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Whiplash for the Concert Business as the Delta Variant Rages On

Whiplash for the Concert Business as the Delta Variant Rages On

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To reduce their risk on the road, artists have begun to tighten the circles around them. Dead & Company, which features surviving members of the Grateful Dead, announced this week that it would require fans to be vaccinated or show negative tests for its new tour, which opens on Monday. But the band also circulated a “touring protocols” document among its team saying that no guests — not even family members, other than band members’ spouses — are allowed in a “tour bubble” surrounding the band.

“This is no guest, no pass tour. No exceptions,” says the six-page document, which The New York Times confirmed is authentic.

For many artists, deciding whether to proceed can involve a hard calculation of the thin financial margins of a tour, and the probability that someone in their circle may contract the virus. Although touring is often an artist’s largest source of income, production costs — renting equipment and trucks, hiring a crew — can be hefty, and often eat up much of an artist’s advance payment from a promoter.

“For a 40-date tour, five concerts may represent the entire profit margin of the tour,” said Sam Hunt of the Wasserman Music agency. “So if an artist has to cancel five of those shows they would at best break even, and if they miss six they will lose money. Some artists may be more willing than others to bear those risks.”

For now, much of the business is barreling forth as planned, placing its hopes on vaccination and on the pent-up demand of fans. Live Nation said that in June, its United States concert division put tickets to more shows on sale than in any other month in its history.

Omar Al-joulani, the company’s vice president for touring, said that Live Nation still expects a robust return to touring in 2022, and that the cancellations so far were not cause for concern. “There are always going to be isolated cases of cancellations,” he said, “but I’m not seeing any of that at scale.”

Still, Al-joulani added, the company is ready to adjust plans as necessary.

“What we’ve learned over the last year,” he said, “is to be really flexible.”

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