The concert industry got a shot of good news the past two weeks with the announcement of two effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Assuming the vaccines are efficiently distributed — at 20 million to 40 million doses a month beginning in December — enough people should be vaccinated that, along with proper health and safety protocols in place at the venues, concerts could return in late spring.
“It’s encouraging,” said Tom Lorenz, general manager of Pinnacle Bank Arena. “It certainly helps us to look in that direction. I would hope the progress we make toward vaccine distribution would help us to do some events in late May, (and) June through August.”
Those summer events would most likely take place at Pinewood Bowl, where last summer’s Beach Boys concert demonstrated that concerts can be held safely — if the virus is better contained than it is today.
“It could be an exciting year at the bowl," Lorenz said.
"Then we’ll wait to see what comes inside at (Pinnacle Bank Arena)."
The industry has aimed for a late-spring/early-summer return since July, when it became clear that concerts couldn’t be held for the remainder of 2020. And the plan has always been to start with outdoor shows, like those at Pinewood, before moving inside.
As of now, the arena has set rescheduled shows by Maroon 5 on Aug. 11 and Brantley Gilbert on Sept. 2. That might be a bit early for the return inside.
But, if everything goes as anticipated, by Oct. 18, when Chris Stapleton is scheduled to play Pinnacle Bank Arena, concerts should be back in arenas around the country.
The only other announced Pinnacle Bank Arena concert is Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” show. It’s set for March 27, 2022. But other shows that had been scheduled there and at Pinewood, including Kane Brown, Cher, Goo Goo Dolls and Chicago are likely to set new Lincoln dates in the near future.
Concerts also will be returning to clubs of all sizes, from small venues like the Zoo Bar and Duffy’s Tavern to bigger spaces like the Bourbon Theatre and the Rococo Theatre.
“The hope is, in the spring, we’re going to light this thing on fire,” said Duffy’s owner Scott Hatfield. “I think that (the vaccine) is the big difference for us. We still have promoters calling us, but we’ve been turning everyone down. We’ve just stopped our booking process entirely. By the spring, the vaccines will mean we can start booking again.”
The distribution of the vaccines, likely to begin in December, is key for the return of concerts for two reasons.
First, obviously, is community health. Second, and equally as important, is that vaccines will help people feel comfortable returning to bars and theaters for shows.
When Duffy’s reopened in September, the only customers who have returned to the 14th and O streets bar were college students.
“Frankly, right now, people don’t feel safe, especially the concert crowd,” Hatfield said. “The arts and entertainment crowd, the concert crowd is staying home. It’s a more mature crowd, a more responsible crowd. That’s our bread and butter. They’re not coming out, and I don’t blame them.”
Because of the shutdown and restrictions on capacity and operating hours, Hatfield said, sales at Duffy’s are off 90% from last year. But he and other responsible bar owners willingly follow the local directed health measure.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “The reality is it’s been impossible for us to do business in the way we need to since March 15. But we understand that having bars fully open is not conducive to Lincoln getting better. We want to follow the DHM to help Lincoln heal.”
That said, like venues of all sizes across the country, Duffy’s could use some government relief to help the business survive through next year.
That’s the goal of the National Independent Venue Association and its “Save Our Stages” effort in Congress. But, in Nebraska, that relief also could come from federal CARES Act funds distributed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
A 2017 study, cited by the association, found the arts and entertainment industry contributed five times the value to the national economy as the agricultural sector. But arts and entertainment has received little to no government help during the pandemic.
“The ag sector has had three bailouts in the last two years along with record profits,” Hatfield said. “Our industry has been closed twice and we can’t get the governor to pay attention to us. Everybody’s broke and just trying to hang on until spring.”
Photos: Pinewood Bowl concerts
Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or email@example.com. On Twitter @KentWolgamott