Will Outdoor Concerts and Events be the First to Make a Big Comeback in 2021?

outdoor event concert

As much as we’d like to answer with a resounding “yes,” the short answer is that it’s not exactly likely for full-scale, large events. President Biden announced recently that 90% of adult Americans would be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine by April 19, 2021. And with that announcement came hope for a more normal, pre-pandemic summer. Heading into June we’re hitting a time of year that is usually bustling with activity — travel, concerts, festivals, and more — and many of us are itching to attend fun events that include fellow people. But it looks like outdoor concerts and events, especially those of a larger scale, are likely to come back during the second half of the year, and some may not return until 2022.

The Vaccination Timeline and What It Means for Concerts and Events

With such great news regarding vaccination speed and the fact that it has been rolled out much faster than initially anticipated, some experts are optimistic that 2021 will be the year that concerts and events start to spring up again. Bob Roux, president of Live Nation’s U.S. concerts, for example, recently spoke to Rolling Stone and implied that he believes that events will “return to regular capacity soon after” vaccinations are made available to everyone. Rolling Stone also notes that 83% of Live Nation fans “have opted to hold onto tickets rather than ask for refunds, reflecting widespread fan demand for the return of shows.”

Large events reassure ticket holders to save their tickets rather than ask for refunds, as dates fluctuate. Large concerts and festivals, such as Eurovision, are even validating tickets from cancelled 2020 events for 2021.

The issue, however, is that, as we’ve all learned with this novel virus, we don’t know what’s around the corner with regard to variants or case numbers. This means it’s difficult for performers or event planners to plan concerts or events months ahead of time without foreknowledge of what that time period will look like with regard to the virus. Since we’re unaware of what percentage of the population will be fully vaccinated by the summer and early fall, it’s difficult for performers to bank on a desire for in-person performances, and no one wants to cause unnecessary danger to a large group of people.

Furthermore, the CDC guidelines continue to recommend avoiding large events if possible. Their current recommendations state that the “CDC continues to recommend that large gatherings be avoided. This guidance is intended for those who are planning a large event, such as sporting events, concerts, festivals, conferences, parades, or weddings.”

All of this means that summer concerts, indoors and outdoors, look iffy at best.

What to Expect With Fall 2021 Concerts and Events

red rocks ampitheater outdoor concert venue

The brighter news is that many experts believe that the fall may be a time when we start to see some normalcy with regard to events and concerts. This is apparent because many well-known events and festivals have postponed their standard summer dates for those later in the year. For example, Bonnaroo, the Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee, recently announced that it will take place in September 2021. Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado also recently reopened. (Both of these locations are outdoor shows). They’re operating at a limited capacity of a 2,500 person limit, but the fact that they’ve opened again is a sign that many other large, outdoor amphitheaters might follow suit. And in California, Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans for the state to “fully reopen” on June 15, meaning that it’s likely concerts and events will begin to take place in the months following.  

Dave Brooks of Billboard said in a USA TODAY interview that he believes “we will start seeing one-off arena concerts in a matter of months and the return of festivals in the fall.” So while our summer may not look like a summer from years past, fall may bring some much-anticipated outdoor gatherings.

Small, Regional Options Likely Before Larger Events

Temple Live indoor event venue
Intimate venues such as TempleLive may be the first to see a semi return to normal.

One of the aspects that make it difficult for larger performers and event planners to manage tours across the country is the fact that every state — and sometimes every town in that state — have differing laws and regulations when it comes to coronavirus restrictions. This makes it difficult to plan for an event or concert series with various stops. Experts say that this means that small-scale, more regional shows will likely be how in-person concerts and events start up again.

Take, for example, the Red Rocks Amphitheatre that we mentioned above. As a large outdoor venue that usually holds about 9,500 people, it is now admitting roughly a quarter of its usual audience. And in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Travis McCready recently performed for 200 fans in the TempleLive Venue, which usually houses 1,000.

Public Comfort Level With In-Person Events

While some smaller concerts and events are starting to crop up once again, an important element is the public perception and comfort level regarding whether or not to attend them. A new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed that only “42% of Americans are comfortable attending a live sporting event.” It also showed that 66% of those polled said they’d feel comfortable in an outdoor event setting, but that only “32% feel comfortable attending an indoor event such as basketball.”

Masked concert goer's in Madrid Spain
MADRID, SPAIN – JULY 25: A view of fans wearing protective masks while Spanish rapper Rayden performs on stage at La Riviera as part of the Live Nation’s Crew Nation charity concert series on July 25, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Mariano Regidor/Redferns)

While we’re focusing more on concerts and other large events, we’d have to imagine that similar statistics would stand. In order for event planners, performers, and venues to begin to profit from large-scale events again, the public has to feel comfortable attending them. We’ll be interested to see how public perception changes as the vaccine rollout continues and time passes. Hopefully this also means that by the fall, everything will feel — and be — a lot safer.

What Changes to Expect for Outdoor Concerts and Events in 2021

We talked about it briefly here, but experts believe that we’ll see a few changes when it comes to the logistics of events and concerts. In fact, the UK will be testing non-socially distanced music festivals with up to 5,000 people on May 2nd, coordinated by music promoter Festival Republic. But for now and the foreseeable future, we expect temperature checks at the door, limited attendance allowances, social distancing measures being enforced, sanitation stations scattered throughout the event, bathroom limitations, fewer (if any) concessions sold, among other changes. It’s also likely that tickets won’t be for sale months in advance any longer — for a while, at least. Since we don’t know what’s happening from month to month, it’s difficult to plan way ahead of time. Expect more “pop-up” options to take place if things continue to positively progress.  

While it may be a few more months, or even a year, before things feel more normal, we’re hopeful that in-person concerts and events are just around the bend. For now, we expect smaller or hybrid options to continue.

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