It’s no longer mandatory indoors, but if you’re going to a concert, should you mask up?
Some artists and promoters are encouraging their audiences to wear face coverings to keep them safe.
Indeed, a Covid-19 outbreak while on tour can destroy years of planning and wipe out musicians’ livelihoods, not to mention potentially devastating health consequences.
Country and soul musician Tami Neilson, currently on a world tour in New Zealand for her new album Kingmakeris among those urging spectators to wear masks in order to protect artists and other members of the public.
“Asking my audience to just try to help us stay on the road. It’s something I really felt compelled to do to protect my group, to protect myself and my team,” Neilson said.
“You know, my audience, I have a more mature demographic and I want to protect them as well.”
And it seems her audience listened – during her sold-out concert at the Aotea Center last Saturday, a sea of face coverings warmed the heart of the Canadian-born entertainer.
“To come on stage and see 2,000 people wearing masks because they care enough to protect us and each other was really special,” she said.
“It filled my heart and it put me completely at ease, and then I was able to play the show feeling pretty secure that I could keep shooting for the rest of this month.”
Neilson said she had seen the toll Covid-19 had taken on the live music scene, with disease-stricken tours on the road.
“This has just happened to far too many friends and fellow artists who are putting on about three or four shows on a tour they’ve been looking forward to and working on for a year, after so many cancellations and postponements for the last years.
“So much grief and lost money and income. If it’s just asking if anyone can please wear a mask, you know it’s not a big question as far as winning -bread from the artists you love.”
Promoter Reuben Bonner runs Auckland-based Banished Music, which puts on shows for local and international artists.
After the lean times caused by lockdowns and alert level restrictions, Bonner said the live industry is not out of the woods yet.
“After going through these really tough two years where you weren’t sure the environment would let the show go because of the restrictions, now we’re kind of at full throttle and we’re able to do shows.
“But that doesn’t mean that if an artist gets sick they’ll move on, so that’s another way to stop things really quickly. So it’s still like Russian roulette.”
While Banished Music staff wear masks during shows and encourage the public to do the same, Bonner said he understands some people see concerts as an escape from all things Covid-19, and therefore might be reluctant.
But from a promoter’s perspective, he said last-minute cancellations due to artists dropping out with Covid-19 could be hugely disruptive.
“It’s a nightmare. It completely shatters things – on an organizational level, on a moral level, on an emotional level and severely on a financial level.”
The American experience hits the mark
For Tami Neilson, when she traveled abroad and saw how other countries had been affected, it really hit home.
She recalls a conversation she had with an Uber driver in Texas in March.
“I said, ‘We hit our first 100 deaths today,’ and my Uber driver started sobbing and said, ‘You mean 100,000?
“I said ‘no’ and she said ‘I’m sorry I lost my mum to Covid’.
“We just don’t realize how awful it was in the world because we didn’t have that experience.”
Although no one likes wearing masks, it was worth it to keep people safe, she said.
“I don’t know a single person who likes to wear a mask. I don’t, and it’s very disconcerting to look at an audience and not see people’s smiles and expressions.
“It’s not something we enjoy, but it’s like if you sneeze in front of someone, you sneeze into your elbow.
“It’s just really basic hygiene, and even without Covid, we have so many bugs going around right now, and you don’t want to give that to anybody, and you don’t want to get that from anybody.”