Music Industry Struggles With Politics Surrounding Vaccine Mandates

SMS
A sign requesting masks be worn is displayed near the entrance to the Moody Theater in Austin, Texas.
Many performers and venues are struggling to book shows as several states and localities enact different COVID requirements.

The coronavirus vaccine gave the live entertainment industry hope for a rebound in 2021. Now, as COVID-19 cases surge and hospital beds fill up, it feels like March 2020 all over again.

In hope of salvaging and surviving another devastating year, the industry is moving rapidly toward vaccine mandates for concertgoers, event staff and crew. In some instances, fans are being asked to show proof of vaccination or a negative test — such as for Harry Styles' upcoming fall U.S. tour.

But the politicization of the pandemic and vaccines have dealt venues another heavy blow. Across the country, there are a myriad of state and local rules that regulate when and where mask mandates and vaccine requirements can be enforced.

In Florida and Texas, for instance, governors have issued bans on vaccine passports, which in some cases apply to private businesses. Some governors' executive orders are being challenged — either in court or by businesses experimenting with how far they can go.

Texas state law says businesses can’t require customers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which regulates liquor licenses, has notified some restaurants and music venues that their requirements were not in compliance. 

But for most music venues, alcohol sales are a majority of their revenue.

The differences in these policies as well as changing conditions in state COVID rates has made booking national tours in 2021 fraught with difficulty and last-minute changes, said Paul Lohr, president of New Frontier Touring, a booking agency that represents about 80 artists, including The Avett Brothers and Rodney Crowell.

“Because of the variances state by state, it can all of a sudden leave a tour looking like Swiss cheese,” said Lohr. “If you start taking out — and every tour is different — a quarter, a third or half of your dates, that’s the margin of profit on a tour right there. And it just torpedoes the whole thing.”

Other artists have staunchly come out against vaccine mandates for concerts, including Eric Clapton and Van Morrison. Country singer Travis Tritt said in a statement that vaccine policies at concerts are discriminatory.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.