The music industry has joined the ranks of the divided American landscape regarding COVID-19 mitigation measures. In one corner, we have Jason Isbell, a noted singer and songwriter who says he will require all fans at his upcoming concerts to be vaccinated or show a negative test result.
In another corner, we have rapper and producer Busta Rhymes whose anti-masking speech went viral, according to The Hill. Rhymes says masks and mandates are infringing on “the God-given right of freedom.”
However, another rapper, Juvenile, rewrote the lyrics of his 1999 hit “Back That Thang Up” with new lyrics saying, “Vax That Thang Up.” It seems that performers are just as polarized as the rest of us on COVID-19 etiquette.
The conflicts underscore the struggle to bring live music back after it was destroyed by the pandemic. Many argue that without mitigation measures, our love affair with live music and concerts will fizzle.
Isbell’s manager, Traci Thomas, told The Hill that his decision to require admittance requirements to his concerts was a “no-brainer.”
“Jason enjoys his job and he can’t enjoy himself if he feels he is putting his audience in danger,” she said. She added that staying safe keeps the music alive and the industry cannot afford another shutdown. Major concert promoters are introducing new regulations starting in October that will require proof of vaccination. Both Los Angeles-based AEG and Live Nation have announced plans to institute safety measures at their events.
However, these proposed regulations may be overruled by state laws, potentially causing chaos among performers, promoters, and their fans. And critics point out that music stars can be divisive about their views about mask mandates and vaccinations.
“Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream country artists are more concerned about losing their audience instead of keeping them safe,” said Thomas, according to The Hill. “But if they’re not keeping them safe, they are going to lose them if they die.”
Unofficial Nashville music historian Robert K. Oermann, the author of “Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics,” said he was “shocked” by the number of artists who remain unvaccinated themselves. Parton donated $1 million to help fund research for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
"When the pandemic came out, I just felt kind of led to do something because I knew something bad was on the rise, and I just wanted to kind of help with that, so I donated to help with that," the country music singer said.
“She has been on the side of the angels,” said Oermann.
According to Kaiser Health News, after more than a year without live music, promoters, bands and fans are eager to keep the concerts going, but the soaring transmission of COVID-19 may make it risky to attend large gatherings even if they are held outdoors. Healthcare experts say that there is “too much” COVID-19 circulating in the U.S. so even proof of vaccination and negative-test requirements won’t make a venue safe.
But Lollapalooza proved them wrong. Organizers required vaccine or proof of negative COVID-19 tests for entry, and even though an estimated 385,000 people attended the rock fest held from July 29 to August 1, only 203 attendees were diagnosed with COVID-19.
But noted infectious disease expert Saskia Popescu at the University of Arizona said that while she sees the Lollapalooza data as a “really good sign,” even an outdoor concert in states such as Missouri where the Delta variant is thriving, is risky.
“If you are considering an event in an area that has high or substantial transmission, it’s probably not a great time for a large gathering,” she told KHN.
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