I have spent the last five months doing my best to follow all of the rules in hopes that it would help this pandemic end and then life could go back to normal. I’ve barely left my house at all. Majority of my friends live in different states, so I still haven’t seen them even when restrictions loosened up a little bit. It’s been very taxing on my mental health, especially when I just keep seeing so many people going on about their normal life. My life won’t be back to “normal” until we don’t have travel restrictions and all concerts are back. At this rate, I don’t know when that will be.
I finally gave up on trapping myself in my house and planned a safe, socially distant cross country road trip. More on that later. I normally just map my travel around concerts, but this trip was mapped around sites to see. However, it unexpectedly ended in two concerts.
I was out road tripping with a friend and she had planned to go to the two Jimmie Allen shows. She had already seen him play a social distancing appropriate show in Delaware earlier this summer and felt good about how it had been ran. Though shows were still getting cancelled left and right, so we didn’t make concrete plans around them and if she did go, I hadn’t planned to tag along anyway. I figured by then, I would be tired of all the driving and ready to get home. As timed passed, and travel our loop was going to part ways in Nebraska, right when and where the first show was supposed to take place. To our surprise, it wasn’t cancelled. So I agreed to go to the first one.
When we first got into town, we went into a brewery to do some work over a late lunch. We both walked in with masks on and we got some displeased looks. No one else in the restaurant was wearing a mask, including the employees. But we sat at the bar, ordered, and worked for a couple hours. A few people came to get pick up orders with masks on, but for the most part, there mask wearing wasn’t the norm. That was our first hint as to what we were in for the rest of the night. The second bar we stopped in was the same, only worse, and didn’t stay there long. By then, the doors had opened at the show venue.
We walked in the venue and we didn’t put on our masks. The guy at the door checking tickets was really nice and seemed very excited that there was an event happening. I can’t say I blame him, I was very excited to see a show myself. He scanned our tickets and as he gave us our drinking wristbands he whispered, “I’m supposed to tell you that if you want a mask, we have some for free.” And pointed to a large box of disposable surgical mask sitting on a stool on the other side of the doorway. We thanked him, told him we had our own, then proceeded inside. The venue was a nice little “honky tonk” type of bar with a small stage inside, but they had created an outside space for the current show. We looked around a bit to see what we were getting ourselves into. The space was decent sized, but there were no spacing guidelines to social distance. The front row fencing was barely three feet from the stage. There were a couple signs posted around on the walls instructing people to social distance, which I later found out were put up by the Jimmie’s tour manager. We saw him taking pictures of the signs as proof that they were there, despite the fact that it was clear most of those in attendance didn’t care.
When the local opener started, my friend and I stood against the wall trying to stay away from people. The front row was packed, of course, but there were pockets of people spread around, it actually looked like people cared… Until more people arrived and everyone started drinking more, then everyone crowded in. We tried to keep our distance, stepping further aside when someone stopped close to us. Also, I found that you really can’t prevent people from coming to talk to you. This really nice (drunk) woman kept coming up to us and insisted that I dance with her brother. We explained that we weren’t from here and preferred to keep our distance. She said she wasn’t either and continued to insist. She eventually stopped and I did not dance with her brother.
We ended up talking to Jimmie and his band members for a while after the show. It was really interesting to hear their perspectives on playing during the current times. As the artist, Jimmie shared that, concerning financials, he was worried about his band and crew’s livelihood and was willing to take the risk playing for them to make money. One of the band members, Tate Howell or Willie MF Tate (as he asked to be called), shared that he was honestly excited to be part of the only live music happening in America. Which was kind of an odd concept to think about, normally when planning out which concerts I’m going to, I end up missing another one somewhere else. It made me feel kind of lucky to be at one of, if not the only live show in America that night. But also felt a little selfish for being there and also concerned thinking about how this may continue to prevent future shows. Lastly, a crew member shared how he hadn’t seen his parents since December and wished he could visit them, but he has to keep doing this to make money, so that’s the choice he’s making.
All in all, the whole thing felt really normal, which felt really uncomfortable. The drunk girls are just as nice in the bathroom as always. We drank way too much, as usual. We sang along and danced around. It was a feeling that I missed so much. It all made it so easy to forget what is happening out in the world, which is really what every good concert has always done. It’s just different now. That is how they all convinced drunk me to go to the second show in Kansas. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t that difficult.
So, we woke up very hung over the next morning and headed to the next city. It felt like old times, heading from one map dot to the next, chasing music. We felt a little more hopeful for the conditions of the second show when we found a brewery that said, “masks required for entry.” We went in with ours on, all of the staff was wearing one, and majority of customers came in wearing theirs willingly.
Despite this, I still don’t even think I was surprised when we got to the show and found that it looked like COVID-19 never existed. The artist we saw the night before was now the opener. Granger Smith was now the headliner, the event was much larger, so this was a completely different ball game. There were no social distancing signs. Except for the few police wearing one, there were no masks, and clearly no concern what so ever. We walked in and tried to figure out where the best place for us to avoid people would be. We, again, found ourselves against the side wall. Over time, we ended up getting backed into a corner. It was literally impossible for people to social distance even if they wanted to. I saw maybe 5 other attendees wearing masks as they walked through the crowd. Though, the crew members that had to go back and forth between backstage and other areas in this outdoor venue, put their masks on to do so.
Additionally, after the first opener, the radio host announced that he had some bad news, then asked everyone to not take photos or videos of the event. I checked the location, artist, and venue tags on Instagram afterwards, people did not follow those instructions. That was really interesting to me and seemed like the artist’s management just doesn’t want to deal with the same backlash that Chase Rice and Chris Janson saw a few weeks ago for doing the same thing.
The second show, overall, felt really overwhelming and less exciting than the first night. We didn’t move out of our spots until the third set. The crowd was completely packed in by then. We were headed to go talk to the all the people from the night before, so we put our masks on, navigated through the rows of chairs and crossed the venue. We walked through tons of people. I tried not to make eye contact with people, but I could tell we were getting a lot of dirty looks. We were almost to our destination when I hear, “take of your makes off you fucking pussies and live a little.” Three days later and just typing that still annoys me. I won’t even go into my thoughts on that.
When the Granger started, the view from backstage looked like the crowd was even worse than it had been when we walked through it. It looked like a normal show. I saw this same view of Granger’s show pre-pandemic in November and you would’ve never known that between the two shows, the whole world has been turned upside down. It was very uncomfortable to witness. It felt safer backstage than it did in the crowd, but maybe that’s me judging one group of people (attendees) differently compared to a separate group (crew), which probably isn’t fair or accurate.
I’m home now. My trip is over and I’m going to get back to my pandemic normal life. I’m starting my two week quarantine, as is advised by pandemic guidelines. And I’m still thinking about those shows with mixed emotions. I was so happy to see a show, to be back in that environment that I typically spend such a significant amount of time in. I also feel guilty about being there. I feel guilty about taking that risk when the rest of our trip was so well executed being socially distant. I also feel a little bit differently than I originally did about the backlash Chase Rice got about his show. From my understanding, the venue did what they could to create a pandemic appropriate show, but before he went on stage, all of these people rushed the stage. That isn’t the artist’s or the venue’s fault.
I have spoken with so many friends in the industry that are struggling and dying to get back out on the road. I understand those who would do anything to play again, but aren’t because they don’t feel like it’s safe for them, their crews, or fans. But now I also understand the ones who are taking that risk to make sure their band and crew can pay their bills. If the venue says they’re going to hold an appropriate show and it falls under their state’s guidelines, why should they get the backlash if it’s the venue or the crowd who doesn’t follow the rules? I just think it’s a lose, lose situation for everyone at this point.
I would give anything to have shows back to normal again. I also would be more than willing to do whatever is needed to have a pandemic appropriate show (Granger himself did a great job last month). Maybe if everyone was willing to do what we need to do and work together it could be possible. Until then, I guess we will just be uncomfortably navigating our way through it and further disagreeing on how it should be done. But overall, I think everyone should take more time to consider all of the factors involved in a situation like this before they just start throwing out blame and talking bad about someone because of what they saw on social media. No one has the right answers for how to do things right now. Everyone is just trying to figure out how to get by.