After an announcement late last week by major concert promoter and venue owner AEG, The Sinclair in Harvard Square has joined a rapidly growing list of Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge music venues requiring proof of vaccination that includes the Middle East, Jacques’ Cabaret, the Plough and Stars, Club Passim, ONCE Somerville, and City Winery.
Policies vary slightly from venue to venue. Passim and the Plough and Stars in Cambridge are making no exceptions for unvaccinated patrons and are offering refunds to those with tickets for upcoming events. At Jacques’ Cabaret in Bay Village, patrons without proof of vaccination have to wear a mask. Attendees of ONCE Somerville’s outdoor events this summer are being asked if they are vaccinated, but proof isn’t required. Unvaccinated individuals are asked to wear a mask.
Originally, the Middle East was making no exceptions for unvaccinated people, but according to booking manager Aaron Gray, that policy has been updated and the Cambridge venue will accept customers who wear masks and present a negative COVID test from the last 24 to 72 hours. “We’re trying to be as inclusive as we can while keeping people safe. There are people that legitimately can’t get vaccinated. It’s a small number, but they exist,” Gray explained.
City Winery’s policy is similar and mirrors the approach that a handful of musicians are taking on their tours. Japanese Breakfast, Phish, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and Dead & Company are mandating proof of vaccination, or COVID testing for the unvaccinated, at all of their shows. Isbell has a concert scheduled at the Wang Theatre Sept. 18, while Japanese Breakfast is set to play a pair of shows at Royale Sept. 9 and 10.
AEG’s announcement Thursday represents a shift in how the industry is handling the recent rise in COVID cases spurred by the Delta variant. Its policy applies to all 48 venues and 23 festivals that the company owns and operates in the United States. Until Oct. 1, it will accept a recent negative COVID test result. After that, all customers and staff must show proof they are fully vaccinated.
Following AEG’s announcement, Live Nation announced a sweeping change in its own policy at all its venues and festivals. Starting Oct. 4, wherever allowed by law, it will require all artists, employees, and concert attendees to show proof they’ve either been fully vaccinated or have gotten a negative test.
“Vaccines are going to be your ticket back to shows, and as of October 4th we will be … requiring this for artists, fans and employees at Live Nation venues and festivals everywhere possible in the US,” Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino said in a statement Friday. The promoter has been leaving those decisions up to artists.
Before Thursday, venues and musicians were largely left alone in implementing policies to slow the spread of COVID at concerts. According to Gray, bringing this large swath of venues in line with the handful that were already mandating vaccination legitimizes the Middle East’s stance adopted earlier in the summer. “For a while, we were sort of a pariah, so it feels nice to be backed up, like, ‘OK, we’re all doing this now,’ ” he said. The Middle East was one of the first venues in Cambridge to require proof of vaccination.
Around the country, some festivals were also independently setting up their own vaccination requirements. Pitchfork Music Festival, Bonnaroo, and Summerfest were all asking for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. AEG’s new policy adds Coachella, Camp Flog Gnaw, Day N Vegas, Firefly, Hangout, Electric Forest, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to that list. All except Firefly take place after the Oct. 1 cutoff, meaning they won’t accept a customer’s negative COVID test in lieu of being fully vaccinated.
Though some will be affected by the pending change in Live Nation’s policy come October, several venues in the Boston area, including House of Blues and the Paradise Rock Club, have no current constraints to who can attend shows. That doesn’t necessarily mean a ticket holder won’t be asked for proof of vaccination to comply with an artist’s own policy.
“This is a strange timeline,” Gray said. “I don’t think COVID is going away, but hopefully, in a year or so, we won’t be so ‘Oh my God’ about it.”