By Paige Sherwood, Senior Copywriter
Looking through my Gmail, I scroll down to my folder labeled “EVENT TICKETS.” It’s my personal memory reservoir—my digital vault of PDF tickets that represent nights and weekends I once took for granted. Toward the top of the folder, an email contains my ticket to the last show I attended on March 6, 2020, before the world changed forever. For seven months now, we’ve watched industries decline across the board. The live music industry was not immune to the pandemic’s wrath—in fact, it was right in the line of fire. Now, we concert and festivalgoers are holding our breath. We long for the day we can once again come together with friends, feeling the beat of the music in our souls as we dance under fireworks, enveloped in sporadic bursts of cold from CO2 cannons that give us temporary relief from the heat of our energized bodies. While the industry and artists are getting creative, putting on live-streamed performances and drive-in shows, these tactics are like the CO2 cannons; the relief is only temporary.
In the wake of concert and festival postponements and cancelations, the EDM artist community seriously stepped up. Livestreamed festivals, like Digital Mirage and Room Service Festival, as well as artists’ own streams provided fans with a reason to dance. For me, Friday nights became something to look forward to. I cleared the proverbial cobwebs off of my rhinestone shorts and colorful jackets and threw my hair up into “space buns,” as if it were late morning at my festival campsite and I was preparing to head into a long day of dancing, powered only by chicken fingers and overpriced bottles of water. To this day, I appreciate the effort artists and production companies put into bringing “live” music to the fans. But it’s no surprise that dancing around my living room at a digital festival paled in comparison to the real thing. I cherished hearing music played by artists I love, but I missed—and miss—the interpersonal connections formed in the crowd. I wasn’t making new friends or creating memories with old ones. There were no funny totems or signs people worked for months to create. No throwing glow sticks when the beat dropped. It just wasn’t the same.
Then, something wonderful happened. It was announced that live music was coming to Chicago…sort of. An EDM/jazz duo I love was coming to McHenry, IL, for a drive-in concert. Four friends and I bought a car pass, booked a hotel and, on July 11, headed an hour and a half north for what would be the most fun night of my summer. We weren’t remotely close to the stage, the music only got as loud as our car speakers would allow and we wore masks throughout the evening, but for the first time since March 6, I. Felt. Alive. I think I speak for everyone who has experienced them when I say drive-in concerts really are the next best thing. Whether they are sustainable for the long term, however, remains to be seen. Merch and alcohol sales, sponsorships and other revenue streams are all needed to keep the machine running, and drive-ins don’t make money those ways. Still, seeing how the live music industry has risen to the occasion, I am optimistic about what they’ll do next. And help may be on the way; a proposed COVID-19 relief bill called The Heroes Act was updated in late September to include $10 billion in grants for independent venues, producers, promoters and talent representatives. Stand down, Don McLean. We might not have to see the day the music dies after all.
As a matter of fact, in the midst of a global pandemic, it is imperative that the music stay very much alive. On a fundamental level, we as humans turn to music in times of crisis. While stay-at-home orders were in place, we saw videos from around the world of people using music to soothe and bring people together. A pianist from Barcelona serenaded his neighbors, joined by a saxophone player from the building next door. Whole neighborhoods sang together on their balconies every night to honor frontline workers in New York City. Songs were created about isolation to remind everyone who was “bored in the house” that they were not alone. It’s not just me who depends on music for my emotional wellbeing, we all do. In a time when we have no control, music provides us a sense of stability. When we are all feeling more isolated than ever, music makes us feel like we are part of something together. Whether large-scale festivals are your thing, or you’re never without your earbuds, or even if you’re one of those people who can never name the song title or artist but knows a good tune when you hear one, music is ingrained in all of us. Just as restaurants have tactfully responded to the COVID crisis by offering delivery, and corporate America has learned how to communicate and function from home, the music industry will continue to adapt—because we need it to.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating professionally and personally, and few will come out unscathed. As a festivalgoer, I know it’s going to be a long time before things are back to “normal.” I have also seen how resilient artists and fans can be. We are a community built on love, both for each other and for music. We’re optimists. We have the endurance to dance for hours on end. We’ll get through this. We just need some chicken fingers.