Concert venues can open, but expert says don’t expect shows of ‘any scale’ until maybe next Memorial Day


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Some music venues have had the green light to host shows with restrictions for more than a month now in Virginia but — thus far, and likely for the foreseeable future — silence is all you’ll hear at them.

Gov. Ralph Northam, (D-Va.) allowed outdoor music and performing arts venues to operate at 50-percent capacity beginning on June 5 as part of phase 2 of the coronavirus reopening plan. In Hampton Roads, that would mean Portsmouth’s Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion could hold 3,250 concert-goers and 10,000 could see a show at Virginia Beach’s Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater, as long as the venues found a way to keep parties 6 feet apart.

Starting July 1, indoor venues were given the go-ahead to play by the same rules. Yet still, the only time people appear to be headed to box offices is to get refunds.

It’s a situation David Stone, founder of entertainment venue consulting firm Stone Planning, says is not unique to just Hampton Roads.

“A lot of the people I have been talking to really aren’t expecting anything, especially anything of any scale, until maybe Memorial Day next year,” Stone said Monday afternoon.

While medical experts peg seeing a concert as a high-risk activity during COVID-19, Stone does not think that is the chief reason venues, especially the outdoor ones, are choosing to stay closed. Rather he points to factors such as what other states are doing.

“When you are talking about these outdoor amphitheater — which are seasonal of course, and the season ends in the fall — it’s pretty much logistically and legally impossible (starting now) to put any regional or national tour together,” Stone said.

The venues would have to sell enough tickets to make it worth a performer’s time to visit the location, Stone explained. Buses need to be loaded by crews that need to be hired.

It’s a lot of financial risk to take on when each state has different rules on capacity limits.

“If one or two cities in a region are pretty much off the grid for being possible to host an event there, that kind of wipes out the whole market, or the whole region for having events,” Stone said. “It’s just not sustainable.”

Stone believes giant venue owners such as LiveNation and AEG will survive, however, it is the owners of the smaller venues that need help.

Recently owners of independent music venues across the country, such as Elevation 27 and Peabody’s in Virginia Beach, banned together to form the National Independent Venue Association in hopes of pushing Congress to provide financial assistance to the struggling industry.

“Without support from Congress,” the group says, “90 percent of NIVA’s independent venues across America say they will be forced to close their doors forever.”

The ripple effect on local economies would be devastating, according to Stone. In addition, independent owners often help artists who will, one day, headline stadiums get their start. Without them, the whole ladder would break down.

“It’s not good,” Stone said. “Nobody knows what the future holds.”

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