the evolution of concerts

COVID-19 Changes in Boston and Beyond

by Kiara Tynan

As of mid-March 2020, I had planned to spend spring break going to multiple concerts around Boston. Then, in an instant, the world shut down and all plans were placed on indefinite hold. As lockdown began and gatherings ended, concert venues were forced to cease operations and many were left unable to withstand the financial failings.

In May, Allston’s Great Scott music venue announced it would not be reopening.

“From its inception in 1976 as a local bar featuring Blues and Folk performers to the 1980s and 1990s, as a beloved college dive featuring cover bands and DJ nights, to the 2000s and its emergence as one of the best live music venues in the city, Great Scott has meant many things to many people,” the venue’s manager Tim Philbin tweeted.

The loss of such a beloved performance space felt reflective of the pandemic’s effects on businesses and social spots, with financial instability pushing many past their threshold and forcing bankruptcy. Thousands petitioned and crowdfunded for Great Scott to keep its doors open. In a fortunate turn of events, the venue announced on Sept. 18 that they intend to take over the Regina Pizzeria building in Allston. This incites the hope that this concert venue will make its comeback post-pandemic, and that other befallen businesses and industries may experience the same twist of fate and survive the hard times.

In the past few months, artists have found unique new ways to reach their fans. After being forced to cancel their yearly St. Patrick’s Day concert in Boston, Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys quickly adapted and live-streamed their performance for free. Countless other artists— Boston-based and beyond—like Bruce Springsteen and Billie Eilish, have since followed suit, allowing for fans to feel some sense of the concert experience at home and feel connected to the musicians they love. Other musicians, including the Beach Boys and the Front Bottoms, have turned to performing at drive-in theatres where large audiences can safely gather and experience live music. While these outdoor performances may continue in the Southern states well into the winter months, the Northeast is expected to close again as temperatures drop and drive-in theatres grow unsustainable.

As COVID-19 cases are on the rise, the future of the live music industry, like pretty much everything else, is uncertain. Waitstaff, touring crew and sound and light engineers were some of the hardest hit professionals who lost the steady paycheck they relied on. Some artists, like Niall Horan, have taken it upon themselves to fundraise and support their touring crew.

Like most, I would love to be back in a sweaty crowd and completely overstimulated by blasting amps. Sadly, it’s impossible to know when I’ll be able to experience the unique adrenaline rush that live music produces again. But as the music scene adapted from radio to television in the mid-20th-century and to streaming in the 2000s, it will do the same with these new circumstances.