The announcement that The Weeknd After Hours World Tour will begin in Vancouver on Jan. 14, 2022, at Rogers Arena is the first major concert news to come since COVID-19 shut down live music events across the globe.
While this is bound to put smiles on music fans’ faces, few in the industry think this signals the return to arena gigs and club shows. The truth is, nobody knows what the next few months will hold for any kind of public gathering for large scale entertainment events.
“There is some mild optimism that touring, in some form, will recommence in the fall of 2021 if not earlier, but there is no for-sure,” said Sam Feldman of Macklin Feldman Management, which handles such superstars as James Taylor, Diana Krall and Ry Cooder.
“A lot of us had tours that were sold-out, such as James Taylor, which had to be moved a few times, but people still held onto their tickets. There are also tickets still being sold, which proves that there is pent-up demand, but I don’t think we’ll know much before April when we see the effects of new strains, vaccine effectiveness and so on.”
Feldman also notes that a return to arena and festivals isn’t a “light switch you can just turn on.” Getting artists back on the road is almost certain to be accompanied with serious logistical challenges as a potential glut of tours flooding the market could all come at once.
Venue managers and promoters alike echo that American agents are “chomping at the bit” to get back in business.
“I’ve got a number of bullish agents presenting some challenges for September, which is probably far too early for touring bands,” said Mo Tarmohamed at the Rickshaw Theatre. “It’s pure conjecture at this stage and, I feel, that the greater likelihood is pushing the fall 2021 shows to early spring 2022. At the moment, my April is looking insane, because everyone seems to have determined that is when we will be open at full-capacity again.”
Without full capacity, there is no chance of the mid-level international acts that are the lifeblood of venues ranging from the Vogue and Queen Elizabeth to the Rickshaw and Commodore Ballroom going on tour. Zach McCulloch of Timbre Presents notes that being able to sell-out a smaller room at full-capacity and tie-in touring with higher-paying major festival appearances is the only reasonable formula for hitting the road for acts not at The Weeknd’s superstar level.
“We’ve got King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, who sell-out, scheduled in the fall,” said McCulloch. “But that is routed around a play at the Desert Days festival in California and another one in Mexico before a bunch of dates up the West Coast on the way to Vancouver, so I think that date is likely to get shuffled.
“But the problem there is that all these tours are getting shuffled at the same time as new tours are coming on-board.”
Another factor is that most tours hinge on the major festival such as Coachella, Glastonbury or Osheaga happening in the summer. With the traditional touring model paused until further notice, managers, agents, promoters, presenters, venues and artists are all looking to ticketed livestream events until the outlook moving forward becomes clearer.
Ken Beattie of Killbeat Music, which handles a large roster of Canadian indie acts, says that artists are done hedging their bets as to when live performances are returning. Many are moving ahead with album releases and working new angles of marketing their brands.
“The Weather Station’s new album Ignorance is a perfect example of a mid-level rising star with no tours on the horizon moving on and releasing their record,” said Beattie. “The album is getting raves everywhere from Pitchfork to The New York Times, which would normally generate great demand for the music and merchandise at summer festivals. But I don’t see any of those coming, so we’re focusing on the livestream on March 11, and other special events.”
Everyone interviewed says livestreaming is here to stay.