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THE SHUTDOWN AND THE EVENT HORIZON

Two months ago, none of us thought we’d need Gov. Gavin Newsom to make the call on whether we get to see Rage Against the Machine reunite. Political figures, some of whom actually use science and data to m­ake decisions, will be having a major impact on the future of live entertainment.

While Donald Trump bungles the messaging of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic—and continues to show a lack of understanding of constitutional law—coalitions of governors in the Northeast and the West Coast have formed to create plans for reopening the economy. As N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN: “You don’t become king because of a national emergency.”

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington said in a statement Monday, “We need to see a decline in the rate of spread of the virus before large-scale reopening, and we will be working in coordination to identify the best metrics to guide this.”

If officials had to make call today, summer concerts in New York City would be a no-go. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, “We’re not confident about June, we’re not confident about July and we’re not confident about August that we could have people gathering together again in large numbers.”

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti  is similarly cautious. “We’re not going to flip the switch and suddenly have the economy return to what it was and everyone come out of their homes simultaneously,” he told the New York Times. “People’s physical interactions, people’s spatial understandings, people’s risk-taking will come slowly.”

How might that affect the live entertainment arena?

The closest a Cabinet member has come to saying the feds will help the entertainment business came Monday when Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin spoke about “phase four” of the recovery plan. The government, he said at Trump’s press briefing/stump speech, will “make sure there are incentives for restaurants, entertainment—people to get back to those types of things. We’ll be looking at provisions to stimulate the economy. Some of them may be monetary issues, some may be regulatory.”

Before that kicks in, though, we hear that outdoor festivals that appeal to a younger demographic have a better shot at taking place in the near future than indoor shows with reserved seating. That thinking favors a festival such as Coachella, which has been rescheduled for 10/9-11 and 10/16-18, or Bonnaroo in Tennessee on 9/24-27.

As an experiment, could a scheduled indoor show be moved to a makeshift outdoor location or a stadium where the only seating is GA on the field? It’s an idea being floated.

To determine a new normal, some insiders say, they’ll be looking to amusement parks and Las Vegas as to how they handle a return to something resembling pre-COVID-19 conditions. Will they reduce capacity? Institute new rules to maintain social distancing? Check patrons’ and employees’ vitals to ensure no one has a raging fever? Again, more ideas are on the table.

The biggest amusement parks are, of course, in California and Florida. Whatever procedures are used at Disneyland, Universal Studios and Disney World may have a greater effect on concerts in 2021 rather than those taking place in the fall. Speaking of Florida, did you hear that the state’s surgeon general was summarily yanked from a press conference after saying that social distancing would be necessary until there was a vaccine? That’s what happens when you stand in the way of progress, buddy.

Eyes will also be on Las Vegas, which happens to sit in a state that has not been hit as hard as others in the West. Nevada has a shutdown order until the end of April and over the weekend reportedly passed the peak of new cases; the state had 112 deaths as of 4/12.

Artists with residencies in Las Vegas who cleared their March-May slates are looking to return as early as July. Robbie Williams is scheduled to be back at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas on 7/3; Kelly Clarkson pushed her April run at Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theater to a TBD start date in July; and Sting’s run at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace is now 8/15 through 9/2. Shania Twain is due back at Planet Hollywood starting 8/21. The Electric Daisy Carnival is scheduled for 10/2-27. Will what happens in Vegas become a blueprint for the rest of the country?

Back on the East Coast, where the summer’s biggest shows include Taylor Swift’s two stadium gigs in Foxboro, Mass., the alliance of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island said that a council consisting of one public health expert, one economics expert and the governor will judge potential steps toward restoring business.

Obviously, the key to getting concerts resumed is making sure everyone—the ticket-takers, the crews, the concert-goers—feel safe. How long that will take is a wild guess, but some are looking at the recovery of the airline industry after 9/11 for guidance.

According to Dept. of Transportation statistics, it took almost three years—until July 2004—for the industry to match the pre-9/11 levels of available flights. It took until July 2005 for the number of airline passengers in a month to top pre-9/11 levels (71m vs. 65.4m in 8/01).

Stay tuned, and here’s hoping we’ll see you in the merch line when all this is over.

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