Jan 20, 2022 - News

COVID upends live music and entertainment in Colorado — again

A concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre this past July. Photo: Tom Cooper/Getty Images

In what feels like 2020 all over again, a COVID surge has ushered in a fresh wave of event cancellations and postponements less than one month into the new year.

State of play: The highly contagious Omicron variant — infecting performers, crews and audiences alike — has recently forced dozens of Denver-area events to drop from the calendar, including shows as far out as late spring.

  • Rock band Motion City Soundtrack, for example, indefinitely postponed its February concert in Denver "due to the rapid rise" of the variant, the group wrote online.
  • Meanwhile, the Winter Walkabout Music Showcase in Longmont was punted to April with a new vaccine requirement in place, and the 26th annual Midwinter Bluegrass Festival set for next month in Northglenn was postponed to 2023.

Yes, but: Despite the frazzled start to 2022, the local entertainment scene is in a better spot than it was at this time last year, industry experts say.

  • Major concerts at Ball Arena slated for the next two months, including Kacey Musgraves, Dua Lipa and Justin Bieber, remain on the books — at least for now.
  • And Red Rocks Amphitheatre leaders tell Axios they aren't aware of any event cancellations so far this year.

What they're saying: Red Rocks bookings are on pace to break last year's record season of 177 concerts, "which I think is partially because we have that open air venue," Ginger White Brunetti, Denver Arts & Venues executive director, says.

  • But "many [venue operators] are still struggling and aren't seeing the kind of ticket sales that they rely on," she notes.

Of note: One of the biggest challenges amid the latest COVID spike is ensuring performers and staff stay healthy, along with the in-person audience, Brunetti says.

  • "As we like to say in the industry, 'The show must go on,' but it's really hard for it to go on if you've got performers who are out sick."

The intrigue: Even events with outdoor space can still act as COVID petri dishes, as seen earlier this month at The MusicFest at Steamboat Springs, where more than two dozen people said in a private Facebook group that they or someone in their group caught the virus at the six-day, indoor-outdoor event.

  • MusicFest performers were also affected. One day after the event, the Randy Rogers Band announced the postponement of its upcoming shows on the West Coast due to positive COVID cases in its group.
  • "Due to high levels of community transmission and multiple indoor activities associated with this large event, it is likely that transmission occurred during MusicFest," state health officials tell Axios, though they aren't certain.

Be smart: Outdoor events generally are lower risk than indoor functions, depending on vaccination status of participants, the level of social distancing and the number of people wearing effective masks.

  • But the Omicron variant is significantly more contagious than the original virus strain and can be spread by and to people who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

The big picture: A flurry of shows has been halted in cities nationwide, as COVID-19 continues to present an existential challenge to live performances and test the boundaries of showgoers thinking twice about in-person productions.

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