The first “dedicated socially distanced music venue” is about to open in the UK. SSD Concerts, the promoters behind the This Is Tomorrow Festival, will open Virgin Money Unity Arena this August at Newcastle Racecourse, Gosforth Park. That’s an artist’s rendering up above. Yes, it’s literally called Virgin Money Unity Arena.
How will it work? Per a press release, cars will be able to drive in with no-contact entry with employees scanning pre-ordered tickets. Parties will then be directed to personal platforms, each spaced two meters apart. On the way they are to pick up whatever food and drinks they’ve pre-ordered, or else order refreshments right away through an app upon arrival. “A one-way system will allow for the safe and full use of toilet facilities.” After the show, audience members are expected to wait patiently to be ushered safely out of the venue by the staff. So far we don’t know who’s actually playing this venue. That info is supposedly coming in the next few weeks, “but we’re excited to say we already have several high-profile artists signed up.”
Around the world, there have been all kinds of attempts at a makeshift concert experience designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, from a socially distanced theater gig to drive-in shows (and raves) at drive-in movie theaters and other repurposed outdoor locales. One company even proposed a ridiculous protective suit.
Despite the ingenuity, in countries where the pandemic has not been suppressed, the concert industry is in crisis at the moment as people wait for a vaccine and flinch at epidemiologist recommendations. While audiences mostly wait it out, give or take an ill-advised Chase Rice concert, there is widespread concern about whether independent venues will survive the COVID-19 era.
Will we be looking at an even more corporate live music landscape when this is all over? We may be looking at it already. Behemoth promoter Live Nation will soon host massive drive-in events and is working to develop reduced-capacity festivals. And now there’s this Virgin-sponsored venue in Newcastle. These deep-pocketed companies may be the only ones able to pivot to socially distant concerts on the fly.
So… which artist would you be willing to endure this setup for? And at what cost?