Musicians who have held off on touring during the pandemic are starting to venture out again. Bands and their fans are thrilled to be together again in the same place at the same time, but there are still significant risks and challenges for the people on stage. Now that many venues have dropped their mask and vaccine mandates, musicians are concerned about having to cancel tour dates if they get sick.
OPB’s “Think Out Loud®” spoke with two Portland-based musicians — MAITA, and Kyle Morton, lead singer of Typhoon — about the joys and fears associated with touring right now.
MAITA said she’s lost count of the times she had to reschedule tour dates over the past two years. The band did its first pandemic tour in February and March, and they’re back on the road again starting this week. Typhoon hadn’t played in front of live audiences since 2019 before heading out on tour in mid-April. The shows they’re playing now were booked way back in 2020.
“Like a lot of people, [we] were thinking, ‘We’ll be out of the woods by then by a long shot,’ and that’s not how it played out,” Morton said, explaining that as the tour dates got closer, he felt more and more uncertain that the shows would actually happen.
“Getting back out here, just being in a room with people, just playing the songs live ... it’s been cathartic,” he said. “It feels palpable that we’ve all been through something and it’s hard to take this for granted now.”
Both MAITA and Morton said that many venues that had initially promised mask and vaccine requirements dropped those precautions as state mandates changed. This has meant that, as artists, they’ve had to personally ask their fans to mask up.
“I say, ‘Thanks for coming out. The only reason we’re here is because we didn’t get COVID in the last city because they masked up. So, please just pay it forward,’” Morton explained.
Typhoon also carries signs with them asking fans to wear masks. Morton says he sometimes finds it helpful to talk openly onstage about being immunocompromised due to a kidney transplant. For the most part, fans have responded positively, with a few exceptions.
“I’m always going to look out and see someone’s smiling face and have mixed feelings about it,” Morton said.
MAITA said she feels most exposed interacting directly with unmasked fans at the merch booth.
“If you just can’t bring yourself to wear a mask during the show, at least, at the very, very least, if you’re going to get closer than six feet to the artist, that is the time to really, really do it,” she said.
Along with the health risks come real financial risks for musicians.
“For most folks, if somebody gets COVID, you cancel shows and that’s what happens,” Morton said. “It’s financially ruinous. It’s a big problem.”
The upfront costs for touring are significant. There are transportation costs, paying crew members that come along, and the individual costs to band members who have to make arrangements to be away from home for weeks at a time.
“A lot of people count on revenue from this, and it’s been really hard,” Morton said. “That’s part of the calculus for folks touring again is — how long can an artist just sit and not do anything? Playing shows is how we make any money.”
MAITA said that, with one pandemic tour under her belt, she’s really looking forward to playing shows this month. The shared experience of a live show is a big part of what inspires her as an artist.
“There’s this collective energy that comes together, a cumulative energy, and you can’t mimic that over any screen,” she said.