If things had gone according to plan, I’d have been in Singapore this week visiting my goddaughter on the occasion of her second birthday. It’s not that I’m all that worried about coming down with a case of COVID-19, but there’s always the chance of getting caught in some kind of extended quarantine because of one sick passenger or fellow hotel guest. The kid will have to wait for her present.
Two other trips have been either killed off or postponed: a music trip to Manchester and Liverpool, England, and another to Gdansk, Poland, where I was supposed to speak at a music conference. A few other music-related trips to Los Angeles, New York, and London are also in limbo, all because of the coronavirus pandemic.
There have been dozens of cancellations and postponements in the music world, not just out of an abundance of caution, but because everyone is afraid of being sued. No event wants to become another epicentre of the virus and thus open to legal action.
South by Southwest (or SXSW) has all sorts of insurance, including clauses involving terrorism and mayhem (remember when that guy drove his car into a SXSW crowd back in 2014?) and force majeure/acts of God calamities (a freakishly preseason tropical storm, tornadoes, earthquakes) but nothing to protect them from a disaster resulting from a virulent communicable disease.
A plague of locusts? No problem. An act of God. But an actual plague? That’s an issue. But the festival and the city of Austin would rather forego the US$350 million the event brings in than turn it into a Texas Wuhan.
Same with Coachella and its sister country festival Stagecoach. Best postpone those until later in the year when things have hopefully settled down. The massive ULTRA EDM festival in Miami along with its Abu Dhabi version are off.
Pearl Jam didn’t want to take chances with the first leg of their Gigaton tour, which was supposed to start in Toronto this week. No Asian tours for Green Day and Avril Lavigne. Japan will have to do without Slipknot and Knotfest. The Zac Brown Band is staying off the road this spring. Hawaii will miss out on Mariah Carey. A Guns N’Roses gig in Costa Rica was called off by government order. No Pixies tour of Australia. A massive K-pop festival set for L.A. isn’t happening. Madonna’s Madame X tour is over. I could go on, but you get the point.
No wonder, then, that Live Nation, the largest promoter in the world, saw its stock crash by more than 15 per cent when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic on Wednesday. And wither small promoters? Or small-to-mid-level artists whose main revenue sources are playing gigs? The whole touring industry is getting killed.
There’s still more, too. The annual National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas has been cancelled. So has the Winter Music Conference in Miami. The ASCAP Experience, an annual conference for composers scheduled for L.A., has been called off. An industry event called The Worldwide Radio Summit is not gonna happen. The Rock&Roll Hall of Fame’s Induction Fest, the event that comes before the big ceremony, was cancelled Thursday afternoon. And the list keeps growing.
Even though the organizers of the Juno Awards wanted to press ahead, they decided that the risk was too great and pulled the plug on the 49th annual ceremony Thursday morning. Maybe they were spooked by the suspension of the NBA season and Tom Hanks’ admission.
And when you think about it, Saskatoon was probably the safest place in the country to hold the Junos in a time of pandemic and pestilence. Saskatchewan has very few cases of coronavirus. And have you ever tried to book a flight to Saskatoon? It costs $1,100, more than it an economy roundtrip for me to Singapore. And Saskatoon International Airport is probably the best-sanitized in the nation.
The SOCAN Awards, an annual event that honours Canada’s songwriters, was set for Toronto on Monday, March 30. A note to members sent out last week reads:
“We are monitoring credible sources of information regarding the COVID-19 situation. SOCAN continues to be in touch with municipal, provincial and federal authorities with regard to any impact it might have on our event. We fully anticipate presenting the SOCAN Awards as planned. We are being judicious and smart as we monitor information, and we will, of course, notify you if plans change.
“This decision was made with the health and safety of our members, our staff, the Canadian music community and the public at large in mind.”
There are, however, still acts of defiance and optimism.
For example, Canadian Music Week, a giant music conference and festival set for Toronto May 19-23, is still on–at least for now,. Their statement reads:
“We are paying close attention to direction from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Toronto Public Health Department, Region of Peel Public Health and the World Health Organization. Peel Public Health has assessed the public health risk associated with Coronavirus (COVID-19) and has determined the risk is low for the region including Toronto-Pearson International Airport.
“The Sheraton Centre Hotel Toronto is open and upcoming events are taking place as planned.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will advise you of any updated plans.”
Everyone is watching to see what everyone else is doing.
At this point, the Foo Fighters still plan to launch their 25th anniversary world tour in Phoenix on April 12. (Some wag said to me, “Maybe we can rename them the ‘Flu Fighters’ until this is over.”)
And Glastonbury, the most popular music festival in the world, plans to forge ahead in June. Same with the Hella Mega Tour featuring Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer, which begins in Paris on June 13. (France currently bans public gatherings of over 1,000 people, so good luck with that.)
However, as annoying, scary, and financially devastating as everything seems, this, too, shall pass. Meanwhile, let’s wash our hands, stop touching our faces, and keep a safe distance from each other. And for pity’s sake, if you think you’re sick — even if it’s just a run-of-the-mill cold — don’t be a martyr and go to work. Stay home and have some soup.
Things will eventually return to normal. Meanwhile, I have a feeling that Air Canada is going to see a serious herd cull when it comes to Aeroplan members qualifying for status this year. There will be long lines for Groups 3-6 through 2021.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.