Art is Culture
I’m writing about social distancing because I want to make a confession. I’ve been doing my best to be socially distant, but I have been to a show or two in the past year. I’m careful before and after public events, and I always take precautions before seeing family. This is an article on COVID-19, but it’s also about a better future for live music and the artists we support. Art is culture.
Historically, art has been fiercely protected. Through the World Wars, people saved paintings, film, and so much more from destruction. Entire cultures and their histories have been protected from the worst human tragedies. Art can be political, but for me, that isn’t always so. I don’t go to a trance show to participate in a debate. I go to relax, dance, and enjoy myself before I go back and sit at home on this laptop forever.
Our ancestors gathered around fires to sing, drum, and move through generations of endless winter, one of many ways humankind survived the last Ice Age. Music is one of the earliest forms of culture. Live art happens in places where humanity has come together to celebrate, but the art itself may also represent survival, adaption, and change. This is why music is often tied to civil disobedience and political unrest. Through art, we can experience the culture and feel it transform as we do.
Just the Facts
If this sounds a little dramatic, it’s because I want to convince you that music is very important to innumerable people. Music heals, provides, and saves lives. But so can wearing masks, keeping social distance, and respecting the dead. This is the tricky part, where I ask what you think first.
Would you go out with a cough?
Did you visit anyone over 70 after traveling?
Do you mask up in public places?
Out of moral obligation, I have to put the facts right here so we can keep moving: 1.81 million cases in Florida, 28,500 deaths, 250,000+ jobs erased. The last number does not include anyone who works in the ‘gig economy’. Music producers and production staff are not meaningfully counted by the US government when it comes to unemployment. Hit hard by taxes and COVID, live event crews may struggle to break even, and it’s much more difficult today with limited audiences and funds. But the scene persists, and shows and fests are on the schedule in 2021.
Types of shows during COVID
In Florida, shows exist in three ways:
Reopened as usual after lockdown; no requirements or nothing was enforced
Reopened with social distancing and mask requirements; sometimes enforced
Reopened with capacity changes and requirements; enforced by the venue
There are ‘drive-in’ fests, which attendees tell me often fall into type #2. There are also ‘table reservation’ shows, which fall under #2 or #3, depending on the venue.
As a rule, I wear a mask when in a crowd or walking anywhere public in Orlando, but I’d say I’m an outlier. I have to admit, I was uncomfortable at a recent event in town. It was advertised as Limited Capacity! The venue was definitely full, but not sold out. There was enough room in the back to dance, which I loved. There was never much of a line at the bar or restroom, also great! I felt there was a little more respect, but masks weren’t really required, and neither was more than a few feet of distance. The VIP space wasn’t any different, and people were packed at the rail for the best view. It was a great artist and a new venue, and I’m glad I attended, but it did lack some of the magic I’ve experienced at live events. At times, there were just too many people, and I wasn’t always vibing.
Music Festival Crowds
Music festivals each have an entirely different vibe. This vibe is the combination of the artists and the audience in that unique place and time. Even the phase of the moon can affect how intense a music festival feels for all involved. Within music festivals, different artists also have different crowds. This isn’t news to anyone who has ventured outside of their genre at a fest. I’ve been to daytime Tipper shows *puts on heady hat with lots of question mark pins* where the energy and movement were cool, spacious, and respectful. I’ve been to headliner Tipper shows where every track was dark and dirty, and so was the pit. To be fair, some people are on that dark and dirty side during an A&B set! We’re all different and we’re all contributing something to the vibe of the show. That’s what makes going to a live event fun. We’re all a part of it, and we each feel our own contribution to that moment.
The Future of the Industry
A big counter to ‘doesn’t the venue care?’ is ‘The industry has to survive. Artists need to eat.’ This is important. People’s lives are connected to this work I’ve been philosophizing about. I’m not going to judge anyone for producing or attending shows, just like I’m not going to pass judgment on anyone’s music aesthetic. It’s that simple to me. Music, like someone’s diet or religion, is cultural. Either we respect each other, or we don’t. If we aren’t vibing, so be it. If I can’t relax and have fun, I’ll go home.
They say, “Your vibe attracts your tribe” and I think that’s shallow but solid advice. Finding someone in the crowd is actually a good metaphor. Navigating large groups of people has something to do with common sense, but finding your fam in a crowd also requires intuition. You have to use your brain and your heart to find the group with whom you belong. That culmination of mind and soul is something people often say they find in music. You see? The industry represents the people within it, and in turn the audience begins to represent those artists. The music scene is symbiotic, just like public health. One day, we may attend festivals where no one is stepping on anyone else, where there is space for everyone to get water, headbang and play without worry. I am looking forward to those changes because those are the people, fests, and artists I want to support. That’s my tribe.
I hope this makes it easier to navigate your future social decisions, but don’t take my word for it. Ask your venues questions. Follow local guidelines and medical advice. Be good to one another. Thanks for reading!