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Concerts, festivals and Covid 2021 – a Wasteland fashion trend?

Are Mad Max masks the new fashion forf festivals?

There is no better evidence that live music is back with a vengeance than the upcoming Wasteland Festival in the Mojave Desert in California this September.   Attracting upwards of 4000 attendees it will feature world-class talent like Militia Vox, a costume ball and a car show, plus lots of flames.  Along with Wasteland the festival season includes  Riot Fest, Imagine Festival,  ARC Festival, Austin City Limits and many more in  the Fall.  Plus the festivals that livened up June and July and August.

I was especially interested in the Wasteland Festival because it is 5 days, with “tribes” setting up camps, folks staying  in RV’s, tents, and homemade structures  —  lots of opportunity to intermingle. Because of the inherent problems of putting 4000 or more  people together for a wild week in the desert, Wasteland has many pages of rules covering costumes, vehicles, safety, courtesy, structures, fires,  and other stuff – all quite reasonable and responsible.  Many of the other festivals and outdoor events like Grand Performances in Los Angeles also have pages of  rules designed to keep people happy and safe.  But I was interested in the fact that few, if any, have rules about Covid 19.

 I recently hosted an event for my music friends while I was on vacation in LA.  We moved the event outside, although the venue, Casa Sanchez on the Westside, has a cavernous indoor dining room with a full stage for mariachi music and the guests included a major, award-winning mariachi artist.  Everyone had to be vaccinated and no one could attend with symptoms even if they were fully vaccinated (one popular pop singer dropped out when her boyfriend got Covid although they were vaccinated and he and she tested negative before the event).

These precautions seemed reasonable to me and to my guests, so I wonder about several thousand people occupying the same space, dancing, breathing, and who knows what for hours or even days without masks or vaccine requirements. Given the high rates of vaccination in many – but not all – parts of the country, music festivals and outdoor concerts are not likely to be  the super spreader events they could have been in pre-vax days. So far, festivals in the previous months have not caused major infections.

Nevertheless, I notice that the Cities of  LA and San Francisco have tightened the rules in the wake of Delta and are moving forward with requirements that patrons show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 before entering into indoor spaces like concert halls. The State strongly recommends, but does not require, that organizers of large outdoor events over 10,000 screen attendees to make sure they’re either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recently tested negative. Some venues are going beyond that to require vaccinations for entry, no exceptions. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County health officials announced that anyone attending large outdoor events such as concerts and  festivals  would need to wear face coverings, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.

Miitia Vox cheering on a flaming sax at Wasteland

In my experience, despite characterizations to the contrary, musicians are a pretty responsible bunch.  No one wants to give his or her band members Covid – witness my pop singer friend’s refusal to come to an outdoor  event  even though her boyfriend had apparently recovered and they both tested negative.

Music audiences,  however, may be a different animal. My pop singer friend said she and her boyfriend (who also performs) quarantined for almost a year, stayed safe, got vaccinated, and then decided to perform at one large show.  They one time they left the house and performed, he caught Covid, probably from an audience member.

Music audiences are bombarded with messages from the stage and various screens to get vaccinated. But statistics show that the messages are not working well – people between the ages of 18 and 24  have  lower rates of getting the shots than their parent’s generation, or their older siblings. And they are filing hospitals nationwide.

So what about the music festivals and outdoor concerts? 

They may not be a major problem since  studies show that the transmission of the virus is massively reduced outdoors, although the virus can survive in air droplets for as long as three hours and on some hard surfaces for up to three days.  But  Covid is killed quickly by the ultraviolet rays in sunshine (quoting reports broadcast by the BBC), so the hot days in the desert at Wasteland may produce nothing but a lot of dead virus, at least on the medical front. 

We won’t know until late fall if the resurgence of festivals and outdoor music does give Delta new pathways.  Perhaps if states and promoters decide to impose mask mandates like the one in LA country, the question will be moot. In the meantime, Wasteland  attendees have a great opportunity to creatively incorporate Covid masks into their Mad Max headgear and maybe start a festival fashion trend.

(banner photo: Ryan Speth))

Patrick O’Heffernan



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (470 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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