Livestreams Aren’t Enough to Fill the Void
Every industry has brought their own solutions to continue their practices during the pandemic, but almost all of them just don’t seem to cut it. Businesses have run in some capacity, but the world of live events is left to find their own unique ways to cope. Some bands and venues have tried to find ways to fit into safety guideline –the emergence of outdoor pop-up venues has been one approach. There was also the recent experiment from The Flaming Lips to have an entire performance with everyone in their own personal bubbles. Actual, plastic bubbles. Most bands have just settled for livestreams. It's proven to be an easy way, for both artists and fans, to experience some version of live music. Even if they are meant to be a source of joy and do to some extent, every livestream just feels like a tough pill to swallow. They are all more of a reminder of the problem than a solution to it.
At the start of this never-ending quarantine, these livestream platforms had a lot of momentum and positive energy around them. Bands flocked to do Instagram Live, Twitch streams, and used the countless sites that have established themselves as outlets for artists to perform in some way. People donated to artists, charities they were promoting, or were simply tuning in to show support and listen. They have allowed the music to go on, but is it still at the volume or level it once was?
In many ways, these livestreams have offered us something we rarely see: a glimpse of the performer as an equal instead of a miraculous being on a stage. We’ve seen them perform in empty venues, in decorated backyards, or just from an angle in their bedrooms. While this has opened up the performer/viewer relationship to a more intimate experience, it feels more awkward than it does personal. It's weird to hear these songs through your phone’s speaker instead of the amp at a venue. It’s especially strange during the silent seconds between songs, with no cheering or crowd noise, and instead, the artist awkwardly staring into the screen for a view seconds before bringing up –once again– how strange this all is. Watching someone play music in their room through a small screen while I sit in my own small room feels more like realization than escapism. It only further immerses you in the all too real reality of life in 2020.
Another issue is that, while it is obviously a live performance, there’s really nothing that makes it feel live. Any time you are watching something through a screen, it's hard to feel connected to it at the moment. This problem isn’t just an issue of video and sound quality. It doesn’t matter how vivid the image is or how clear the audio sounds. We all still know it's just a video we're lazily staring at while we lay in bed for the thousandth day in a row.
This sounds like an entirely pessimistic view of the new version of concerts, but there have been some creative, joyful, and downright heartwarming moments to come from it all. Many festivals, like the recent Farm Aid and Save Our Stages Fest, held virtual line-ups and offered us classic gems of entertainment. Save Our Stages Fest gave us a glimpse at acts like Black Pumas, Phoebe Bridgers, and a Miley Cyrus set with solid covers of The Cure and The Cranberries from an empty Whiskey A Go-Go. And what other year could we have a Farm Aid where we watch get to watch Neil Young sing “Harvest” to his backyard full of chickens? Only 2020.
Even with these lighter moments, it's hard not to look at the reality of it and feel beat down. Concerts aren’t back and they won’t be for a long time. As sad as this is for artists and fans, it's completely devastating for the local venues across the country. Organizations like NIVA, the National Independent Venue Association, have been pushing for the RESTART Act with little luck. With no glimpse of funding efforts or long-term assistance coming soon, NIVA expects an estimated 90% of venues will close permanently within the next few months. So even if there is a near-future where live shows are possible, most of those venues won’t be there to hold them. Times seem tough, but there is always the chance to do our part. NIVA’s site has great tools and links to sign petitions, donate, and buy merch to show your support. The only thing we can do is keep supporting the artists we love and the venues we miss, as best we can.