning and we were all green and vomiting,” as bandleader Stephan Jenkins put it.
Third Eye Blind (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP/File)
Third Eye Blind (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP/File)

NEW YORK (AP): Multi-platinum rock band Third Eye Blind had never cancelled a tour, even when its members “all had salmonella poisoning and we were all green and vomiting,” as bandleader Stephan Jenkins put it.

But the rockers have been forced to do the unthinkable Thursday due to the rapidly growing coronavirus, which first forced musicians to cancel and postpone tour dates in Asia and Europe, and has now hit the US in a major way.

“In the 22 years since I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had a tour begin at the announcement of a global pandemic,” Jenkins said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, the day Third Eye Blind was set to kick off its latest US tour in Seattle, a solo show they called off before postponing the entire tour. “We don’t miss gigs. We don’t take sick days.”

“Once you’re on a tour like this, you’re in contact with thousands of people. Then there’s airports, a lot of surfaces to touch — that doesn’t bother me. What I’m thinking about ... is the well-being of our fans, our community,” he said.

“We can postpone the shows. Money is not the issue. We want to play. We don’t want to let people down. We don’t want to cancel this. I feel a moral imperative to make sure we’re doing something that’s not unsafe.”

Third Eye Blind, who released their six-times platinum self-titled debut album in 1997 and have Top 10 pop hits like Semi-Charmed LifeJumper and How It’s Going to Be, watched the news closely as the virus continued to grow in different locations.

After cancelling Seattle, they cancelled Washington, DC, the last date on the tour. That was followed by the cancellation of Thursday’s show in Portland, Oregon, and hours later, the whole tour was officially postponed.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

<em>Show flyers in Austin, Texas (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP/File)</em>
Show flyers in Austin, Texas (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP/File)

The cancellations Thursday rolled in like clockwork as act after act announced changes to their touring schedules. Among them were The Who, Cher, Blake Shelton, Dan + Shay and Billie Eilish, who was set to play New York's Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Her announcement came hours after New York Gov Andrew Cuomo said the state would ban all gatherings with 500 or more people to battle the coronavirus.

“Without question it’s got everyone concerned,” said Ray Waddell, president of media and conferences at Oak View Group, which owns concert trade publication Pollstar. “There’s a whole economy around touring and shows and everybody’s impacted.”

“It starts with the artists and then spreads down to the venues and people who work at the venues, and the agents who are trying to route tours, and the managers who are trying to do the right thing for their artists — ethically and morally the right thing — and the event producers, and all the people that go — the fans.”

“All of them are sitting here wondering what to do next?”

Bob Dylan's upcoming concerts in Japan were also cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tour organisers said in a statement. The American singer-songwriter was due to perform 15 concerts in Tokyo and Osaka in April. 

"We're... sorry to cancel the shows, but in the interest of public health and safety, we're left with no alternative," UDO Artists said on its website, as reported in the media.

Also on Thursday Live Nation, AEG, CAA, WME, Paradigm and UTA said it was joining forces to form a global task force to “drive strategic support and unified direction ensuring precautionary efforts and ongoing protocol are in the best interest of artists, fans, staff, and the global community."

“At this time, we collectively recommend large scale events through the end of March be postponed," the statement read. “We continue to support that small-scale events follow guidance set by their local government officials."

The waves of cancellations first began in late January and February as acts such as X Ambassadors, Khalid, BTS, Green Day and Avril Lavigne cancelled performances in Asia. Others, from Madonna to Queen to Maluma, backed out of scheduled performances in Europe, especially as officials put limits on public gatherings. And each day, more and more US shows have been axed.

<em>Skillet at Rock On The Range Music Festival (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP/File)</em>
Skillet at Rock On The Range Music Festival (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP/File)

America’s most popular festival, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, was set to take place in April but has been postponed to October. The electronic dance event, Ultra Music Festival in Miami was also postponed. The South by Southwest festival, originally planned for March 13-22 in Austin, Texas, was scrapped.

“The concern is not so much that a bunch of people would go to a show and get really sick. It’s that they go home and spread it around. That’s a concern for the festival business and destination festivals, where people come from all over the country, if not the world,” Waddell said.

John Cooper, of the Grammy-nominated Christian rock band Skillet, noted that a larger number of musicians are germaphobes because they are worried about getting sick and need to be healthy to perform at their best.

“I’m not one of those people in general, so I’m still shaking hands,” Cooper said. “People come up and they want to hug me. I was just walking to my hotel and somebody came up and was like, ‘Oh, can I hug you? I was like, ‘Yeah of course.’”

Skillet is performing the last several dates on their current tour, with shows in New York and Virginia taking place this week. Despite the spread of the virus, Cooper said he and his bandmates are still holding meet-and-greets with concertgoers.

<em>The Who in Atlanta (Photo by Robb Cohen/Invision/AP/File)</em>
The Who in Atlanta (Photo by Robb Cohen/Invision/AP/File)

“We meet about 100 fans a day and shake hands or hug or whatever ... If I tell people they can't hug me or shake my hand, I’ll feel guilty all night. I love the people more than I’m afraid of this virus,” he said.

Pollstar’s Waddell said that people are going to concerts more than ever and the live performance industry is flourishing.

“We’re in a golden era for touring around the world. There used to be only a handful of artists that could tour globally (but) because of digital music and streaming, artists can be popular all over the world virtually out of the gate ... It’s unfortunate that a wrench gets thrown into that scenario, which has been so positive for touring artists at a time when touring revenue is the most important part of a career,” he said.

While the coronavirus has had a big impact on the concert industry, the business is now concerned about summer, which is packed with big tours and festivals that puts tons of cash in artist and city pockets.

“The biggest conversation we’ve been having has been if something doesn’t change in the next couple months, June might be a whole different situation,” said Cooper of Skillet, a group that has booked a number of shows and festival dates in Europe.

“I’m here in Nashville, where in June you’ve got Bonnaroo and the CMA music fest that are worth tens of millions to the local economy,” Waddell said. “It’s a lot at stake.”

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