Photo by Anthony Delanoix on Unsplash
Photo by Anthony Delanoix on Unsplash

Fierce Appreciation: Live Music’s Triumphant Return in New York City

September 30, 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

After a relaxing sunset car ride across the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, we arrived in East Williamsburg just as the sun completely disappeared, leaving only the street and the building lights of Brooklyn venue Elsewhere to illuminate our faces. We joined the snaking queue of Doc Martens and plaid, our hands prepped with our IDs, tickets, and–new to the roster–our vaccine cards. The line scuddles forward as each person presents their vaccine information or negative COVID test next to their ID: the new normal to experience live music after a long hiatus.

The return of music to New York City is a momentous occasion that highlights the resilience of artists and musicians. Despite not being able to tour or host ordinary live performances for nearly two years, musical groups and artists are once again setting foot on the stages of the city’s multitude of venues and giving performances of more intense passion and love for the art form than ever before. 

Indoor performance venues fall under New York City’s newly instated “Key to NYC” vaccine mandate, meaning that anyone over the age of 12 must present evidence of at least one dose of a COVID vaccine in order to enter the building. The Bowery Presents, the umbrella company that owns multiple East Coast music venues including Music Hall of Williamsburg and Webster Hall in New York City, includes a “Health & Safety” page on their website that clearly states that their New York City venues fall under the new vaccine mandate. Upon purchasing tickets, audience members are also reminded of this protocol. Although outdoor venues do not technically fall under the “Key to  NYC” mandate, many in New York are asking ticket holders to present their vaccine information or a negative COVID test from no more than 72 hours prior to the event. 

As we climbed the four flights of stairs to Elsewhere’s rooftop music stage, socializing music lovers entered our view. It was something I was once so accustomed to; yet after being torn from the scene since early 2020, I felt flutters of nervous excitement that typically only come about with unknown territory. 

Brooklyn-based indie group Triathlon performed a set at Elsewhere that evening, with the opening set by another Brooklyn-based duo, Bathe, as well as guest vocals by lead singer of The Marías, María Zardoya. Having seen Triathlon perform prior to the pandemic, I am able to say that their post-hiatus performance consisted of a new energy that I had not yet seen from them before. Although their tracks maintain a lo-fi, chill pulse to them, their live set did not drift into a sleepy headspace. Instead, they provided sufficient Tuesday night grooves and an appropriate amount of coolness for the rooftop Manhattan skyline views. 

Just two days after Triathlon’s Brooklyn performance, some friends and I stood on a rooftop across the East River, now looking upon the orange sunset-washed Brooklyn skyline. Ali McClellan, Marymount Manhattan College senior, and I attended Dr. Dog’s New York City show of their 2021 tour, the “Last Tour”, at Lower Manhattan’s Pier 17 venue. The rooftop stage is entirely open-air, making for a safer experience compared to a smaller, indoor space. 

“The outdoor setting and vaccine requirement made me feel safe COVID-wise, and it was nice to be able to have that peace of mind,” says McClellan. 

Not only did Dr. Dog’s performance bring about a new energy due to their COVID-induced performance break; the group also is touring together for the last time ever. The group, which originated in Philadelphia, performed old and new tracks, provoking the audience to shout-sing lyrics and tilt their heads back in pure, music-loving bliss. 

“I remember glancing up at the skyline, worry free, dancing with friends while the band played ‘Where Did All the Time Go’. That memory–and the whole experience–is something I will never forget…it was as though no time had passed,” says McClellan, referencing her pre-COVID concert experiences. 

Bee Kelly, also a senior at Marymount Manhattan College, recently saw artist Sir Chloe at Baby’s All Right, an indoor music venue in Williamsburg. Since Baby’s All Right is fully indoors, it falls under the “Key to NYC” mandate and thus requires at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. 

“At [the concert]… most people did leave their masks on, unless they were eating or drinking. No one told us we had to, but most of us did anyway. It was cool knowing I was at an event with like minded individuals who care about others’ safety,” says Bee. 

As new COVID variants arise, should outdoor venues also begin requiring vaccines? Should both a negative COVID test as well as a vaccine be a requirement to partake in crowded experiences? How can we ensure that live music can continue to survive? Despite these questions, it is incredible to note that the protocols taken so far have allowed for music lovers in New York City to once again feel the pounding bass through their chest and the soft sway of fellow fans brush upon their shoulders. 

“There were times when I felt hopeless that I would ever get to experience this again. After my first show back, I had a moment where I realized how grateful I really am to still be here, still able to experience the things I love,” says Bee. Live arts in New York City took a hit during the beginnings of the pandemic. But with the combination of passionate fans, resilient performers, and trustworthy venue management, the city has shown that even the most difficult of performance-less times can be overcome.

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