The country’s two major live music concert promoters — AEG Presents and Live Nation Entertainment — announced COVID-related restrictions regarding their events, based on the rapid spread and devastating toll taken by the delta variant.
A vaccination card — call it a passport — or a negative COVID test will be required for artists, crew, staff and audiences. For AEG, these regulations take effect Oct. 1. Live Nation’s mandate initially excluded the audience — it left that determination up to the artist. The company caught heat for that choice, and shifted course — now requiring a vax passport or negative COVID test of its audience members at its fully owned and operated venues.
“Vaccines are going to be your ticket back to shows, and as of Oct. 4, we will be following the model we developed for Lollapalooza and requiring this for artists, fans and employees at Live Nation venues and festivals everywhere possible in the U.S.,” Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino said in a statement.
Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of Infectious Diseases at South Shore Hospital in South Weymouth, has been on top of this potential COVID passport situation for months. “One of the signs of pandemic wisdom,” he says, “is to be able to adjust a plan and come up with a measured response based on the current situation of the pandemic, which in the case of COVID is constantly evolving. Sounds like Live Nation is prioritizing its culture of safety first, which should serve its band, crew, fans and support staff well.”
Lollapalooza — apparently the canary in Live Nation’s coal mine — was the tightly-packed four-day, multi-band festival in Chicago in July and August where a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination was required. Nearly 100,000 people were there each day and an estimated 88% of the crowd was vaccinated. NBC Chicago reported that just 203 people tested positive for the virus. The case numbers included 127 breakthrough cases.
In a press conference Thursday, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said there was "no evidence" that Lollapalooza was a super-spreader event, that there were no unexpected findings and no substantial impact on Chicago’s COVID epidemiology. She added, as of Wednesday, Aug. 11, they “had no hospitalizations or deaths reported [and] we do continue to follow up.”
In Boston, Live Nation’s affected venues include the Paradise Rock Club, House of Blues, Brighton Music Hall, the Orpheum Theatre, Citizens Bank Opera House, the Leader Bank Pavilion and the Xfinity Center as well as AEG’s Royale and The Sinclair. TD Garden is an open house for either promoter. (Independent venues City Winery, the Plough & Stars, Club Passim and the Middle East Club have already taken a similar approach.)
State and city governments across the country have a patchwork of regulations (or non-regulations) and both Live Nation and AEG policies apply only where such mandates are permitted by law. (They are permitted in Massachusetts.)
In several cities, government has stepped in with requirements, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio being the first. He issued a mandate that as of Sept. 13, vaccination proof or a negative COVID test are required for indoor events, including concerts. New Orleans and San Francisco begin enforcing similar restrictions this week; Los Angeles is considering doing so.
In Boston, Acting Mayor Kim Janey has resisted passports and on Monday, Aug. 16, responded to another WBUR inquiry as to whether she might change her mind in lieu of recent developments. Short answer: No. "Last week, Mayor Janey announced a vaccine mandate or regular testing for City of Boston employees,” replied a spokesperson. “At this time, the health metrics do not warrant implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations to enter small businesses and entertainment venues, though businesses can determine their own pandemic safety protocols.”
There are two main issues facing the venues. The first is enforcement. Who does this and how qualified is he or she to do so? Will it be akin to a doorman or bartender checking IDs? Must the fan present the vaccination card and a driver’s license to prove a match? If someone demands to enter the venue without a passport or proof of a negative COVID test, what’s to be done then? Are they gently, or forcibly, shown the door? Are police called?
The second issue is forgeries. Vaccination card forgeries came on the black market quickly this spring as the handwritten cards were particularly easy to forge. But they had low value then; rarely was anyone asked to show a card. That may not be the case any longer.
As reported by the Washington Post, bundles of counterfeit vaccination cards printed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logo have been shipped from China to the United States. Customs and Border Protection officials said in a statement that agents have seized thousands of fake vaccination cards passing through Memphis.
While many questions remain unanswered and concerns rise, fans, bands, promoters and venue operators struggle to do the right thing: To rock out. As safely as humanly possible.