This week, singer-songwriter Sam Fender headlined a show at the Virgin Money Unity Arena, a new, pop-up outdoor venue space in Gosforth Park, located in Newcastle upon Tyne in England.
It was the first concert to take place at the “socially distanced” venue – which saw 2500 fans gather on 500 separate elevated seating sections. Spaced two metres apart, each of the platforms held up to five people.
There was a one-way path to bathroom facilities, and food and beverages were ordered remotely and delivered to individual seating sections. In many ways, the setup resembles the drive-in model that has been implemented a few times here in Australia over recent months, but without the cars.
Punters were asked to abide by social distancing regulations – such as wearing masks and remaining in their designated areas – which were largely followed, according to reports. Indeed, footage from the concert shows patrons watching and singing along respectfully from their allotted areas while Fender performs.
Visuals from the concert give an insight into what the future of live music might look like, at least for the time being, as traditional concert layouts remain unsafe throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think it’s fantastic that our region is going to lead the way on this, and we’ll be the trailblazers for something that will hopefully continue on through the rest of the pandemic,” commented Fender in an interview with BBC prior to the show.
Fender conceded that he’ll miss mosh pits, but looked forward to their return.
“They’ll eventually come back when we’re allowed to do it again.”
“It’s not going to be the same as a gig you would normally have, but we’ve got to do what we can do.”
While Fender was the first to perform as part of the new venue, other gigs featuring the likes of Two Door Cinema Club, Supergrass, The Libertines, Van Morrison and Maximo Park are also set to take place over the next month.
The large capacity and outdoor environment of the venue means the show was able to fare better than the UK’s first indoor socially distanced concert, which was deemed unsuccessful. Last month, folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner performed to a crowd of 200 at a 1250-capacity venue, and while punters were reportedly respectful of social distancing regulations put in place, venue manager Ally Wolf commented that they didn’t make enough money from the show to cover operating costs, even before paying artists.
Turner himself reflected on the show, saying, “This is not the start of a series of shows like this — that’d bankrupt everyone involved” in a statement.
“But it was, as I say, a gesture of cooperation, an attempt to feel out the situation with an eye to taking steps in a better direction. But most of all it was a fucking GIG. I have missed that, for sure. It turns out, live music really, really matters.”
The outdoor venue’s approach to live music also appears to be a markedly more cautious approach than that of, say, Smash Mouth’s most recent concert as part of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. There, the the band played to a packed (and largely maskless) crowd where the pretense of social distancing was seemingly abandoned. “Fuck that COVID shit,” declared the band’s Steve Harwell.
It also seems a great deal safer than The Chainsmokers’ recent, very much not-socially-distanced gig in The Hamptons last month.
See more footage of the socially-distanced Sam Fender gig below.
The UK’s first socially distanced gig is happening now in Newcastle with @samfendermusic headlining, and where attendees have their own private viewing area with 2m of space between them. Here’s what it looks like #samfender #unityarena pic.twitter.com/YBdxpAjYyi
— Kieron Donoghue (@kierondonoghue) August 11, 2020
Sam Fender live in Newcastle tonight – the first socially distanced large scale concert. Very civilised. Seems to work. 600 pens with 5 family/friends per pen. Sensible loo/bar/food arrangements. It’s the future! And least for the foreseeable…… pic.twitter.com/WN0NJsyCXc
— Brian Ham (@_BrianHam) August 11, 2020
Live music is back!!! pic.twitter.com/bV4pEilOQz
— Brian Ham (@_BrianHam) August 11, 2020
— Andrew Watson (@AndyWatson148) August 12, 2020
Fantastic night! Sam Fender was class! Can all concerts be like this?! Brilliantly organised! Thank you! pic.twitter.com/faWOYBJ9IU
— Tracy Guthrie (@tracylguthrie) August 11, 2020