If you are lucky enough to have access to a baseball stadium, you may have one of the better outdoor concert venues to bring back live entertainment. The recent 4th of July Concert, featuring Stuart Granger at the Round Rock Express Dell Diamond Stadium in Round Rock, Texas may show us one way.
Live music and the venues that host it have suffered terribly during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the continued surge of the virus, it is going to be a while before indoor concert venues will be able to bring back live music to their establishments. That’s very bad news for clubs, arenas, concert halls, and other indoor music venues.
There is a glimmer of hope for the return of live music for the many fans who enjoy going to concerts. While the experience may be quite a bit different than what they are used to, it still offers the chance to see in-person performances from the artists they enjoy.
How Safe Are Outdoor Concert Gatherings?
The answer is a lot safer than indoor concert gatherings! Outdoor gatherings lower risk because wind disperses viral droplets, and sunlight can kill some of the virus. Open spaces prevent the virus from building up in concentrated amounts and being inhaled, which can happen indoors when infected people exhale in a confined space for long stretches of time, said Dr. Julian W. Tang, a virologist at the University of Leicester as reported by the New York Times on July 3rd.
Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor in the department of population medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in that same New York Times article that the data collected from protesters so far, along with studies suggesting that outdoors is lower risk for transmission, should reassure public health officials about the safety of masked outdoor gatherings and prompt them to open beaches and public outdoor spaces to help people gather more safely during the pandemic.
The UK chief scientific advisor said that same day that there had been no “uptick in coronavirus infections” following recent mass gatherings at beaches and parks as well as during protests.
“Outside is definitely safer,” said Erin Bromage, a comparative immunologist and biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. “But it’s the type of interactions you have when you’re outside that are important.”
That last statement is the reason we can’t just return to outdoor concerts and they way they were held before the pandemic. In today’s environment venues must also control how closely people interact at outdoor concert venues.
Evolving Models for Outdoor Concert Venues
Concert promoters and outdoor concert venues are becoming more creative as the pandemic drags on. They are looking for safe ways to bring back live music. These pandemic in-person formats are not ideal for either the patrons or the venues involved. That said, they represent the first steps in a return for normalcy for those in the live music business.
One of the trending types of outdoor concert venues is the “drive in concert.” Artists perform either on a stage or in a green room that projects onto the drive-in’s movie screen. Patrons remain in their vehicles except when nature calls. The concert audio broadcasts via an FM signal to their vehicle radio. Gone are the speaker arrays and large amp sound systems you would find at a typical concert. The quality of the sound heard is directly related to the quality of each car’s stereo system.
That brings me back to how the good people at the Round Rock Express, a minor league baseball team, produced a safe concert in their ball park. The staff at the Round Rock Express were determined to do it right. They had many socially distant meetings to put together a safety plan. They updated the plan as necessary to reflect current realities before announcing the concert.
Round Rock Express Planning to Ensure a Safe Outdoor Concert Venue
According to Laura Fragoso, Senior Vice President, Marketing for The Round Rock Express: “There was so much thought and planning that our staff went through, and while we were confident in the plan, there still was anxiety the day of the event because for it ultimately to work, you have to have a fanbase that agrees to respect the measures we had in place. We were grateful that the concert attendees took the safety guidelines seriously. They appreciated the fact that they could attend a live event – even though it looks very different from what we are all used to. We do plan to continue to offer events in this manner, updated as needed based on current guidelines.”
Her words were amplified by a tweet by headliner, Granger Smith: “Amazing job from Round Rock TX, @rrexpress for a unified effort to achieve a properly executed socially distanced concert. Music can heal. Music can restore. Music can save lives. We can make sure music still gets delivered with cooperation at all levels of an event like this.”
Fox Channel 7 in Austin did a story on the event and interviewed Chris Almendarez, President of the Round Rock Express and the Robert M. Brecht, Ph.D. of TSE Entertainment, author of this article.
You can view the Fox Channel 7 report: Round Rock Express may have model for return of concerts, sports during COVID-19
Safety First Was the Guiding Planning Principle
The safety and well-being of the community, guests and staff is of the upmost importance to the Round Rock Express and RS3 Strategic Hospitality. All guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the State of Texas are strictly followed and enforced during all events at Dell Diamond. Express staff are also working closely with Williamson County and City of Round Rock officials to ensure Dell Diamond meets or exceeds all recommended standards.
The procedures identified below represent practical best efforts to keep concert patrons safe. The team asked the public’s cooperation in executing this plan. Anyone who was knowingly exposed to COVID-19 in the 14 days prior to the event, was asked to refrain from attending.
- Guests were required to wear masks at Dell Diamond when entering, exiting and moving around the ballpark (but they could remove the masks when eating, drinking or sitting in their ticketed seat/pod).
- A clear bag policy was enforced to reduce the need for security to inspect belongings of guests. Walkways and concourses at Dell Diamond had signage to direct guests to ensure proper social distancing, including one-way pedestrian traffic. Stanchions and spacing markers were used for guests queued in lines. Arrival gate assignments and guided dismissal limited interactions on ingress and egress.
- Stadium management increased the frequency and scope of cleaning and sanitizing between events as well as between guests at events. They also added hand sanitizing stations for public and staff use to high-traffic areas. Dell Diamond implemented the use of industrial-grade, mobile sanitization units to disinfect surfaces throughout the stadium prior to, during and after the event.
- For on-field seating, six-foot by six-foot pods were painted on the field to accommodate up to four (4) guests per pod, and all pods were six feet apart. The pods were broken down into sections and varied in price based on proximity to the stage in front of the center field shed. Pods were limited to a maximum of four (4) guests.
- In addition to the pods on the field, they removed every other row in the seating bowl from inventory and all groupings of seats were six feet or more away from the next grouping of seats.
- The stadium was planned to operate at 25 percent capacity. Management cut it to 15% the day of the concert to be on the safe side.
- Walkways and concourses allowed for one-way pedestrian traffic only.
- Restrooms with multiple entrances had one-way entrances and exits, and touchless faucets were available in all restrooms. Staff covered every other sink and urinal station to allow for proper distancing.
Other safety measures were also put into place to assure the safety of staff and patrons. You can click on the link to see the full Dell Diamond Safety Plan.
Let’s face it. Outdoor concert venues are the only realistic way we are going to see in-person our favorite artists performing the music we love. Promoters and venues need to be resourceful in developing ways to hold such events while assuring the safety of those attending them.
Outdoor fairs and festivals face additional challenges because they are often held in public parks, city streets and other types of venues. Crowd control, ingress, egress and other safety measures are more difficult in these types of settings. TSE Entertainment created its own Pandemic Production Guidelines document for those types of events.
Outdoor concert venues and those who create additional models for safely holding outdoor concerts are our hope for the near term. People are anxious to attend concerts again. They want to sit on the grass with family and friends and see their favorite artists. While safe outdoor concerts will be different for now, they are still the closest things to what we all enjoy, live concerts!
My thanks to the people of the Round Rock Express and to Rudy Koski of Channel 7 for their help in creating this article.