Whether it’s a festival enjoyed from a tuk tuk in Bangkok (pictured above) or a music performance held in inflatable orbs in Oklahoma, event providers are proving they can come up with increasingly inventive ways to host socially distanced concerts. “When the pandemic hit, we knew we had to do what we could to support the artists we love and keep our community connected,” explains T.J. Leonard, a promoter for Connecticut-based events company CONNartists.

Here’s how he and other event organizers around the world have adapted to holding live performances of music, comedy, theater, and more during the pandemic—plus, the shows to add to your calendar.

A socially distanced concert held in inflatable bubbles
The Flaming Lips, rock musicians from Oklahoma City, have found a novel way to enforce social distancing at their live concerts—both the band and fans are encased in inflatable plastic bubbles.

Live Music

When lockdown measures were introduced earlier this year, online platforms became a haven for musicians and fans alike. “The first thing we did was to engage through virtual shows, using Zoom as a platform so people could interact,” Leonard says. “We wanted to recreate the live experience as much as possible, so the artist could see some of the audience and hear applause.”

When the pandemic hit, we had to do what we could to support the artists we love—T.J. Leonard

It’s an approach that’s been adopted by a number of different genres. For example, London’s Royal Opera House has lined up a series of ballet and opera performances that can be enjoyed virtually from anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, hospitality company Belmond has launched the Belmond Invitationsseries, transporting viewers to live performances held in destinations from its portfolio. New instalments in the series, which kicked off with a streamed performance by pianist Joe Stilgoe, are routinely posted on the group’s social media pages.

The interior of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express hosted the first instalment in the Belmond Invitations series— music in honor of a 1920s-themed party that was due to take place onboard it earlier this year. Image: Courtesy of Belmond

As the world has started to open up again, event organizers have embraced myriad innovative solutions to hold socially distanced concerts. “During the summer, we held shows outdoors, limiting the number of people so that we could space everyone out appropriately,” says Leonard of CONNartists’ take on live shows. “It’s enabled people to safely see live music, which I know many were missing.”

It’s vital to keep music and the arts alive, in a time like this it’s a wonderful escape to have—Pete Francis

With a similar aim in mind, Live Nation established its Live From the Drive-In concert series across the U.S.A. Its large LED screens and enormous speakers ensure that fans can enjoy their favorite artists’ sets from any location in a vast drive-in parking lot. And in July, the Gisburne Park Pop Up in Lancashire, England, helped pave the way for socially distanced music festivals. Its designated “pitches” could be booked by up to six people, and came with a mandatory 8.5-foot (2.6 m) distance from all surrounding groups.

A drive in music concert
Created as a way to reimagine the live music experience during a time of social distancing, the Live From The Drive-In concert series allows concertgoers to enjoy shows from their individual zones.

The value of such concerts shouldn’t be underestimated, says Pete Francis, a musician who’s taken part in CONNartists’ virtual and socially distanced events. “To play music live is a real gift,” he says. “I think it’s vital to keep music and the arts alive. There’s something about music that is inherently calming, so in a time like this it’s a wonderful escape to have as both a creator and listener.”

Engaging through virtual shows allowed us to recreate the live experience as much as possible—T.J. Leonard

Movies and Live Performance Theater

The drive-in format adopted by live music has, of course, been a way to enjoy movies for years—and it’s never been more appropriate to the social climate. While the old-school U.S. drive-in has boomed in popularity, there are also highly creative offerings in place. Tel Aviv’s “sail-in” floating cinema, where viewers can enjoy classics from the comfort of small paddle boats on a lake in the city is a particularly great example, and is an approach that’s since been copied everywhere from New York City to Sydney.

Paddle boats at a sail-in cinema in Tel Aviv
In August, Tel Aviv’s “sail-in” floating cinema attracted more than 200 socially distanced moviegoers—just one of a number of cultural events organized by the city during the pandemic. Image: Kfir Sivan

Though live-performance theaters have largely had to remain closed, an array of Broadway shows has been streamed on services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, BroadwayHD, and Disney+, and independent theaters have taken matters into their own hands. In London, Shakespeare’s Globe continually screens selected works online, and virtual performances from the National Theatre can be enjoyed through its National Theatre at Home initiative.

Comedy

Stand-up comedy is another form of performance that’s found its way into the virtual entertainment world. By streaming live shows, comedians have been able to deliver laughter directly to fans’ homes. Case in point: when the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest comedy and arts event, was canceled this year, the organizers hosted hundreds of live streams by Fringe venues and artists instead.

A real game-changer, however, is Los Angeles-based InCrowd Comedy. An interactive live experience created by comedian Bubba Ginnetty, multiple screens on a video wall facilitate audience interaction and recreate the feel of a live performance within a virtual setting. “I realized comedy was dead without audiences and that we needed to revive it in some way,” Ginetty says. “InCrowd means you’re able to interact from your home with your favorite comedian or artist and have them respond in real time. It’s pretty special.”

Banner image: The Chang World drive-in tuk tuk festival in Bangkok. Courtesy of Chang World

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