Has the 2020 Merriweather Post Pavilion concert season ended before it even began?

The 2020 Merriweather Post Pavilion concert season had been scheduled to kick off this weekend with a three day M3 Rock Festival. For now, this event has been rescheduled for Labor Day weekend. All other May and Junes concerts previously scheduled for Merriweather have also been removed from the MPP calendar. As of today, the next concerts scheduled for Merriweather are Alanis Morissette on July 2 and Dave Matthews Band on July 18, both of these sold out events were set to be highlights of the summer season. Though July and August events like these are still listed on the calendar, in my mind, its only a matter of time until they too are rescheduled or cancelled. While there may be some hope that concerts could occur in September or October, I personally think that the next time we see a live concert at MPP won't be until this time next year.

According to a Bloomberg article earlier this month, many music agents and managers have begun telling their clients not to expect to tour in 2020. Seeing the writing on the wall, major touring acts like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber have already scrapped their current tours telling fans they wouldn't be playing at all in 2020 (Note: neither were scheduled for MPP this summer) and many other major summer music festivals across the country have already been cancelled. Once economy activity resumes; we certainly are not going to go from a stay-at-home order one day to a 20,000 person concert the next. As Governor Larry Hogan detailed last week, Maryland has a three-stage plan to reopen businesses when coronavirus abates. The Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery provides for a phased-in reopening of economic activity starting with low risk activities and moving to medium risk and then finally to high risk activities, like concerts.


Examples of activities/businesses that would reopen in each phase include:


  • Stage 1 - Low-Risk: Certain small shops and other small businesses, dental offices and elective medical procedures, limited outdoor attendance religious gatherings, recreational boating, golf, tennis, car washes, limited outdoor gym and fitness classes

  • Stage 2 - Medium-Risk: Restaurants and bars with restrictions, transit schedules resume normal operations; indoor gyms and fitness classes, childcare centers; raising the cap on social gatherings; indoor religious gatherings, and elective and outpatient procedures at hospitals.

  • Stage 3 - High-Risk: High-capacity bars and restaurants, entertainment venues, larger religious and social gatherings; less restrictions on visiting nursing homes.


The key here is that this is just a road map as the virus itself will dictate the schedule. Only with our continued adherence to social distancing requirements, adequate testing, 14 consecutive days of flattened or reduced cases, and careful analysis of the data, will it be determined that it is safe to move onto the next phase. In fact, as the blueprint explains, it may be possible that we need to take a step backwards and revert to a previous phase if cases begin to increase after loosening restrictions. And while there cannot and should not be a schedule put on reopening the economy at this point, Scott E's blog did share a slide he came across estimating the timeline for phase 1 as between 5/15/20 and 9/2/20; phase 2 between 9/3/20 and 12/31/20 and phase 3 not beginning until 2021. If this timeline proves true, we can certainly forget about concerts at all this season, including the fall. And even when stage 3 reopening are permitted, I would expect smaller venues like the Soundry or Toby's Dinner Theater to reopen with live music or theater prior to events at larger venues like MPP, the Chrysalis, or any of the many festivals that take place in Symphony Woods, the Lakefront, or the Merriweather District.


Summer is the most lucrative time of year for the concert business, as promoters stage festivals all across the nation and host large outdoor shows at stadiums and amphitheaters, like Merriweather Post Pavilion. And unlike restaurants or movie theaters who may be able to open with reduced capacity requirements or professional sports leagues who are considering playing games in empty stadiums but in front of millions watching on TV; there is no alternative revenue stream for live music. The industry stands to miss out on more than $5 billion in ticket sales if there are no shows all summer, according to Pollstar. Touring has become the primary source of income for most musicians; and many other professionals in the industry, such as concert promoters, sound technicians, roadies, agents, and managers are struggling to make any money at all. Not to mention the lost wages for all the seasonal employees that work these concerts. The crisis is arguably hitting the live music industry harder than any other.


It's an unfortunate reality, but I think it is safe to assume that concerts at Merriweather and many of the large events that occur around downtown Columbia will have to wait until 2021. In the meantime, at least the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission will be starting a "This Day in Merriweather Memories" social media series chronicling shows, events, and other Merriweather Post Pavilion activities from the last 53 years. That very well may be as good as it gets for music at Merriweather in 2020.

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