“Unprecedented” has been a perhaps overused term since the beginning of the pandemic, but really, few other words properly describe the terrain that the live events industry found itself in as COVID-19 shut down the sector.
The dance scene was no exception to these closures and their extenuating (and often existential) challenges. While many artists and dance event brands transitioned to livestreaming during the pandemic, the dance scene arguably experienced particularly acute fallout from the pandemic — given that it’s a genre so driven by and reliant on live events, from club shows to major festivals. In the wake of the pandemic, the valuation of the global dance music industry dropped to a ten-year low.
But with live shows once again happening throughout the United States and beyond, the light at the end of the tunnel that dance world promoters have been waiting for is finally shining on the dancefloor. Coming back in this new era does, of course, present a host of challenges, particularly as the Delta variant raises new concerns about the safety of gatherings. For promoters in the dance scene, navigating live event production during this reopening phase has come with new challenges, opportunities and experiences.
Here, four veteran dance scene promoters — Dante DiPasquale, VP of Talent at New Orleans’ BUKU Music and Arts Festival, Adam Gold and Craig Pettigrew, co-founders of Los Angeles-based production company Future Primitive, Barclay and Aundy Crenshaw, the husband and wife team behind the beloved dance label and event brand DirtyBird (where Barclay is more commonly known as his artist alias Claude VonStroke) and Adam Simon, Head of Marketing at New York-based production company Teksupport — reflect on the dance world’s return to live.
When it was finally time to get the gears on live events back in motion, what were the first actions you took? How did you initially come out of this sort of hibernation?
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: You come out excited and strong — but it’s hitting all at once, so you gotta get out there first. The first thing we did was try to figure out how we could come up with the money to pay for production and artist fees. Now we are just starting to hire key positions. But we have already run an entire festival with the help of some amazing partners at Homebase in Florida. So partnering up was definitely a great strategy for our first event back.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: We were rusty! Honestly, it was like learning how to swim again just to start even thinking about a live music event. We talked to the amazing artists and dance brands we have always worked with — like Jamie Jones with his Paradise brand and DJ Tennis and his Chinatown event — and just started to look across the country and realize what was happening in Florida and Texas were eventually going to open. A funny moment is when we announced our first show, we realized we didn’t even have all of our promotions up and running, or even a Facebook event page. Thankfully it still sold well on announce.
Adam Simon: We were definitely a bit rusty when it came to getting things rolling, but in a matter of a couple of days, we were back in high-gear and we’ve been working harder than ever as we try to make up for lost time.
What was the general mood among artists and managers in terms of coming back out to play? How did lineups come together with respect to these attitudes?
Dante DiPasquale: There have been so many false starts over the last year and a half, it’s been crazy. First it was a mad dash to reschedule everything for fall of 2020 then for spring 2021, then everyone realized that the pandemic was going to last a lot longer and there was pretty much a cold stop as everyone waited for vaccine news, and then it seemed to go from zero to 100 over night once good news started rolling in about vaccine efficacy and cases dropping. So all the old conversations about certain artists feeling comfortable playing and others hesitant is gone, and everyone is in go-mode. Some artists and festivals punted to 2022 a long time ago, which was probably smart if you could afford to wait, while others have shifted back into 2021 to try to grab their audience right out of the gate.
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: Some were scared to attend and held off our [Florida event Dirtybird CampINN] in May. But when we got there, the vibes were insane. Everyone was going full throttle at 10,000 percent. We had health guidelines in place that checked for vaccination cards or on-site testing — and once you got to Dirtybird CampINN, you were IN. No ins and outs. So it was the best.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: From what we have seen, the artists and their teams were ready the second the municipalities were ready. We haven’t seen any reticent attitudes in our scene or music yet.
Adam Simon: I’ve been feeling a new sense of camaraderie between the teams. Everyone seems to be ready to help in doing whatever it takes to give people the best possible experience at the events.
What’s the general vibe among fans regarding how ready people are to come back out to shows? Are you sensing that fans are using an abundance of caution, or are people kind of desperate to get back out there?
Dante DiPasquale: Fans are definitely ready to see live music ASAP and seem comfortable from a health standpoint. Nothing beats the community and visceral experience felt at a concert or club. All of the first shows back sold out, and while we are starting to see a market saturation point where things are leveling off a bit, it’s still clear that live music is in high demand, as it should be.
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: Depends on where your event is held. Florida residents are open, and at the same time, we’re not sure how it’s going to go with Californians. [Editors note: The Dirtybird Campount West Coast 2021 will be held this October in Modesto, Calif.] We’re assuming they’ll be okay by August, but we’re not sure how it’s going to feel yet. Certainly in Florida at our first big event there was extremely high energy.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: Just like the answer about the artists not being reticent above – we have been shocked by the positive response from the fans. It’s a fluid situation with everyday less hesitancy than the last as things improve, but from the beginning the fans and artist have been incredibly ready. Let’s face it, we opened 6/15 when we probably could have opened 4/15 in California, so people are ready.
Adam Simon: I haven’t sensed much hesitation from the fans. Especially now that we can open with no restrictions, people are just eager to get out on the dance floor and let loose!
Are you feeling any heightened camaraderie across the industry as everyone gets back to live?
Dante DiPasquale: Ha. The initial “we’re all in this together” vibe at the beginning of the pandemic is mostly over, and the bickering that comes with everyone being overworked is creeping back, but actually in a way that feels kinda good. It means the industry is back. Something that has changed, at least for me personally, is that it’s easier to flip the switch between discussing billing or money and then asking about each other’s families or hobbies. Over the pandemic, there were so many Zooms where agents and promoters could see each other’s faces and have slower conversations, learning more about each other’s lives outside of the industry. I’ve noticed the foundation built on that vibe is sticking around so far, which is nice.
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: No. Not really. It feels like it’s everyone for themselves. For example, we thought radius clauses and all of that annoying stuff would have been less after the pandemic but we are noticing it’s even worse. Parties are still on the very very bottom of all government priority lists as well.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: 100 percent. We were super happy to see Insomniac come out and sell out some early shows. When Framework and Sound nightclub opened last week and sold out, it was just joyful for the whole scene. Everyone came out of the pandemic texting each other potential dates they were looking at to try to avoid conflict, but yes a sense that everyone in live events wants even their competitors to be successful – we at Future Primitive hope that lasts.
Adam Simon: It’s been a tough 16 months for all of us, and I think everyone has realized there is no room for politics and egos in this “new world.” We all share a common passion for dance music and we must support each other in order to bring our industry back to where we left it and beyond.
Financially, how do you even start to attempt to rebound from the last year? Have you raised prices on tickets, etc? Are artists asking for higher fees?
Dante DiPasquale: There are a lot of factors contributing to some artists asking for higher fees right now in my opinion — pandemic-related growth in streaming numbers, all of those first tours announced blowing out, a perceived pent-up demand, artists needing to make up for a year with minimal live income, and subtly I think it’s artists just valuing their time more after a year of increased self-care and alternate revenue streams. Live music is already a pretty thin margin business, so between higher artist fees, the production & ops labor shortage, and higher vendor costs, it’s possible ticket prices will need to increase to keep things afloat, at least until things settle back to normal.
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: Prices are going up, but it’s because of the additional costs due to covid, like cleaning, hand-washing stations and testing for staff and artists. Some artists are asking for 100 percent of payment prior to the event, which is difficult, and some artist fees have gone up. Some artists see the value of playing a lower fee boutique event that is going to be a little bit more personal and fun — and some artists don’t. That’s totally up to them. We always end up with the right crew of artists who want to have fun.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: It’s a pretty tough start, but once the shows begin to roll in, the finances will right themselves as the response for tickets has been strong. We were shocked to see some of the high prices on the initial shows some companies announced, and the illegal shows going on were double that. We are raising ticket prices a modest $5 per tier on our shows and plan to keep the production level high and drink prices steady — can’t gouge the fan to start this whole process back. Artist fees have been as high as before or higher so that was a pipe dream that they would level off, at least in our scene.
Adam Simon: Although it’s been a hard year for everyone, we keep things fair across the board. For us, it’s all about creating memories on the dance floor that will last forever.
In the midst of the pandemic and in the wake of Black Lives Matter, many promoters said they were using the time to take a step back and reassess how they put together shows in terms of representation and inclusivity Was that a consideration for you, and if so how do your first events back reflect those considerations?
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: We’ve had good diversity on our lineups in the past, but we’re really paying more attention to every level of diversity, meaning more BIPOC, LGBTQ and women — not just on the lineups but backstage and workers as well.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: Absolutely. It was a real reckoning for the industry as a hole. We have tried to have more persons of color and females represented on our first lineups and will continue to do so.
Adam Simon: From day one, Teksupport has always been about diversity and having fully inclusive lineups — it comes down to the roots of the dance music world. While it’s something we always prided ourselves on, we’re happy that the rest of the world is beginning to unite on a variety of disappointingly dividing matters. Dance music is a universal language and we’re all family on the dance floor.
In terms of safety protocols, how complicated is it to make sure you’re doing everything correctly?
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: Our fans have been super easy to talk to about enforcing safety standards. They know it’s best for everyone when we have vaccination cards or on-site testing.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: We haven’t thrown a show yet, but the protocols laid out for outdoor events seem straightforward and common sense. You will see more testing, temperature checks, and hand sanitizer stations but in general I think some of those protocols should stay in place ongoing.
Adam Simon: Based on the latest New York state mandate, all COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted here in NY. We will still be installing extra hand sanitizing stations, as well as having our full staff wear masks along with additional precautions all around to make sure anyone who comes to party, feels safe and comfortable as can be.
What’s your feeling on attendees having to show proof of vaccination?
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: We encourage everyone to get their vaccine(s) and show us proof of vaccination. We want events to be back and we want everyone to be as safe as possible. Also due to the cost of onsite rapid testing for the fans, more fans are getting vaccinated. The options are a free vaccination or a cost to get a rapid test. They’re opting for free.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: Our shows are outdoors so it’s a bit different we feel; they already have a bit of a safer element for covid or frankly the common cold. On vaccine proof, all we can do is ask – it’s really their choice. If they don’t want to get vaccinated it’s their personal prerogative, but we ask that they have a 72 hour covid negative test beforehand on our first round of shows.
Adam Simon: Thankfully, we are now able to open without having to ask fans to provide proof of vaccination or negative test.
How did you feel when the first song played at the first show back?
Barclay & Aundy Crenshaw: It felt amazing to be together again with our friends and our Dirtybird community. It was an incredible feeling. The energy around it was truly alive in all of us.
Adam Gold & Craig Pettigrew: Euphoric. Really the only way to describe it.