Do musicians feel safe performing amid COVID surge? We asked Usher, Doobie Brothers, Enrique Iglesias and more
Enough fans have expressed willingness to engage in a live music experience again.
Enough venues around the country have determined methods to mitigate risks.
And enough artists – from Chris Stapleton to Pitbull to Kesha – have decided that sharing the adrenaline of a live performance with fans or financial necessity (often both) is worth risking their health as the delta variant of COVID-19 threatens to mar what was only a few months ago a promising fall concert season.
But how do these performers really feel about being back on the road, tucked into cramped tour buses or zigzagging around the country on planes?
In recent weeks, the implementation of vaccine mandates and/or negative COVID tests by major concert promoters AEG Presents and Live Nation has alleviated artists of the burden of alienating portions of their fan base, no matter their stance about COVID protocols.
Many artists are requiring crew and backing musicians to be fully vaccinated and are safeguarding on both sides of the stage.
On Wednesday, Harry Styles, whose Love On Tour kicks off Sept. 4 in Las Vegas, announced some of the strictest entry conditions among large tours. Styles will require ticketholders to wear masks during the show as well as present proof of a full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 48 hours prior to entry. Venue staff at each tour stop must follow the same requirements.
In a subsequent Instagram post, the pop heartthrob added that, “Our band and crew will be taking every possible precaution to protect each other so we can bring the show to everyone who wants to attend and we ask you to do the same.”
Styles’ position indicates that even with precautions, apprehension still lurks.
What do other musicians think? We asked several artists who are touring – or preparing to – how they feel about being on the road as the pandemic persists.
Enrique Iglesias, whose tour with Ricky Martin begins Sept. 25 in Las Vegas:
“Everyone on our team is fully vaccinated and we want everyone who comes to the shows to feel safe. When it comes to my team, (their financial well-being) is always on my mind – all of the roadies and musicians, probably hundreds of people. But also, the primary thing is being on stage and in front of the fans, especially when you are releasing a new album and you want that live experience. In my case, that’s what I live for. I did my first show in a year and a half in Monaco a few weeks ago and that was interesting. It was good to see the band and everyone back together. I was a bit nervous, but then it was like riding a bike. That (hiatus) was the longest I had not done a show since the beginning of my career.”
Rick Ross, whose Feed the Streetz tour will play a handful of dates starting Oct. 1 in Atlanta:
“I’m gonna be honest, I can’t wait to see the streets and the crowds. I want fans to protect themselves as much as possible, but I want to perform for the fans I love. (Last year) was the first time I was off the road in over 15 years. This is not just a paycheck for me. I’m looking for the fans because when I go to certain markets, they’re still there every time … I’m not afraid to get the vaccine, but I need a little time. I’ve been traveling a lot and busy, but I know it’s my responsibility to take care of myself and my older family members, so I look forward to getting it.”
Carly Pearce, who is opening for Lady A on the What A Song Can Do tour:
“So much of how I feel understood as a human is being onstage and so much of what we do is that connection with fans and it felt weird to be off for so long. If course I think I speak for everyone that I was slightly nervous about when (live shows) would come back and honestly, it was sooner than I thought. I jumped at the opportunity (to tour with Lady A) because it was time. And you do feel responsible (for the crew) that their livelihood is being altered. I have 10 people with me and one bus and we do our best to do what we always did before – wash our hands, be smart and eat well to train a good immune system. Lady A required everyone to be vaccinated and I and my team are. This is what I do for a living and the amount of people I come in contact with, I wouldn’t want to put anyone in danger.”
Usher, whose residency at Caesars Palace Las Vegas resumes in December:
“There’s obviously concern to some extent, but I have no fear at all being back onstage. There are now masks (for the crowd) in the show (as per Nevada law) and people backstage are wearing them. I’m doing my best to make certain that everyone is safe, but that they have a concert experience they’ll remember. I do move through the aisles (during the show), but I move quick!”
Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas of TLC, who kick off a Celebration of Crazy Sexy Cool tour Sept. 3:
“I’m concerned (about COVID) when I have to go to the grocery store! But we have a plan. Days off don’t mean going to the mall or movies like we used to. We have to stay in a bubble. We’ll be getting tested weekly and all follow strict rules. If we’re irresponsible, someone catches (COVID) and you can’t perform. This is just life right now until this virus can take a nap for a while.”
Tom Johnston, guitarist for The Doobie Brothers, which just launched a 50th anniversary tour :
“I’m not thrilled about touring with everything with COVID, but I also want to go out because we haven’t been on the road in a year and a half. The U.S. is currently not doing well, especially in the South. I’m not a doctor – I just know what I read – and some people have thrown in the towel with touring. But, it’s really hard to say. We’re observing all rigid protocols, wearing masks when not singing and no handshaking or up close and personal talking (with fans). Everyone is vaccinated. So, these are the only things we can do except stay in the house.”
Michael McDonald, singer and keyboardist with The Doobie Brothers:
“I’m not so worried in our bubble, but I don't want to be the guy who shows up COVID positive. The group consensus is to stay in our bubble as much as we can, especially in the states where the numbers are racing upward. (Out on the road), the idea of going out to eat will be minimal.”
Philip Bailey, singer for Earth, Wind & Fire. The band’s tour kicks off Sept. 15 in San Antonio, Texas:
“We’ve been vaccinated and are taking it one day at a time. After being off a year and a half, no one knows where all of this is going. We’re looking forward to getting back to work and the fans are looking forward to it. We’ve already sold out a lot of dates. We missed being on the road and performing and we have to make a living as well. We have people (on our crew) who have been out of work for a year and a half.”