Leadership / 08.25.21
Back to Live: A Ticketing Professional/Concertgoer Describes the Evolution of Reopenings
Editor's Note: If you ever need to describe what it is like to be a mega fan, ticketing professional and devoted concertgoer Liz Baqir fits the bill perfectly. The pandemic has been long for fans like Liz, who before COVID-19 spent several nights a week taking in live music. That it also impacted the work she loves, as Ticket Services Manager for Cal Performances, made things doubly hard. Here, Liz shares her thoughts on the return to live as reopening continues, pod seating disappears, and vaccines or negative tests become part of our new reality.
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I was going to outdoor shows at Terrapin Crossroads, Phil Lesh’s venue, throughout the pandemic, but they were limited capacity and pod shows. [Editor’s Note: Phil Lesh is a founding member of the Grateful Dead.]
My friend (left) and I arrive for a show at Red Rocks.
The first real show that I went to that was not pod seating was Ben Harper at Red Rocks on Memorial Day. He is one of my favorite artists, so I just decided to go. It was my first experience back in a crowd.
At the time, things were pretty stable in terms of COVID-19. Masks were only required in indoor spaces at Red Rocks back then, so you would need to be wearing one if you went to the restroom or the visitor center, which is like a gift shop. The staff was masked.
Ben Harper (left) at Red Rocks on May 31, 2021.
It was also Ben Harper’s first show in front of an audience in a couple of years, so the energy and the feeling of relief and gratitude was palpable in the air that night. People were getting out of their houses, getting to see live music, and there was the joy that the artist was experiencing of performing in front of an audience. It was somewhat overwhelming in a positive way, and I was so happy. I thought it is all coming back, and it is all so wonderful. It was fantastic. There were definitely moments of tears, and I was just joyful.
I will say that there were a handful of patrons at that time wearing masks. The couple sitting right next to me, as well as my friend, were masked for the whole show. I said to them, “Would you like me to put on a mask?” The man asked, “Are you vaccinated?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “OK, I am fine. I just have some health issues, so I am protecting myself.” There were a handful of other people in the audience wearing masks, but very few.
Security and other staff were masked at Ben Harper’s Red Rocks show on May 31, 2021.
After the Ben Harper show, I went to Red Rocks literally eight days later to see Bob Weir. It was even more relaxed in that I did not see any customers wearing masks. I don’t know if they had changed the rules about wearing masks in the restrooms and in the gift shop, but they definitely were not enforcing it anymore, so it felt a little more like a real show. There were also more people because they had expanded the capacity. At Ben Harper, I think they were still at around 2,500 capacity. By Bob Weir, Red Rocks was up to 4,500 capacity.
Then, a month later, I was back at Red Rocks for a third time seeing Billy & the Kids, and the staff was not even masked anymore. It was like COVID-19 never existed. I did not see a mask in the place. I am not saying that in a critical way at all; it was how things were going then. I am sure now at Red Rocks they are back to the staff being masked because that is how the pandemic is going, but it was interesting for me to go to that venue three times spaced apart and see the evolution.
We arrive for another show at Red Rocks.
In early August, I worked a festival, and that event required vaccines or negative tests. We did rapid testing on-site for people who had not been able to get their tests done. People got different colored wristbands. You got one color wristband if you were vaccinated and a different color wristband if you were a negative test; and if you had a negative test, you were asked to wear a mask. It was a very different environment than shows a month earlier had been. A month earlier, it had been sort of a free-for-all. Nobody was wearing masks, and there were no requirements.
By August, things had evolved in that every event I was going to or working was requiring either vaccinations and/or negative tests. Masks are being strongly recommended, and while we do not require it, we ask that you wear a mask if you are not vaccinated. Vaccinated people can spread the virus, too, so I understand why some people are saying, “I just took a test, I am negative, why are you making me wear a mask?” I get that thinking, but it is more to protect yourself because you are not vaccinated. It is interesting how in a month everything changed, and now I am seeing a lot more people wearing masks.
Even at the current Dead and Company tour, which is all sheds and stadiums — so all outdoors — they have a vaccine testing requirement. I have also seen a lot of people wearing masks in the crowd with some people just trying to be safer. I suspect that is going to be the way going forward as most venues turn to entry requirements, be it vaccinations or testing. We are going to see more and more people wearing masks to protect themselves. There is a little bit more unease than there was a month ago as well.
My friends and I (center), pictured inside the venue at Red Rocks.
These days at outdoor events, I feel safe, but I am taking precautions for myself. I do not go anywhere without a mask on, and I am still a hand sanitizer maniac. I go and get tested for COVID-19 once a week because I am out doing things. I do not want to have asymptomatic COVID-19 and pass it to someone else. So, I feel safe, but I am still taking precautions that are not required of me.
I am not ready to go to an indoor show right now. I don’t think I would feel safe in an indoor environment, even if it was masked. I imagine lots of people just being smooshed together in a tiny little venue, and I can’t do that yet.
I have been very fortunate, and I have not been to any shows that were brutally hot. At some shows on the East Coast and in Arizona, it can be 110 degrees, and you have to wear a mask. That might be uncomfortable, but so far for me, I just keep my mask on at outdoor shows, whether I am working or there as an attendee. That is what makes me comfortable.
I saw a sign up at a store that I have now incorporated into my box office signage. The sign said, “You don’t have to wear a mask inside anymore, but if you want to, we are fine with that. Regardless, no mask shaming.” I have incorporated the point that there should be no mask shaming regardless of your opinion because we want everyone to feel comfortable doing what they need to do to protect themselves. I think [wearing a mask] is a matter of personal choice and each person’s level of comfort.
We should be doing everything we can as ticketing professionals to make customers comfortable in terms of whether they are wearing a mask or not. [At my organization,] we are offering refunds if you decide that you are too freaked out by COVID-19 to come to the show; we will just give you a refund. I have not had to ask for any refunds for myself yet, but as a concertgoer, I like knowing that a lot of organizations have opened their policies to account for people being comfortable or uncomfortable attending events during a pandemic. That’s really important.
I also believe it is important, whether you are working an event or attending an event right now, as a human being, that you have as much compassion for the other person’s experience as you possibly can muster. I am not a person who has a lot of patience with anti-vaxxers, but in terms of my professional life, I am trying to recognize that everyone has a different experience, and it is my job to try to make people comfortable.
A shot of the Red Rocks crowd for Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros on June 8, 2021.
I consider myself a professional concertgoer. What I do both personally and professionally is attend events and help other people attend events. It is vital right now that people feel like they can do what they need to do to protect themselves and that we as ticketing professionals provide them with options. That is what I want as an audience member, too. I want to know that if I decide I am going to wear a mask the whole time I am at an event, even if it is not required, that I am not going to get hassled or ridiculed. I want the assurance that if you say you are checking vaccine cards, you really are checking vaccine cards. It goes both ways between us and the audience.
Being back at larger events is heaven. I would go to three or four concerts a week on average during my pre-pandemic life, and live music is my spiritual avenue. It is my church. It is my place. It is my people. It is my tribe. It is what I do. Being so secluded from that and only being able to do that by Zoom for a year and a half was hard. It made me uncomfortable and sad, so I am happy to be able to go back to these big events where you really feel the energy of the crowd and the energy of the artist. When those two energies meet and that whole magical symbiosis happens, that is what makes live music so beautiful and moving. That cannot be replicated on Zoom, and experiencing that again after a year and a half has been blissful. It is probably one of the reasons I get so mad sometimes. I don’t want it to shut down again. I do not want some people to ruin it for the rest of us. We finally got it going again. I am a nerd who loves my job, so I love being able to be back at work.
Being able to see my tribe again in person has been great. It is funny because people have grown their hair long, and the guys have big beards. I stopped coloring my hair, so now I am a gray-haired old lady. It has been wonderful to see people and, while we are not doing it so much now, when things were better a couple of months ago, getting to hug people again for the first time was so special. Now we are back to elbow bumps. Just seeing these people, seeing your friends live and in person after all this time of isolation, it is a giant family reunion in a good way.
Bob Weir (second from right) and his Wolf Bros on the Red Rocks stage.
If I can leave people with one thing, it would be to be patient with each other, your fellow concertgoers as well as the venue staff. The whole industry is getting back on its feet. A lot of places are understaffed. A lot of procedures are new. A lot of us are out of practice. That is how I felt after I worked my first event. I was so exhausted. I was thinking, “Oh, my God, I am so out of practice!” I loved it. It was joyful.
It is almost hard to ask for patience after we have been sitting at home for a year and a half being patient, but you are going to need it. You are going to need it going to shows now because there are different entry requirements, and it takes longer. Leave more time for yourself to get in because of vaccine checks or testing. It takes more time because it is a new process and people are unfamiliar with it. Be as prepared as you can be. Look at the venue website before you go and see what the requirements are. If they want you to show your vaccine card in an app, download the app. It is not that hard. It is just going to make everything go more smoothly.
Also, be patient with yourself. I was out of practice. The first couple of shows I went to, I forgot things. I did not bring a fan, and it was hot. “What is wrong with me?” I thought. Well, it is because that show bag has not been packed for a year and a half. So, be kind to yourself. Be patient and kind with other concertgoers and absolutely with the staff. We are excited to be back at shows and really excited to be back to work, but a lot of it is new.
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Tags: Music , Venues , Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus