Business

'The Phone Never Rang': How The Concert Industry Letter to Biden Came Together

Joe Biden
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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House on Jan. 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Live industry pros have been suggesting for months that venues, especially those with large parking lots, would be ideal for mass distribution of a vaccine.

It took less than 72 hours for the concert industry to come together and draft a letter offering help with President Joe Biden's plan to vaccinate 100 million Americans in 100 days, but the desire to answer a call to service to assist with the effort had been months in the making.

"The problem is that the phone never rang," says Wayne Forte, founder of Entourage Talent and secretary of the executive committee at the National Independent Talent Organization. Expecting a large mobilization effort during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Forte and many other live music professionals were surprised by the lack of interest the federal government exhibited for utilizing venues, parking lots and out of work music business professionals to assist with testing during the early days of the pandemic.

Then late last week, after months monitoring the sometimes chaotic state-by-state rollout of several COVID-19 vaccines, Forte began reaching out to colleagues to discuss how the live entertainment business could help. After speaking with Coran Capshaw from Red Light Management and learning about an outdoor vaccination center Capshaw was building, Forte reached out to Michael Strickland of Bandit Lites, who had previously testified before a congressional subcommittee to urge passage of the Save Our Stages Act, which was signed into law in late December.

"This is a perfect giving back situation," Forte says of the $15 billion aid package for independent venues, agencies, music managers and other arts and cultural organizations. Wanting to reach out to federal, state and local officials and remind them that the concert industry was ready to help, Forte and Strickland began outreach efforts for a second push, this time offering assistance to any government agencies looking for help.

Live Nation chief executive Michael Rapino and AEG chief executive Jay Marciano quickly said yes to the proposal, explains Forte, as did Dayna Frank, president of the National Independent Venue Association and owner of First Avenue in Minneapolis.

It was Frank who suggested addressing the letter to Biden and ultimately drafted the text of the letter, which was cosigned by the original five organizations that helped draft it, along with the Broadway League, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), the National Association of Music Merchants, Oak View Group and We Make Events.

"We represent businesses, workers and entertainers that make up the majority of the live event industry," the letter reads. "While we have been effectively shuttered by the pandemic, we have vast resources that, if fully utilized, could provide invaluable mechanisms in our country’s vaccine distribution. In fact because we are shuttered, we are able to offer the full weight of our industry to support vaccine distribution beginning immediately."

Forte says the live entertainment industry would likely be most effective assisting with the distribution of a vaccine, which is a critical component of getting the country back to work and bringing full capacity concerts and touring back.

"A lot of people in the music business were seeing how long it was taking to get the vaccine distributed, and were starting to see the start date get pushed further and further," Forte says.

Since a successful vaccine was announced in mid November, a number of event industry professionals have suggested that venues, especially those with large parking lots and central locations, would be ideal for the mass distribution of it.

"I have seen live event professionals work in unison and with purpose to execute some of the world's largest events," wrote Jesse Lawrence, founder of TicketIQ in an essay for Billboard titled "Why Live Events Should Be the Front Line in COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts."

"Coordinating human movement at scale is the DNA of the events business," Lawrence added, and it's exactly what the vaccination effort calls for.

In California, health officials are staging vaccination efforts at Disneyland, Dodger Stadium and the Forum in Los Angeles, while companies like Ticketmaster have rolled out their own initiative for digitally verifying vaccines. But those efforts have been slowed by poor planning by the Trump administration and unnecessary delays, like a miscommunication between states and the Department of Health and Human Services over the country’s vaccine reserve.

Forte say his goal is to begin a conversation about how the live business can help distribute vaccines and is encouraging promoters to reach directly to their contacts at hospitals, city and state government, along with health departments, to get involved with the rollout effort.

"We understand the logistics of planning large in-person events and crowd management, and we have venues all over the country that can be used for both rural and urban settings," he said. "And we've got a lot of great people that can help — everyone on the live side wants to get back to work."

Coronavirus