How Will Election Day Impact Concert Vaccine Mandates?

No matter who wins today’s big races, here’s why you can expect more of the same when it comes to live music and vaccine mandates.

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What do the city of New York, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the State of New Jersey have in common? Their residents have the chance to pick new leaders today. And though Election Day 2021 doesn’t carry the same stakes as last year’s national contest, all three of these tilts—each featuring Democratic candidates who support vaccine mandates running against Republicans who don’t—can be viewed as a referendum on Covid-19 restrictions. 

You might think the outcomes of these elections could have a substantial impact on vaccine mandates for indoor entertainment, particularly live music. But even if underdogs like New York’s Curtis Sliwa or New Jersey’s Ciatterrelli score victory at the polls, you shouldn’t expect your concertgoing experience to change all that much: the private sector has already spoken.

“Promoters will decide what is safe for their customers,” says entertainment attorney Bernie Resnick. “The states can try to legislate this in one direction or the other, but the concert venues and promoters have to deal with the fans in person, and the potential liability that comes along with mass gatherings.”

This summer, concert promotion giants Live Nation and AEG announced plans to implement sweeping Covid precautions—protocols that went into effect in early October. Both companies now require customer-facing employees to be vaccinated, enacting that policy even before proactive cities like New York did so for municipal workers. Customers enjoying a concert at a Live Nation venue now need to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test, while audience members at one of AEG’s must be vaccinated to attend.

These days, whether you’re going to a big show in New York or Nebraska, you’re likely to deal with a company like Live Nation or AEG—which means you’re subject to testing or vaccine mandates, no matter your political leanings. Pretty much the only area of ambiguity lies in the independent sector, in smaller shows operated by independent promoters.

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Shortly after the vaccine mandates went into place in New York, I interviewed one such entrepreneur, Jabari Johnson, founder of Colors Worldwide. He worried that the atmosphere of mandates and testing would shrink his pool of customers, hurting small business owners like himself in an already challenging environment. Johnson pointed to high rates of cancellations and no-shows to back his claims.

“I understand trying to get everyone vaccinated,” he said. “But at the same time … I think some of the mandates have been a bit harsh on the business owners.”

That said, it’s clear mandates also inject confidence into the concert sector, making a significant amount of concertgoers (myself included) comfortable enough to attend indoor shows. And while it’s quite difficult to measure whether this pool of customers is bigger than the pool who reject the mandates for political or health reasons, anecdotal examples abound. 

Whether it’s a Big Freedia concert at Brooklyn Steel or a speakeasy piano set in Tribeca, New York’s live music scene feels robust again, at least in my experience. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, even with its looser pandemic regulations, Kiss had to cancel its upcoming residency due to “soft ticket sales” (the group reportedly hasn’t taken adequate precautions on its current tour; multiple bandmembers have tested positive, and a guitar tech died from Covid complications last month).

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, regardless of today’s Election Day outcomes, vaccines mandates will be part of the indoor concert for some time—whether enforced by local governments or the music industry.

“This is public health, not politics,” says Resnick. “Given that Johns Hopkins announced [yesterday] that the world has lost over 5 million souls to Covid-19, no one can be complacent in the battle against this tricky and persistent plague.”

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