It’s not every day I get called a Nazi.
On Thursday, Aug. 19, Tower Theatre and Ponyboy announced that we’re requiring proof of vaccine or negative COVID-19 test to attend our shows. This decision was not a move we wanted to make initially and something our team wrestled with for weeks.
During our Don’t Call It a Comeback series, we were blown away by the turnout and support from the community. We were also blown away by how quickly the Delta variant nearly upended things, even in this great age of “personal responsibility.” Despite our highest hopes and plans, the series was still overshadowed by COVID. One case within the local music scene quickly showed us how our best plans can fall apart. And the show we built the Comeback series to lead up to? Rescheduled due to COVID quarantine measures within the tour. Flashes of March 2020 have been impossible to ignore. We are not out of this yet.
As August progressed, our team talked every day about our position and what moves we should consider. Another of our confirmed tours for the fall began the process of rescheduling for 2022 and my eye twitch came back immediately. The news and the numbers continued to accumulate: Jason Isbell and Japanese Breakfast were among the first artists to insist on vaccinated guests at shows. Several of our tours informed us that they would be following suit. Jazz Fest in New Orleans was cancelled again entirely. Live Nation and AEG, the two largest concert promoters in America also adopted vaccine-only policies. The day before we announced, the king himself, Garth Brooks, cancelled his fall arena tour, commenting, “I must do my part.”
After a rapid week of communication, prep within our team and conversations with artist reps all across the country, we made our announcement. “Don’t read the comments,” was everyone’s advice, including a journalist I spoke with that morning who was nervous for us. By noon we had told every TV station in OKC and posted the news online while our team gathered inside the Tower offices to track the reaction.
Comments like “This is the #1 way to go out of business,” “racist policies,” and “this decision is obviously virtue signaling” were quick to compile online, but so was the clap back from OKC. As expected, some were quick to dismiss our decision, but the large majority of comments were supportive. Go read for yourself. The ratio doesn’t lie, especially when you factor for bots. And while those salacious bits are fun to read, so are the comments from tours:
“That sounds great to us. Looking forward to an awesome and safe show with you all!”
“We are 100% in favor of this.”
“Sounds good to us. We are preparing announcements for tourwide…all markets.”
“We are in full support and will do everything we can to spread the word. Thanks for being so proactive with this. I know it’s not an easy time.”
“Thanks, we’re all about it.”
“Hope that more venues and businesses will take your lead.”
“We fully support and are all vaccinated.”
Thirty minutes after we announced our new policy, ACL Festival in Austin, Texas announced that the same measures would be enacted for their outdoor festival. Tower and Ponyboy might be the first venues in Oklahoma City to make the move, but we’re in step with our industry and the music community. And while we didn’t need Jason Isbell to give us the rock fist emoji on our tweet, we aren’t mad about it either.
Where do things go from here? I don’t know; none of us do. Another year of live entertainment could cancel if things continue the way they’re going, but it’s too soon to call it. Bands need to tour to begin climbing out of the financial ruin of the last 18 months. Many are already out on the road, adapting to quickly changing circumstances and doing their best to stay healthy. We are all disappointed by a cancelled or rescheduled show, but it’s nothing compared to what an artist feels when the cancelled or rescheduled show also means cancelling and rescheduling their livelihood.
The economics of touring are tricky. Tours can generate a lot of revenue, but they also rack up a lot of expenses. A good tour bus and driver can cost a band thousands of dollars a day whether they have a show or a night off. Most tours are only four or five shows away from losing money. I remember an artist in 2017 telling me that they had to cancel a week of shows when a tornado hit Florida. He said it would take them almost two years to catch up on that lost revenue. The only way to catch up? Add more dates to next year’s tour.
This financial high wire act is playing out in vans and tour buses around the country. If you’re already out on the road, you’ve made commitments that you still have to honor even if the show doesn’t happen. Your tour bus isn’t free if the show cancels.
Album sales and radio play used to support artists, but streaming monies today aren’t enough to sustain most bands. Artists have suffered greatly and they’re determined to make a living this year. Most would prefer to never tell you how to live your life; just come to the show and enjoy the music. Unfortunately, life just isn’t that carefree right now, especially when your job is to travel in a metal tube, interacting with people all across the country during a pandemic.
Maybe that’s one thing we can all agree on: Life right now has been pretty rough all over and none of us are feeling very carefree. Bands and venues are working together to try and make sure the show can go on. No one wants to make their fans sick and lose their income at the same time. We head into the fall knowing the odds are against us, but when has that ever stopped rock and roll?