Rising NYC Covid Cases Reignite Caution, Concern in Live Entertainment World

From Broadway stages to small clubs, concerts in New York City are being postponed or called off as Covid-19 case numbers continue to rise. 

On Thursday, Dec. 16, New York reported 18,276 new positive Covid-19 cases, 8,300 coming from New York City. While that was the highest new case rate since last January, Covid-19-related hospitalizations remain incredibly low (per The New York Times, about 1,000 people are hospitalized in NYC right now, as opposed to the 15,000 when the virus first hit its peak in April 2020).

Nevertheless, several venues, Broadway shows and even the Rockettes have decided not to take their chances out of an abundance of caution. In Brooklyn, Union Pool said it would reschedule three gigs originally set for Dec. 16 through Dec. 18; and both Trans-Pecos and TV Eye called off gigs set to take place Dec. 18. 

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Another favored Brooklyn indie spot, Baby’s All Right, said on Instagram said it was going to close up shop completely until its New Year’s Eve party. “So yeah, bummed as you are that this is going down [right now],” the venue wrote. “[W]e’ll make sure to take care of all the logistics with possible rescheduling and refunds, etc. so cozy up and stay safe out there.”

Additionally, the Radio City Rockettes announced that breakthrough Covid-19 cases had forced them to cancel the four shows they’d scheduled for Friday. “We apologize for the inconvenience, and will make announcements about future shows as soon as possible,” the show said in a statement.

And over the past few days, several major Broadway productions — including Hamilton, Moulin Rouge!, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — have been forced to cancel shows as well.

“Our number one priority has always been to keep the cast, crew and audiences safe and therefore, we believe that the protocols are working as we still have the majority of the Broadway shows open on a nightly basis,” Broadway League president, Charlotte St. Martin said in a statement. ”Through our testing, we catch the potential Covid cases early enabling the shows to go on with understudies, or to close to insure the safety of everyone.”

But while some venues and shows have chosen the cancellation route, others have decided to adapt as best they can and make concerts as safe as possible during this latest wave. Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom and the heavy metal bar Saint Vitus all issued statements that they would be requiring masks on indoors going forward. Admittedly, Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom both made an “exception” for when people are drinking which, frankly, is quite often at concerts. Saint Vitus, meanwhile, quipped simply: “Thank you for not being an asshole about it. Hail Satan.”

While the swift spread of the Omicron variant has piqued caution and concern in the live music space, this kind of unpredictability has essentially been a feature of the live music space since concerts resumed. Audrey Fix Schaefer, communications director for several venues in Washington D.C. and a vice president at the National Independent Venue Association, tells Rolling Stone the Delta variant was “a big stop and start,” too, and that tours will continue, but “there will be a cancellation here or there as someone gets sick.” Most concerning, she notes, are high no-show rates, which can lead to a drop in lucrative food and drink sales for venues.

“If there’s nothing else we’ve learned, it’s that everything is subject to change,” she says. But the likelihood of a second total shutdown, at least for now, seems unlikely: “Things will need to be drastically worse to cause a drastic change in any industry at any point.”

Additional reporting by Ethan Millman

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