Philly band Grocer performing at Reverb Lounge Aug. 17, 2021. The band supports requiring concertgoers to produce proof of immunization before entering shows. Photo by Tim McMahan

Aug. 18, 2021 — The numbers are moving in the wrong direction in terms of COVID-19 and the Delta variant.

At the heart of the matter is whether mandates should be put in place that force vaccinations on those knuckle-dragging conspiracy theorists who refuse to get the shot(s) because of quack science, backward political leanings or just plain loony ideas.

And now here we are with our world on the brink of another shutdown, another retraction of business, and, worst of all, another rise in human illnesses and tragedies. All of it is entirely preventable.

Just a few weeks ago, we seemed on the verge of normalcy, at least in terms of the local music scene. Music venues that survived the shutdown of 2020 had reopened, local bands had returned to stages, outdoor festivals like Maha and Petfest were in full force, and national bands were announcing late summer and fall tours, all presumably to be performed in front of mask-less audiences.

Now with the Delta variant running rampant almost entirely among the unvaccinated, the masks are returning. But even more unfortunate, bands are beginning to cancel tours.

On Aug. 17, Steve Albini from the legendary post-punk band Shellac posted on his social media channels that his band is cancelling its West Coast tour.

The risks of touring right now remain extreme,” he wrote, “both in material terms and psychic ones, so this seems like the responsible thing to do during a pandemic that has proven pernicious beyond all expectations.”

A quick glance shows other acts, such as Stevie Nicks, Nine Inch Nails, Garth Brooks and Lynyrd Skynyrd, are following suit, and more are likely on the way. If you’re a club owner or promoter, there’s a dark pool of dread growing in the pit of your stomach that we’re headed back to where we were a year ago. And that’s something club owners can’t afford.

The simple answer is the most controversial one: Require concertgoers to produce proof of immunization before entering shows.

As of the third week of August, nine local promoters of small shows sent a letter saying fans must either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have received a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours prior to entering their events.

As promoters, we have the tough responsibility to look after not just a portion of our attendees, but ALL of our attendees,” the letter said.

But in the end, it’s up to the venues to enforce such a mandate. Because of the fast-moving nature of the pandemic, I could understand why a club owner would be reluctant to comment for this column.

“Just too many moving parts and varying requests to say much, at least by your deadline,” said Jason Kulbel, who runs Slowdown. “At this point we are not looking at an overarching venue policy, but it’s inevitable that we will end up doing some sort of card/test/etc. check for some shows.”

Kulbel went on to say everyone in the industry seems to agree that they need to do whatever they can to get through the next few months of shows and lose as few of them as possible.

“No one in the chain can take another season off,” he said.

Marc Leibowitz, who, along with partner Jim Johnson, runs The Waiting Room, Reverb Lounge and 1% Productions, said they also haven’t made a formal rule yet, but are enforcing policies like the ones created by that cadre of smaller promoters when requested.

“Eventually most shows will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test,” Leibowitz said.

Such policies can’t come too soon for Philadelphia-based indie-punk band Grocer, who played at Reverb Lounge Aug. 17 on the fourth of a five-week tour. Bassist/vocalist Danielle Lovier said the band got pushback when they wore masks at clubs throughout the South the first week of their tour, but that as they journeyed West, most venues had mask mandates or negative-test requirements.

“That made it a little easier for us,” she said.

“For me, the name of the game is risk mitigation,” said drummer Cody Nelson. “We’re in a new place every night. If we can make sure we’re surrounded by as few potential carriers as possible that increases the chances of us being healthy and being able to continue our tour.

“If the venue takes the lead, it’s more comfortable for us to show up and be safe.”

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.


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