A few days ago, I did my first indoor show during the Covid era. The event—a private fund-raiser—was under a heated tent, which was a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, the heat and side walls of the tent kept the ambient temperature tolerable over the course of the day, which was a good thing considering that it was around 38 degrees outside at show time. On the other hand, it meant that ventilation was not what I’d want it to be under current circumstances. The day felt sort of like two different gigs happening at the same time, in the same place.
Erected on the grounds of a private residence, the tent was large enough (approximately 50 x 100 feet) to comfortably accommodate a stage that measured 30 x 16 feet. Near the tent were two barn-like structures, one of which was used for the dressing room/green room.
Due at least in part to my fastidious assertion that we have zero tolerance for any lack of Covid precautions, that area was very well run. There was one woman tending to the area who sanitized the rooms for us and ensured that no one wandered into our world (except for a masked maintenance person who stoked the fireplace a few times over the course of the day). She wore gloves and a mask, brought our meals in sealed, individually portioned containers, and made sure that we were comfortable with the arrangements. This protocol was also followed in the back of house, as well as by the folks from the sound and lighting company.
And then there was the front of house. When we soundchecked, there weren’t a lot of people around, but most of those who were present wore masks, and in many cases gloves as well. The person organizing the event went about the course of his day unmasked, seemingly unbothered by thoughts of Covid-19.
Typically, this annual event accommodates around 400 people but this year the number was cut to around 150. The reduction in attendance resulted in a fair amount of elbow room for the guests—though to my eyes the guest tables did not appear to have been arranged any farther apart than normal.
When I went out to front of house for the start of the show, I was unpleasantly surprised and more than a little horrified to see that many of the attendees were not observing social distancing protocol or wearing masks, though (truth be told) some of them had removed their masks to eat or drink. The audience area was far from packed, but many guests were clustered together, drinking or dancing (or both). For the most part people seemed to stay “with their tribe,” but to say that it was uncomfortable would be an understatement.
I, on the other hand, removed my mask only a few times during the show to take a sip of water, and I kept my head down to prevent eye contact with anyone who might otherwise think I’d be interested in speaking to them. Fortunately, no one came near front of house (i.e., me), and we had pre-arranged a barrier at the front of the stage to prevent guests from getting closer than 10 feet from the musicians.
At the end of the evening, a server stopped at front of house and offered me a brownie. She was not wearing a mask or gloves. Needless to say, I passed while muttering, “Are you out of your #%&*ing mind?” under my mask.
While the backstage area was tight with social distancing precautions, the house looked like an ad for “this is what not to do when there’s a pandemic.” As for that second barn-like structure, it had a bar in it where guests gathered for an after-show party—almost completely ignoring social distancing. It clearly demonstrated how careless people can be regarding our current situation, and was a sore indicator of why we are where we are.