The Concert Comeback Is Complete
New Residencies, New Venues, New Festivals For 2022
From hotels to restaurants and retail, there is no consumer industry that wasn’t profoundly affected by COVID-19. But few, if any, were as starkly harmed as live music. Because while servers mask up and shoppers socially distance, the reliance on large crowds as the cornerstone of concerts meant that from March 2020 to summer 2021, the industry completely flatlined.
Thanks to the breathtaking speed of vaccination development and largely successful (if somewhat uneven) distribution of the jab, concerts were able to function at something that resembled normal for the second half of the year. However, several recent news items underline the fact that normal now is far from a facsimile of pre-COVID conditions and instead offers both obstacles and opportunities for live music.
The first is the news that Red Rocks Amphitheater was the highest-grossing and most-attended venue of the year globally in 2021. Of course, the 9,500 capacity Denver venue has always punched above its weight, consistently earning a spot on the list of top-grossing venues along with much bigger rooms in much bigger markets like Madison Square Garden, O2 Arena in London and LA’s Forum. This can generally be attributed to the particular regional blend of jam band and electronic music that thrives in the upper altitudes of Colorado. But Red Rocks’ success in 2021 shows two other factors at play.
As an outdoor amphitheater, Red Rocks was well-positioned to welcome attendees who might still be unsure about marching into a sealed arena with COVID in the air. This trend will likely continue through at least 2022, even as more indoor events are scheduled across the country.
The second, and perhaps more salient, variable in Red Rocks’ post-COVID comeback is the fact that out of the 96 times the venue opened its gates in 2021, 40 of those were multi-night engagements, with The Avett Brothers and Zhu selling out four shows each, and Widespread Panic, Umphrey's McGee, The String Cheese Incident and Illenium each clocking in three consecutive nights. With the logistics of touring complicated by COVID and the idea of traveling town to town to stimulate record sales an archaic notion, it’s not hard to imagine more artists spending more nights in fewer cities over the course of a single run.
This is certainly the case with John Legend, who this week announced a 24-show Las Vegas residency to run in April, May, August and October 2022. Having long since overcome its reputation for sheltering past-their-prime entertainers, a Vegas residency has become a feather in the cap for many veteran performers who maintain top-billing status worldwide. Artists from Usher and Adele to Katy Perry and Carrie Underwood have current or upcoming concert series planned for Sin City. KISS, who announced a residency at Planet Hollywood in October, then cancel it two weeks later, recently reinstated the dates after COVID restrictions on European travelers to the U.S. were eased.
The idea of concert residencies relying on international visitors might make some uneasy in the immediate aftermath of a global pandemic. But it also illustrates the power some artists have to bring the audience to them instead of vice versa. There’s no reason that artists couldn’t try this same residency model in tourist-friendly destinations like New York or Miami. It certainly worked for Billy Joel, whose monthly gigs at Madison Square Garden throughout 2019 earned $22.6 million, or 13% of the Garden’s total revenue for that year. The Piano Man relaunched the residency in November and is scheduled to keep the monthly money train rolling until at least April 2022.
And it’s not just boomer acts with a seemingly endless ability to fill an arena. Fish did 13 shows at the Garden in 2017, around the same time Depeche Mode filled the Hollywood Bowl on four consecutive nights. On a slightly smaller scale, Nine Inch Nail took over the Hollywood Palladium for six gigs in 2018, and LCD Soundsystem is currently in the middle of a 20-night residency at Brooklyn Steel.
As for the rest of the country, venues in secondary cities might begin to face booking challenges should too many of the top earners decide to set up camp in single large markets. But one can hope that all of those open avails, combined with the pent-up demand for shows across the country, will allow promoters to let in some emerging talent that might otherwise be shut out by bigger acts that many feared would monopolize venue post-pandemic. Those performers will certainly have their choice of great venues to play, especially as the Oak View Group opens new music-focused arenas in Seattle, Austin and Long Island, in addition to a number of international venues in the UK, South America and Europe.
Finally, as we gaze into the crystal ball for the future of live music, we can’t help but notice not one, but two indie-centric events coming to SoCal — This Ain’t No Picnic by Coachella creators Goldenvoice and the long-awaited LA edition of Primavera Sound — both taking place in late-summer 2022. It’s fun to play up a competition between Pasadena and DTLA, LCD Soundsystem vs Nine Inch Nail, respectively. But the announcement of two new festivals, plus GV’s indie-spirited Just Like Heaven event in the spring, is surely a reason to celebrate after going so long with so little.
We’ll see you in the stands in 2022.
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Salient statements from this week’s music news.
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