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Mix Blog Live: We Need the Good Kind of PR

With uncertainty growing ever greater in the concert touring industry, Steve La Cerra finds that cluster parties and pop-up live events can be damaging on the PR front.

This past weekend, the New York City Sheriff’s Office busted two illegal warehouse raves in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn, N.Y., a neighborhood in which there’s been a recent spike of Covid-19 cases. The organizers of both parties were charged with illegally serving alcohol and breaking local emergency laws for social distancing that have been put into place due to the pandemic. Organizers of one of the events were also charged with drug possession.

Virgin Money Unity Arena

The busts came only a few weeks after news of a so-called drive-in concert in the town of Southampton, N.Y. where video showed thousands of people gathered together, clearly ignoring social distancing practices and not staying with their vehicles.

The organizers of the Southampton event stated that they followed current health safety protocol, telling guests that they could not leave their designated areas unless they needed to use the restrooms. Supposedly, guests’ temperatures were checked on the way in (I find that difficult to believe), and security guards were present to promote social-distancing guidelines. Apparently, they failed. When news of the event reached New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, an investigation was initiated, the results of which are pending.

These events come on the tail of more than just a few late-night street parties that have popped up in the New York City area, where attendees clearly don’t care about Covid-19. Some of these have been fueled by people who are just plain idiots (like the ones who commandeered an MTA bus last week for a pop-up party) and some fueled by bars that are serving take-away drinks—except for the fact that the patrons don’t “take away”; they congregate in the street, often packed closely together and without masks.

Raves and pop-up parties are not the same as concerts, so we have to make sure that we’re not lumped together with the knuckleheads who promote this kind of behavior, or we’ll never get back to work.

It’s somewhat of a relief to look at the plus side. Last week also marked the opening of the Virgin Money Unity Arena in Gosforth Park, Newcastle (England). This is arguably the first venue actually designed for socially-distanced concerts. VMUA is an outdoor venue where patrons drive in (by car, motorcycle, or bicycle. No buses or walk-ins), arriving at a predetermined time slot. Cars are parked two meters apart and entry is checked via vehicle registration to minimize interaction between patrons and venue staff. Patrons are escorted to private seating areas on platforms, and have the option of pre-ordering food or ordering on-site (both for pickup).

As of now VMUA has 23 shows scheduled through September 9. Artists include comedian/musician Bill Bailey, singer/songwriter Tom Grennan, Becky Hill, Ronan Keating and Van Morrison. Ticket prices range from around £17.50 to £47.50 per person, with drink packages available as an option (not a bad idea for increasing revenue, considering that fans of some artists are often willing to spend a lot of cash on drinks). I like the idea of placing groups on platforms (they’re fenced in) because I think it will discourage concertgoers from wandering around the place and forming clusters.

Read more Mix Blog Live: Check Your Wireless Inventory.

The Virgin Money Unity Arena is an outdoor venue so the season can last only so long before weather becomes an issue, but it’s a step in the right direction. This is the kind of PR we need—events that are well-planned, safe, and designed to be fun.

On a very sad note, TEC Award-winning studio designer Francis Manzella died on Friday, August 14, reportedly due to complications from hip surgery. Our condolences and prayers go out to Fran and the Manzella family.