Opinion: Live music fans, check your venue’s COVID protocols before chasing that long-awaited concert high

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Courtesy Brian Antonson

Thousands attend live music festivals like BottleRock and the Country Music Association’s CMA Summer Jam with new COVID-19 restrictions in place.

La Reva Myles, Reporter

With COVID-19 variants giving us false starts about when and how it’s safe to get together again in large crowds to enjoy live music, reviewing health and safety regulations at live concerts has become a life or death matter. It’s more important than ever to take a precautionary pause to consider the consequences of attending live music concerts.

As a former event producer and manager at venues and festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area, I understand the addiction and high that come from attending your favorite artist’s live concert with other fans. But no amount of good music is worth exposing yourself to a life threatening disease if unvaccinated or unmasked attendees forget to social distance in the crowd.

Two recent live events, BottleRock in Napa and the Country Music Association’s CMA Summer Jam in Nashville, offer contrasting examples of how COVID-19 vaccination rates and event protocols can affect your risk of contracting the virus.

After a two-year long pause, BottleRock’s concert organizers decided to go ahead with the festival Sept. 3-5, with attendees required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event.

This year’s festival featured 80 acts, drew 385,000 attendees and included Foo Fighters, Guns N’Roses and The Highwomen, as Chris Stapleton ended up canceling his performance due to an illness not related to COVID-19. The Highwomen ended up filling in for him on a single day’s notice as Brandi Carlile and Maren Morris, two of The Highwomen, were already set to play on Friday. 

The Country Music Association, creator of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, produced its CMA Summer Jam in Nashville’s open-air Ascend Amphitheater on July 27 and 28, drew 6800 attendees and featured 25 country music artists including Luke Bryan, Mickey Guyton, Blake Shelton and Darius Rucker.

According to the Nashville Music City Visitor site, CMA implemented vaccine and mask mandates and COVID-19 testing requirements for union staff and artists regardless of their vaccination status. There was no vaccine or testing mandate for attendees, leaving them to fend for themselves to determine how risky attending the concert would be.

CMA staff posted signs and asked unvaccinated attendees to wear masks, but without demanding proof of vaccination, how would staff enforce mask wearing for the unvaccinated in an unruly crowd, whose motto was Luke Combs’s song “Beer Never Broke My Heart?” 

CMA’s Summer Jam was a freewheeling fiasco without oversight, held without safeguards in a community struggling against hospital capacity and unnecessary death.

I’ve seen coverage of both BottleRock and Summer Jam and noticed there weren’t many masks-on-faces at either event. The difference though, is that BottleRock ensured a low rate of spread through proof of vaccination or negative testing; Summer Jam on the other hand, without any requirements and no enforcement of a mask policy, likely added to spiking case numbers and unnecessary deaths.

To those who want to attend live shows again, do yourself a favor and evaluate the precautions each concert promoter is taking to ensure the lowest possible rate of transmission. Don’t attend unless you trust that the guy to your left and the gal to your right are either vaccinated or COVID negative. That’s how concert-goers should judge whether it’s safe to attend or not.