Four to five nights a week, a line of people wrap around the Georgia Theatre waiting for entry, a sight that has become uncommon for the past year and a half. With masks on and vaccination cards in hand, patrons file into the theatre to enjoy a variety of different musicians and artists that have come to share their talent with the Athens community.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, music venues and businesses in Athens have had to make decisions on how to keep their patrons and staff safe as many of them have reopened after almost a year and a half of being closed. Most music venues and businesses have decided to follow the same general safety guidelines — masks and proof of vaccination.
Emily Dingus, the general manager of the Georgia Theatre, remembers how hopeful the staff was at the beginning of the pandemic, but as COVID-19 evolved into something bigger than anyone would have liked to imagine, the theatre ended up taking a much longer break than anticipated.
In the beginning, we all thought this would last a couple of months so we closed the doors and quarantined in hopes of reopening ASAP. Obviously, we were wrong and ended up being closed for about a year and half,” said Dingus.
The 40 Watt, another popular music venue in Downtown Athens, went through the same shutdown period as the Georgia Theatre according to Velena Vego, the venue’s talent buyer.
Venues are not the only ones in the music industry that have taken a hit from the pandemic. Vego also works for Live Nation, a global ticket sales company for live entertainment that experienced similar pandemic-related disruptions to their business as online concerts and live streams took over the live music industry.
Andrew Ratcliffe, the founder and CEO of Tweed Recording in Athens, says they had to delay the opening of their audio production school due to COVID-19, which put them about six months to one year behind where they originally wanted to start.
COVID-19 caused a nationwide shutdown of the music industry for over a year, but thankfully, music venues and businesses have started to open back up over the past few months. Music venues have learned to adapt to the new normal of hosting live shows during a pandemic, and for many venues in Athens, enforcing safety requirements is a major way that they are able to hold live shows again while keeping their staff and patrons safe.
“Our parent company, AEG, established a new policy across all of its venues that requires proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to enter the building. That’s true for patrons, staff, crew and artists alike,” said Dingus.
The Georgia Theatre’s COVID-19 requirements have recently changed from this as of Oct. 1, when AEG implemented a new policy that requires all of its patrons and staff to be fully vaccinated to enter any of its owned establishments. The theatre also requires its staff and patrons to wear masks when inside the building.
According to Dingus, reactions to the theatre’s policies have been across the board. Some patrons want stricter rules or for the theatre to close down completely, while others refuse to wear masks or come at all.
The 40 Watt is requiring both proof of vaccination and masks as well, but according to Vego, reactions have been pretty positive from the venue’s concertgoers.
“It’s been working. We had a local artist with 400 people at the venue and everyone was vaccinated, everyone was happy,” said Vego.
Vego also mentioned that many musicians and artists are relieved when they find out that the 40 Watt is requiring vaccines and masks, as many of them are concerned about their own safety when playing for large crowds.
Other venues in Athens such as Hendershot’s and Flicker are implementing similar rules for their staff and patrons. David Barbe, the director of the UGA Music Business Program, says that venues are doing everything they can to stay safe in order to prevent another shutdown that could lead to the worst possible outcome.
“Another shutdown like before could put many of them out of business permanently,” said Barbe.
As for Tweed Recording, Ratcliffe says that everybody at the school is vaccinated and wearing masks. He even decided to run the school at half capacity, with only 12 students at a time rather than 24.
“We’re taking it kind of seriously around here,” said Ratcliffe.
The unanimous COVID-19 policies across most of the music venues and businesses in Athens have not been a complete remedy for these companies as the pandemic is still ongoing, but they have been a good start.
“Attendance has suffered compared to pre-pandemic sales but we’re hoping that our Covid policies help people feel safer coming out to shows,” said Dingus.
Lane Marie O’Kelley, a student affairs professional for the UGA Music Business Program, says that complying with the rules of music venues and businesses is crucial to the industry’s recovery process. She urges people who care about music to get vaccinated and be a patron of as many venues, artists and businesses as possible.
The music industry can recover, but it will take the community coming together for the sake of music as a whole,” said O’Kelley.
As the music industry starts on its road to recovery, the spirits remain high from people in the Athens music scene as they remain hopeful about the future of live music.
“Hopefully as more and more people get vaccinated we’ll get back to some sense of new normal where we can all get in a room and hang out and listen to some rock n’ roll, blues, hip-hop, or whatever you’re there to see,” said Ratcliffe. “I’m excited to get back to that. Sooner than later, I hope.”
Elena Westbury is a student in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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