Reflections of a Tour Manager During COVID-19
Noamme Elisha is a tour manager based in Brooklyn, NY. She has toured with Sylvan Esso, Broken Social Scene, and Tame Impala, among others.
I’ve been home for a hundred days when I should have been in twenty other cities. I remember that week in the middle of March—you know, that week—when everyone was canceling and postponing one after the other. Coachella first, Bonnaroo second, and then Live Nation made a big announcement and all the tour buses went back to Nashville to offload gear and crew. My inbox went from hammering out advance details with festivals to days of radio silence to, finally, we’re not sure and we’ll keep you posted. And that’s how it stayed.
What do we do when a crowded, sweaty, sold out show in a dark club is a virus’ ideal environment? We’ve been in a standstill unlike anything we’ve ever experienced and all we can do is talk about what concerts and festivals will look like in a post-pandemic world. As Live Nation tries to shift all financial risk to artists, we’re questioning the viability of aspects of touring that normally wouldn’t have been thought about twice. Will meet and greets be a thing of the past? Will we need two tour buses instead of one to ensure the health of a touring artist and crew? Which insurance company will take on these insane cancelation requirements? What will the value of live music be with these new rules and regulations?
The drive-through shows and the creative theatre seating arrangements are band-aid solutions. Live streamed performances from your favorite artists’ living rooms are trying to fill a gaping hole—but, unlike sports, live music just doesn’t have a culture or history of regularly engaging fans through a screen. And I’m tired of looking at a screen. We’re missing the intangible experience, the lights and the haze, and meeting your new best friend at the merch table. That connection is what’s so powerful in live music, and why I got involved in touring in the first place.
I’ve never felt closer to my fellow live music professionals. For the first time ever, we’re all at home at the same time; the audio engineers, the production coordinators, the promoter reps, and everyone in between. I’m listening to friends struggle with mental health and, even after so many weeks, endure phone calls to the unemployment office explaining why we’re 1099’d some weeks and W-2 for others and yes, I worked Michigan for one day and in Illinois the next, why is that so hard to believe? Independent music venues are where we all started out and it’s scary to think they won’t be able to reopen. We’ve dedicated our lives to this industry and only when it shut down did we realize just how vulnerable we are. We’re finally home long enough to pause and think, here is what’s wrong and here is what we can do, together, to make things better.
It’s disheartening to see President Trump put on an arena-sized rally in Tulsa when our tours are being pushed further and further into 2021. We shut down because we have a responsibility to keep fans safe and we’re looking towards public health experts to guide us on how to protect people. The last thing anyone wants is to be the first to rush out on tour and do it wrong. It’s hard to imagine the light at the end of the tunnel for live music. I’m just taking it day by day. Truthfully, I’m less worried about logistics. Yes, let’s hammer out the when and the how of putting a tour back together but more importantly, let’s make sure we have a functional and healthy and human music industry to come back to.