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Editorial: Are We There Yet?

Usually it's kids in the backseat that ask 'Are we there yet?' Now it's being asked by audio professionals who want to get back to work after a long pandemic-induced break.

The the newly named FirstBank Amphitheater in Thompson’s Station, TN, opens for the first time this summer.
The newly named FirstBank Amphitheater in Thompson’s Station, TN, opens for the first time this summer.

The last time my family took a vacation (roughly 300 years ago in pandemic time), we noticed that the perennial kid question from the back seat—“Are we there yet?” usually followed by a grumpy sigh—had gone the way of the Dodo. While you could attribute that to my daughter’s smartphone keeping her entertained and tethered to her friends throughout a long, boring drive, the truth is that the classic complaint is no longer relevant in our day and age. Thanks to Google Maps and other technologies, the question is answered before it’s even asked, and the kid can see for herself that we have exactly 2 hours and 36 minutes to go. That still causes a grumpy sigh though.

However, recently I’ve noticed that someone else in my life has been asking if we’re there yet: Me, only I’ve been talking about a different unknown variable, namely the waiting time until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

With the roll-out of vaccines continuing at a blistering pace across the country, the post-pandemic era is no longer a vague, dreamlike mirage on the distant horizon; it’s becoming a real thing, and growing nearer by the day. Some states have gone so far as to end COVID restrictions already, while others are still taking a more cautious, nuanced approach. Late summer and early fall tour dates are popping up around the country, regional audio providers are starting to field calls for events, and everyone’s looking ahead to dusting off the gear and getting back to work. It can’t happen a moment too soon.

Of course, there’s more to the live sound industry than concerts. The pandemic’s arrival slammed the brakes not only on tours and events, but also installation work. Venues, houses of worship, conference centers and other construction projects paused, though many of those efforts have since resumed. Industry observer Futuresource Consulting noted in a recent 2020 summary that “Installed audio, especially for commercial premises and conferencing, demonstrated remarkable levels of recovery in the second half of the year, with continued investment and delayed projects coming to fruition.” While, yes, often a lot of time and money had already been spent on those projects, the determination to see them through to fruition has often been inspiring.

An excellent example is the newly named FirstBank Amphitheater in Thompson’s Station, just south of Franklin, TN. In the works since 2014, the 7,500-capacity, open-air venue will finally open this summer with Live Nation booking gigs at the 138-acre site. The shed-style boutique venue is located inside a former limestone quarry, and while one suspects FOH engineers will face some interesting acoustical issues thanks to the 100-foot-high cliffs surrounding the audience, no doubt that will be a welcome challenge after unwelcome time off.

With shows and events looming, PSN can help you get ready for what’s ahead. We recently asked Shure about getting wireless gear up and running after a year off. Need to lean on your personal network to find that first post-pandemic gig? Get some great insights on how to do that right by reading Mike Dias’ Sounding Board column. Livestreaming will be a part of many concert productions going forward, so get up to speed on the dozens of new production companies revolutionizing the emerging format. No, we’re not there yet—but ‘there’ is coming sooner than you think.