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Are Socially-Distanced Festivals Part of Our New Normal?

We live in strange, strange times. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has crippled most of the world, we’ve had to struggle to adapt to what’s colloquially called the “new normal”. This translates to masks being a permanent face accessory, only being able to go out in groups of five, figuring out how to work remotely from home, and so on.

However, as various governments start to gain a stronger hold on the spread of the virus, countries around the world are starting to regain some sense of normalcy. So, what does the future look like or, at least, what can we expect in the conceivable days that lie ahead? 

Perhaps an answer to this question lies in the form of socially-distanced festivals, which might be the key in helping to get the badly-beaten entertainment and music industry back on its feet!

Sure, there have been various livestream gigs but nothing can compare to the experience of witnessing live music acts in the flesh. At the start of August, the United Kingdom’s first socially-distanced concert was held in Newcastle, where around 2,500 people were in attendance. They were segregated into groups of five, with each group having their own elevated platform. Each platform even came with its own table, chairs, and even a fridge! Cars had to be parked two metres apart, with food and drink ordered in advance via an app. 

These socially-distanced concerts also come in many forms such as a drive-in concert, where people can enjoy the live acts whilst being socially distanced in their cars. The vehicles are spaced around six metres apart, allowing people to tune into the music via their car radios. The duration of the event is also kept to the maximum of one hour, with security teams on constant patrol to prevent anyone from getting out of their cars.

Such concerts have been popping up in parts of Europe and the United States, with DJs and performers finding creative ways to interact with the passengers in their respective vehicles. For example, at DJ D-Nice’s drive-in concert in Miami, he asked people to press their car horns in unison — replicating, in a way, the energy of the audience’s cheers!

Tuk Tuk Fest/Facebook

And it seems as if event and concert organisers are not afraid to get creative — in Thailand, the Amazing Tuk Tuk Festival saw hundreds of tuk tuks at the Asiatique promenade, where passengers were treated to a slew of live acts. These tuk tuks stayed within their designated zones, which were clearly demarcated with tape. 

In the Philippines, a drive-in concert was held at the Laoag Sand Dunes, where each 4×4 vehicle had its own dedicated driver/tour guide. Each vehicle could only carry a maximum of four passengers, with sandboarding and an off-road tour thrown in as part of the experience. Measures such as wearing of face masks at all times and banning alcoholic beverage consumption were among some of the protocols implemented.

O.Torvald/Facebook

In Ukraine, the rock band O.Torvald even played their entire set on a building rooftop — where fans could watch the performance from the comfort of their own balconies! Booking of hotel rooms replaced the purchasing of tickets for this ‘vertical concert’, where they could sing and dance freely without being inhibited by a mask.

Tuk Tuk Fest/Facebook

No matter the event, stringent measures are implemented, such as only having outdoor live stages, temperature checks upon entry, the presence of multiple hand sanitising booths and water points, as well as social distancing enforced in areas like bars and campsites. The upcoming Stendhal Festival in Northern Ireland even goes as far as to implement a minimum age of 21, as they acknowledge the trickiness of mandating social distancing practices for younger individuals.

This is a far cry from events that seemed to have forgone safety measures altogether — the recent music festival at Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park shocked the world when photos and videos of its party-goers went viral. The crowds were seen in close proximity with no masks in sight, reminiscent of concerts pre-COVID.

The effectiveness and sustainability of socially-distanced events have been thrown into question. As stated by Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, such events are simply not financially viable. If he had his way, he would use compulsory coronavirus testing as an incentive for partygoers looking to attend acts that are performing at full capacity. However, with the high costs involved, it’s unlikely that this will materialise anytime soon.

There have been mixed reactions from performance attendees as well, with some declaring that such socially-distanced concerts simply don’t offer the same atmosphere as packed live acts. However, these events have generally been met with much acclaim, with some attendees even joking that there are now VIP seats available for anyone and everyone. In fact, these socially-distanced concerts are so popular that they draw attendees from all walks of life! 

For now, no matter the perspective, it looks like we’ve entered a reinvented new era where crowded mosh pits are a thing of the past, with socially segregated concerts indefinitely here to stay. Or at least, for the foreseeable future!

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