LOS ANGELES — Not long ago, music venues across Los Angeles were gearing up to resume business following Gov. Gavin Newsom's June 15 reopening date for the state. Bands were booked, bartenders, sound people and other staff were recalled for duty. Music fans were excited to experience live music again while standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the crowd.
But now, just a few short weeks later, with the delta variant surging across SoCal, music venues, bands and some fans are hitting the pause button.
The Foo Fighters were set to headline the Forum last month for the venue's celebrated return to full capacity shows but postponed the show after someone affiliated with the band tested positive for COVID-19. Rock icon Stevie Nicks announced this week that due to COVID concerns, she would be canceling all of her scheduled appearances for 2021, including a headlining appearance at BottleRocket in Napa.
Meanwhile, AEG, the nationwide concert promoter behind Coachella, Stagecoach and local venues, The Roxy and the El Rey, announced Thursday it would require staff and concertgoers to provide proof of vaccination. Live Nation, the country's biggest live music promoter, is letting acts call the shots in terms of mandating mask and vaccine requirements for their shows. Locally, the Greek Theatre is following suit.
As the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moves closer to implementing a ruling that would require proof of vaccination to enter most indoor public spaces, some smaller local venues are getting out front by already requiring it.
"Due to recent and drastic COVID-19 infection rate increases in Los Angeles city and county, the Airliner is now updating our COVID-19 policy to require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test within the last 72 hours," reads a statement on the Airliner website.
With his partner, Sean Kelly took over the Airliner, a 200-capacity Lincoln Heights venue that books DJs, bands, comedy nights, and other entertainment, and reopened in Feb. 2020.
"The worst timing possible," he said with a laugh.
He explained the reasoning behind the vaccine policy.
"Everything that was happening with the restrictions, just the nature of the pandemic in general, it's been destroying this industry," Kelly said. "We decided to take a bold step to create an environment for people who wanted to be in a safe space."
Kelly said the response to the vaccine policy has been surprisingly good.
"It's been 99.9% positive," he said. "Even at our front door, we've gotten very little conflict, very little pushback."
At the outset of the delta surge, the Airliner had several acts cancel and canceled a few shows on their own.
"Then we instituted the vaccine mandate, and now people feel much better, performers feel better," Kelly said.
Frogtown indie music venue Zebulon and La Cita in DTLA have implemented similar policies, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test for entry. L.A. Taco has been maintaining a list of the growing number of bars and small venues requiring vaccinations to enter.
But not all small indoor venues are requiring proof of vaccination.
"We follow all LA city and county protocols and mandates," explained a spokesperson for the Redwood Bar in DTLA. "Right now, it's just mask requirements while not eating or drinking."
The Redwood does require all employees to be vaccinated, but it doesn't plan to impose a proof of vaccine requirement unless it becomes a city or county mandate.
As the city and county debate whether to officially impose a mandate for proof of vaccines, venues have largely been left on their own in terms of making and enforcing the rules.
"Unfortunately, here in Los Angeles, the unvaccinated have been taking advantage of the honor system, and it looks like small businesses will soon be carrying the burden of trying to identify who is and isn't vaccinated," said the Redwood's spokesperson.
At the Airliner, Kelly has similar frustrations.
"We feel a sense of social responsibility, and it's frustrating that the onus is on our industry to do this sort of commonsense enforcement," Kelly said. "The authorities don't seem to have the courage to do this for political reasons."
Meanwhile, some music fans have expressed a growing wariness about returning to crowded venues amid the current surge.
Brian Von Wolfe recently bought tickets to an upcoming show at the Wiltern. He now finds himself hesitant to use them.
"Me and my partner bought the tickets in a sort of post-vaccine buzz before the delta variant and breakthrough cases emerged," said Von Wolfe, a DJ and music fan. "So as things have changed rapidly, the prospect of spending an extended amount of time in a crowded indoor venue doesn't seem that appealing anymore."
UPDATE: After Oct. 4, Live Nation will be revising its COVID protocols to require artists and fans to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for all of its fully owned and operated venues. Live Nation has also developed best practices for artists to request these protocols at third-party venues. (Aug. 16, 2021)