The Year In Diversity: Inclusivity, The Comeback And Not Wasting The Lessons of 2020
By: Bill Reeves & Lance “KC” Jackson
It would be safe to say that we’ll all be happy to see the end of 2020. The turmoil, chaos and economic devastation engendered by the pandemic, issues of racial equality and deep political divisiveness have made 2020 a year we would all like to forget. Or, alternatively, a year that we will never forget! However, as 2020 winds down and 2021 comes into view we can both look back and begin to assess the year just past as well look forward to what’s to come.
2020 has been a most instructive year. Unfortunately, the things we learned about ourselves, our country and our industry weren’t pretty or comforting but, at the end of the day, they were things that we needed to know. We learned that the political divide in our country runs much deeper and is a much more corrosive current than we thought. A large segment of the population came to understand the reality of police brutality and the toll of racial inequality in a more vivid and visceral way than previously. In the concert production world, we learned the hard way that what we always thought was an industry that could withstand the ups and downs of the larger economy was no match for a worldwide pandemic that fed off the very thing that is our lifeblood, large gatherings of people. Those were the things 2020 made us aware of. The challenge for 2021 will be to find out if we learned those lessons and took them to heart or, will we treat those lessons like that algebra class we took in high school and immediately forgot about 10 minutes after the final class?
So what will 2021 bring? On a national scale we’re looking forward to a vaccine and a new administration in Washington. Both of these will have a direct influence on what happens in the concert production industry. To begin, there really won’t be a concert production industry until a vaccine is approved, produced and widely distributed. As professionals who deal with such things as supply line logistics and the organizational infrastructure needed to deal with, manage and move large amounts of people and gear, (think of what it takes to produce and perform a stadium show), we understand that the vaccination process is going to take some months to get up and moving. Once that process is underway it’s going to be up to government at both the national and local levels to make the determinations regarding the gathering of large numbers of people together in concert halls, theatres and clubs. And as we’ve seen in months past the process of making those determinations and issuing those clearances will take some time and vary widely from city to city and state to state.
All of this means that those of us who are looking forward to going back to work will have to wait until at least the spring and most likely the summer of 2021 before we can pack a bag, climb on a bus and resume the vagabond lifestyle we miss so dearly. Unlike what happened to us in March when the industry shut down virtually overnight, restarting will be a slow, gradual process. The likelihood is that audience capacities will be phased in over time with the first few concerts being limited to 25%, 40% or 50% capacities. The inevitable result of these limitations will be that promoters, due to the reduction in gross revenues, will not be able to offer artists their usual fees. If the artists have to take less, then the ripple effect will propagate throughout the whole ecosystem. Vendors, crew and band members will all have to take less. Alternatively, some promoters and artists may come to an agreement to perform more shows in order to be able to pay the artist his or her regular fee. If a promoter is restricted to a 50% audience he may ask the artist to perform two shows for the price of one show at the pre-pandemic fee structure. In either case the restarting of concerts will be a slow, cautious process and require sacrifices from everyone involved. However, after a year of no money the prospect of a little money should be attractive to all. Hopefully the slow restart of the business won’t take too much time and by the end of 2021 we should be back up and running at full speed.
2021 will also see the concert industry have to confront the issue of racial equality and diversity in hiring practices in a direct and practical way. The past few months saw a lot of discussions, articles, webinars and symposiums addressing the question of racial equality and diversity both in the nation as a whole and in the concert production industry in particular. Many pledges and declarations to “do better when we start back up” were made. In 2020 here at Roadies of Color United we were happy to have fruitful discussions on this issue with industry media outlets such as Pollstar, PLSN, FOH online, Theatre Artlife and Rolling Stone.
We got pledges of support from vendors like Rock It Cargo, Tour Tech, Aces Cargo, Christie Lites and Ozark Mountain Trucking and numerous tour and production managers. 2021 will be the year to make good on those pledges and declarations. There will be no lack of resources for those doing the hiring of vendor crews and staffing of tours. Roadies of Color United, Soundgirls.org, DiversifyTheStage.org and Neverfamous.com, are just a few of the resource guides available to those who wish to make diversity and racial equality a reality in our industry. Hopefully the lessons learned in 2020 won’t be wasted.