By Larisha Paul
Indie band Coin was only two dates into its Dreamland tour when it announced the postponement of the remainder of the trek on March 13. The Nashville outfit had managed to sneak in shows in Tampa and Orlando before the same concerns over the coronavirus pandemic that canceled South by Southwest and delayed Coachella put a stop to its live-music endeavors, too. When the group broke the news to followers on Twitter, Coin fan Taylor West was already at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, camping out with other fans to secure a spot on the barricade for a show that was no longer happening.
“The entire drive up there, we had a feeling [that the show might be canceled],” West told MTV News. “But we thought we were in the clear since it was pretty late.” West had arrived at the venue at 11 p.m. after driving for 18 hours from Austin; following the announcement, she sat outside the venue in a state of denial for two hours before heading back to her hotel and shedding a few tears.
What started with festival dates being moved to later in the year or canceled entirely quickly led to concert giants like Live Nation and AEG Presents urging their clients to pull the plug on their productions, too. The 1975, Billie Eilish, BTS, and Ryan Beatty are just a few artists who’ve had to put entire tours on hold to preserve the health and safety of everyone involved. Fans are understanding, but in a time of indefinite self-isolation when stress and anxiety are inescapable, many feel they’ve lost a key outlet for managing their mental health.
“I just feel lost and a bit miserable and hopeless,” said Fiona Brown, a Harry Styles fan from Glasgow. “I dread another week passing by.” Three shows that Brown planned on attending have been canceled already, leaving her without the one thing she says keeps her grounded when grappling with anxiety and a depersonalization disorder. Alondra Lopez, who struggles with anxiety and hypochondria, also said she relies on concerts to be a positive escape from reality. “Those couple of hours have such an impact on my life because they replace the sickness and depression I feel,” she said.
Lopez is among those who had already secured tickets to Justin Bieber’s Changes tour before it was postponed on April 1, with new dates set to be announced soon. Artists who are able to reschedule their tours are urging people to hold onto their tickets for the new dates. But for others with more time-sensitive concert plans, it just means seeking a refund and missing out on a show they’ve spent months looking forward to.
Originally from Maceió, Brazil, Ana Julia Nobre had planned to see Styles and Niall Horan on tour while temporarily living in Toronto, but the rescheduling of these shows may put a stop to those plans. As a source of positivity, Nobre has been tuning into the livestreams and radio shows that Horan and Styles, respectively, have participated in. “Watching them in their homes, simply singing and playing for us, shows that they’re experiencing everything with us and that they care, because they wouldn’t do it otherwise,” said Nobre.
Dozens of musicians have taken to livestreaming performances from home in hopes of preserving that intimate connection with their fans. John Legend, Hozier, and Charlie Puth have each performed on Instagram Live as part of Global Citizen and the World Health Organization’s Together At Home livestream concert series, while Troye Sivan, Megan Thee Stallion, and Hailee Steinfeld have all participated in TikTok’s #HappyAtHome series.
Free concert streams are a more affordable alternative to live shows, where the average concert ticket price in 2019, according to Pollstar, was $94.83, with over 39 million tickets sold throughout North America. But it’s proved difficult to replicate the energy produced in a live setting through a screen. “I love what they’re doing to get people to watch while we all social distance,” said Annelise Mendez, “But at the same time it’s just like watching a YouTube video at this point.”
Viewers are also finding themselves overwhelmed with options as more livestreams overlap with that of other artists. “I feel like I’m at Lollapalooza trying to figure out whether I want to go see Twenty One Pilots, The 1975, or Vampire Weekend, and they’re all streaming at the same time,” said Tara Okwemba. “How do you get that intimate experience that you really want without bouncing back and forth?”
While isolated, music fans have been turning to online communities for the person-to-person connection that seems to be missing from livestreams. Jake Wilding was one of three The 1975 fans who helped to organize a listening party of the band’s music on April 8. “Coming into this pandemic, it was clear that a lot of people were feeling low,” said Wilding. “We just wanted to see how we could help.” After word got around when the flyer for the virtual event was posted on Twitter and reposted by the band’s manager Jamie Oborne on Instagram, fans pressed play on Spotify and Apple Music at the same time and tweeted along using #VibingForMatty. The hashtag trended with over 16,000 tweets throughout the event.
Carly Webster has been using her project DisabledSOS, a Twitter support group for disabled 5 Seconds of Summer fans, to show support for fans who may generally be affected by venue accessibility or at elevated risk of having their health threatened by COVID-19. “For some people that I've talked to, going to a concert even without this virus is a risk for them,” said Webster, who has cerebral palsy. She’s able to attend concerts with accommodations, but says that her “goal is to let fans with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and other stuff that can keep them from going to shows know that they're just as much fans as anyone else.” Webster has organized merchandise giveaways and video projects to keep engaged with fans while everyone is at home, including a remote project that normally would have taken place during the United Kingdom and Europe legs of 5SOS’s upcoming tour.
Both listening parties and livestreams have aided in making shared musical experiences more accessible for fans who hope for these alternatives to remain popular even after the pandemic subsides. Dedicated to making music experiences more accessible, nonprofit organization Half Access has also been boosting livestream concerts over the past few weeks. “As someone who was already isolated, I feel more connected than I have in a long time,” said Madeline Williams, a disabled fan who has often found fault in the accessibility of music venues. “I hope these systems learn who they were excluding, and how joyful it is to make access available to all.”
Even as some health experts say it could be until fall 2021 before it’s safe enough to gather for concerts again, music fans are already eager to pick up where they left off. The 1975 fan Elizabeth Schoenfeld is looking forward to helping her favorite small venues get back on their feet “because I know how hard the industry is struggling and how much concerts mean to me.”
Schoenfeld’s biggest takeaway from this unprecedented moment is one that will surely echo through fan communities: “Nothing matters, so spend the money on a concert ticket.”