Going to a Concert (or Four) in a Pandemic
The last concert I was at before the pandemic hit and forced the live music industry to go on hold was on 26 February 2020. It was Ash at Gebäude 9 in Cologne. I remember leaving the show exhilarated, happy as always to have sing-alongs and to be able to dance with like-minded people. It was a cold evening in February, but leaving the venue, I was warm even waiting for the train back to Düsseldorf with a friend. I’m glad I didn’t know it was my last show for a long time, otherwise it would’ve ruined the experience.
Since then, I’ve been to two socially distanced, seated outdoor shows: Tim Vantol in July 2020 and Joey Cape at the beginning of September this year. Although both were outdoors, there was a major difference: at Tim Vantol, there weren’t any vaccines yet; at Joey Cape, I was fully vaccinated.
Those two shows still didn’t really prepare me for starting to go back to full-blown, indoor concerts. At the beginning of June when Frank Turner announced Lost Evenings IV was happening at the Roundhouse in London from 16 to 19 September, my friend Nico and I immediately bought tickets. We weren’t sure if it would happen: restrictions traveling to the UK were still in place, neither of us were fully vaccinated yet, gigs hadn’t started up again in either the UK or Germany, and the delta variant was really starting to become more widespread. An indoor event with around 2k people didn’t seem likely to happen. But four nights of live music with Frank Turner headlining every night seemed like exactly the thing we could hope for.
In the weeks after we got tickets and in the run up to Lost Evenings in September, I was constantly checking for travel updates to the UK, looking at case numbers and vaccinations, and telling Nico and myself that it was going to happen. Both of us missed live music, and we were determined to make it happen if we could. At some point, Germany was moved to the UK’s green travel list, meaning we didn’t need to quarantine. We wound up only having to book PCR tests for day two, which we did upon landing, and filling out a passenger locator form. Although it seemed to be really important that we did everything, nobody checked our paperwork, not when we boarded, not when we landed, not at immigration.
The last time I had been to London was in October 2019 with my parents, right before both Brexit and the pandemic. London in 2021 now seemed emptier and devoid of tourists. We could walk along Piccadilly without bumping into anyone and could take pictures of Leicester Square without swarms of people. The Tube was bearable and not overly full. However, after being used to covid rules here in Germany (i.e. wearing a mask at all times on public transport or inside businesses), it was jarring and unsettling to suddenly be in London where the majority of people were maskless on the Tube or indoors.
Nico and I decided to do rapid tests (aka “lateral flow tests” in the UK) on ourselves every day before heading to the Roundhouse. We had brought them from Germany even if they’re free in the UK because we didn’t want to have to go searching; additionally, we didn’t want to take the risk that we couldn’t find any because places were out of them. Doing a rapid test beforehand wasn’t even actually required. In fact, there weren’t any restrictions whatsoever, meaning, there weren’t any checks for vaccination status or if you got tested. Everyone was let in like it was 2019. Testing ourselves every day was more for our own peace of mind that we were keeping ourselves and those around us as safe as possible.
The first evening was Frank’s acoustic set. My personal anxiety was really, really high. I hadn’t been in a crowd like this since February 2020, I’d been working from home since March 2020, and I’d been limiting my contact with friends to only a small handful and staying outdoors. Nico and I were early enough that we were directly behind the people at the barrier, and we kept our masks on throughout the opening acts, Emily Barker and then Grace Petrie. I was determined to keep my mask on the whole evening, even if or because the majority of people didn’t have one. At some point during Frank and Matt Nasir’s set, Nico took his off, which I could understand. I could feel my surgical mask getting filled with sweat and spit from singing along. (Yes, it’s gross, but it was also a good hands-on lesson about why it’s important to wear a mask). Throughout the evening, I was having anxious thoughts: Oh God, I’m the only one wearing a mask. Does it make sense to wear a mask? Nico took his mask off, we’re sleeping in the same room and hanging out the whole time, so it doesn’t matter if I keep mine on. Should I take my mask off?!
The following nights, we kept our masks on while walking around the venue, but once we claimed our spots at the barrier, we decided to take them off. Before anyone lectures me that wearing a mask while walking around the venue but taking them off during the night makes absolutely zero sense, I know. Even so, I think it’s about the psychology of it that helped me more than anything. I realized the second night that I was way more relaxed and able to enjoy being at a live show, rather than having a constant reminder on my face about the risk. Moreover, I knew when I got home, I would reduce my contact to people and be testing regularly.
One major factor about why I also felt comfortable was that I know the Frank Turner fanbase, especially the contingent attending Lost Evenings (i.e. the most hardcore fans), is incredibly considerate, conscientious, and kind. A lot of people were posting in various Facebook groups that they were also testing themselves every day before heading out; after the weekend, people were still testing and a small handful of people were also completely honest and said they tested positive for covid. There was no sort of political discussions, no bashing about vaccines, just simply, “Thanks for letting everyone know, hope you get better!” Knowing that the whole fan community is looking out for each other, making sure everyone feels comfortable, and understanding nobody wants to fuck up for the sake of live music was a huge driver why I was able to get over my anxiety about being in a large crowd. I don’t think I wouldn’ve been able to do this so easily with a different crowd.
Two weeks after Lost Evenings, I can say that it was a great event to get back into live music. I got tested regularly to see if I had covid and each time was negative. To be fair, I got the worst cold ever and was sick for over a week. The doctor did a PCR test on me just to make sure, and that was also negative.
Lost Evenings gave me confidence that it is actually possible to go to live music events and do it safely while having fun. It was well worth the trip and the extra measures to ensure that I was keeping myself and those around me safe. I’ve missed live music so much, and I’m hoping that we can get back to some sort of situation where we can go to live music again regularly. I would be more than happy to submit to rules where I have to show vaccination status or get tested before entering the venue. If it means that I can be in a room with a few hundred to a few thousand other fans singing our hearts out, I’m more than willing to deal with these measures.