With open air at a premium amid concerns about the pandemic, some outdoor venues found themselves booked for more types of events than just music. Shahida Mausi, whose company runs Detroit’s 6,000-capacity Aretha Franklin Amphitheater, describes her venue’s reopening as “wonderfully crazy.” Instead of the usual 40 to 45 events, the Aretha hosted 73, including concerts—like a particularly memorable Phoebe Bridgers set backdropped by a dramatic lightning storm—graduations, funerals, and even a policy conference. “The crazy part is that nobody was coming to work,” Mausi added with a laugh. “It’s a good thing I have a big family!”
As with the broader economy, a rebound in live music activity has made it tough for venues to hire enough workers. “There’s a labor shortage with touring and festival personnel, which has been causing problems for certain events,” says concert insurance veteran Peter Tempkins, a managing director at Hub International. The lack of staffing extends from local crews and security to bus drivers and truck drivers, he says. Some who used to work in the industry have moved to different locations, and others have taken on other professions, perhaps even adjusting to a life of not going to bed at 3 or 4 in the morning, says NIVA’s Schaefer. “But the other thing is, this is in so many people’s blood.” At the 40 Watt, with a mixture of new hires and returning veterans, Vego expects to have enough staff in place for a series of homecoming shows by Drive-By Truckers in January.
Once basic requirements like safety and staffing are met, music venues at their best offer spaces for communal creative expression—and even, perhaps, transcendence. One recent night at Le Poisson Rouge, a 700-capacity venue in Manhattan’s West Village, Canadian indie-rock veterans Stars opened their set with the title track from their 2007 album In Our Bedroom After the War. For fans who may have been attending their first concert since March 2020, lead singer Torquil Campbell belted out decade-old lyrics that nonetheless captured the charge of the occasion: “All the living are dead, and the dead are all living/The war is over and we are beginning.” “It was just a very cathartic thing,” recalls LPR co-founder David Handler. “They were so grateful, and it was so obvious, and everybody was so happy to be there. There’s so much we’ve all lost collectively and individually that I hope we all have a newfound appreciation for our fundamental need to be together.”
On the experimental fringes, the ritual of the concert itself looks ripe for an overhaul. “If we were to talk in 2025, I get the sense that we would be able to see from that distance that we’re going through this period where we’re redefining what it means to engage in events,” says Andre Perry, co-founder of Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City. Perry isn’t referring, necessarily, to the virtual concerts that proliferated during the past two years but to in-person events that command an audience’s attention in a way that’s distinct from the traditional bar or theater. He points to a recent Angel Bat Dawid …….