Yes, 2020 has lasted about two centuries, but eventually it will be over. Really, we promise. William Shakespeare got vaccinated, so there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. So while you should absolutely continue to stay at home as much as possible and wear a mask whenever you go out—don’t fumble the ball at the 1 yard line, people!—eventually we’ll be back, and we can go back to shows without catching or spreading the plague.
But what will the future of concerts look like? Rather than admit we’re as in-the-dark as the rest of you, members of our staff took their best guesses as to what live music will look like in 2021. Just don’t quote us on any of this. Because somehow, despite each having a different prediction, each of us will end up being wrong.
Writer Alex Baechle: When concerts return in 2021, they will emerge like fresh spring grass from the rigid convolutions of COVID times. Human gatherings will center around food, drink and song. The one with a large yard must resolve to build a stage upon it. Roving, wild-eyed guitarists and jug-and-saw players will come. Celebrations will be loud and righteous.
Writer Rachel Goodman: Concerts will be for the uber-wealthy. Tickets will be so over-the-top expensive that when shows begin—next September—it won’t be affordable to the average fan. It will be like going to the pretentious clubs you never wanted to go to anyway. Small bands will play underground clubs, and that will be the way to go. The world is going to be dark.
Critic Tony Hicks: Concerts used to be for the young and stupid. Then a generation or two who grew up on rock and roll aged into enough disposable income to learn how to vacation around concerts. Not so much anymore, at least in the near future. But the industry will recover, even if it’s mostly with younger acts in the short term, appealing to fans who think they can’t catch murder viruses.
Reporter Mike DeWald: The rest of the world will return to concerts, as we knew them, long before the United States. Look at the touring schedules of a number of big name artists: Dua Lipa in the U.K., Amy Shark in Australia, Bring Me The Horizon all over Europe. They’re booking full capacity arena shows for next fall. While some U.S. festivals have scheduled dates or announced lineups, few artists have dared set extended U.S. tour routings. Small venue club shows? The future is even murkier.
Editor Daniel J. Willis: On Aug. 9, at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, thousands of people risked their lives to see Smash Mouth in concert. That’s not hyperbole; the show was a super-spreader event and at least one attendee, a Minnesota man in his 60s, died because of his attendance. If someone literally died to see “All Star” performed live, I think the desire to continue to see concerts as we always have is pretty strong. We really, really want things to get back to normal, so if for no reason other than spite, it’s a near-certainty that they will.
Editor Max Heilman: Beatdown hardcore shows need to come back. I’m not specifying bands because, frankly, most beatdown sounds the same. What matters is that this is music that exists to give audience members an excuse to punch their friends and complete strangers in the face. You may ask, “Isn’t that all hardcore music?” Not true! But bands like Enemy Mind and Pintglass encourage casualties in the pit. If frustrated metal and hardcore kids will need one thing in 2021, it’s a way to let out aggression. I can’t think of a better genre for violent catharsis than heavy hardcore that identifies as hip-hop.
Photographer Adam Pardee: Concerts will start back up after the COVID-19 vaccine is circulated among the general population. At that point, they’ll be relatively the same as they were before—but at less capacity, and you’ll still have to wear a mask. Venues will require proof of vaccination, but maybe they’ll do temperature checks.
Writer David Gill: Future humans, little more than clumps of hydrogenated goo coagulating before computer screens, will be fed artificially generated stimuli to approximate the experience of human contact as well as the phenomenon of “enjoyment.” [Editor’s note: Gill may be looking ahead to 2022].
Photographer Jane Hu: The Flaming Lips bubble concerts will take off in a big way and usher in a new way of life in general. It may be totally on-brand for Wayne Coyne, but the rest of us will get into bubble life just like we did with masks. And it’s not just for COVID! No more dangerous moshing! No more inappropriate touching! No more getting drinks or someone else’s vomit all over you! (You can’t avoid your own vomit.) Frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t people rolling around in bubbles outside my window now!