Q1 2021*: The Asterisk Begins To Fade

Q1 2021

With Q1 2021 in the rearview, it’s now a solid year since the global pandemic brought the vast majority of our industry, and so much else in the world, to a screeching halt. It’s a grim milestone to be sure and, while the data allows us to quantify and analyze this precipitous drop, it also shows that the roots of our industry’s certain comeback are now being planted in terra firma.  

Much like our 2020 Year-End Issue, this quarter inevitably will be marked with an asterisk, a stark reminder that this aberration of a year will be eternally qualified as outside the norm. But this time the asterisk is nowhere near as indelible or dreary as it was even a quarter ago. Then, at the end of Q4 in early December, COVID cases were spiking, vaccinations had not yet reached arms on a mass scale and tour and festival announcements were far and few between. Now, it is a very different story. 
First, however, we must quantify this aberration of a quarter’s steep drops in year-over-year revenues, tickets sold and shows. Q1 2020’s total gross, the last quarter of full pre-pandemic economic activity, hit a record-setting $2.53 billion; while Q1 2021’s total gross of $18.93 million is a gut-punching decrease of 99.25% and a record no one wants to keep. Same with the 39 million tickets sold a year ago as compared to this quarter’s miniscule 397,000 representing a 99% drop. And, most painfully, the 18,177 shows tracked last year dropped by 98% to 382. There is nothing good about any of this.
That said, however, there are positive indicators all over this quarter’s data and beyond. Q1 2021’s biggest touring artist, New Zealand’s Six60, featured on Pollstar’s cover earlier this month, sold nearly 100,000 tickets at stadiums. Those shows, promoted by Eccles Entertainment, grossed some $7.7 million and brought out nearly 100,000 fans. 
They are followed by For King & Country who grossed nearly $1.3 million plowing through dates that included The Grand Ole Opry, South Florida Fairgrounds and Elm Church in Saskatoon. Awesome clubs like City Winery Nashville and Billy Bob’s in Dallas bubbled up to the top of the club chart as did Dallas’ American Airlines Arena, WiZink Center in Madrid, the Hertz Arena in Estero, Fla., on the arena chart. Congrats and gratitude to all of these chart-toppers, whose relative success is a testament to their boldness, perseverance and grit in bringing back our industry safely and moving forward. In some cases, these accomplishments indicate territories less impacted by the virus (looking at you with burning envy, New Zealand) and/or less governmental regulation, but they also show the beginnings of blazed trails where others will follow.
This quarter’s Livestreaming Charts, which did not exist a year ago – in fact didn’t exist at all until May of last year when Pollstar began collecting reports – is wildly positive. Jean Michel Jarre’s massive New Year’s livestream from Paris’ fire-damaged Notre Dame drew a gargantuan 75 million people that demonstrated the vast potential of this widely scaling technology.
Meanwhile, Verzuz, the streaming franchise hosted by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz showed no signs of abating, hitting 13 million views in the quarter. The platform’s co-founder Gary Marella, who manages Timbaland, told Pollstar they are considering offers for live performances. While the thought of livestreaming ever replacing live experiences seems farfetched at best, the numbers do point to a robust future in which this vastly improved technology will be better integrated into touring strategies and a welcomed addition to an artist’s growing arsenal of creative offerings.

This, while our industry on the whole is in the nascent stages of mounting a comeback. The vast array of the Top 100 artists from every genre who reported events in Q1 is another clear and positive sign. This includes everyone from The Hold Steady, Kaskade and Liam Gallagher  to Allman Betts Band, Lindsey Sterling and Keb’ Mo’ to Steel Panther, Maddie Poppe and Travis Tritt.
We now have enough weekly reports coming in that soon Pollstar will resume publishing its Global Concert Pulse and vaunted Live75 chart. They may not yet have the depth of our industry’s full return, but again the writing is clearly on the wall. 
Emily Butler
– Strings Theory
Billy Strings, who just announced four shows in early-April at the Columbia Speedway Ent. Center is expected to sell 13,000 tickets.
The indefatigable and preternaturally talented Billy Strings just announced four shows April 1-4 at the Columbia Speedway Entertainment Center. The show is expected to sell 13,000 tickets, that’s a big beautiful number. And another Pollstar cover feature, comic Iliza Shlesinger, just announced 20 more dates for her “Back In Action” tour that kicks off in May at The St. Augustine Amphitheatre and heads north in fall to Seattle and Portland before hitting Europe. She returns to the States in November with shows at The Chicago Theater, D.C.’s Constitution Hall and The Met Philadelphia and by January she’s doing two nights at New York’s Beacon Theater.
Beyond Texas and Florida opening back up, New York and California, the states with the largest urban markets, are allowing for limited gatherings starting in April. In the Golden State, baseball teams will have fans in the stands on Major League Baseball’s opening day depending on which color-coded tier your county falls under: 67% capacity in the yellow, 33% in orange, 20% in red and 100 people in purple. In New York, clubs are making their way back with mandates starting on April 2 that allow for a 33% of capacity limit and maximum of 100 people indoors and 200 for outdoors. On March 26, North Carolina will allow 50% capacity for its sporting events and live venues. And while this issue was going to press, Virginia just announced indoor venues can operate at 30% capacity.
By now most of the major festivals have pushed back to late summer or early fall, but not all. Pasquale Rotella, founder and CEO of Insomniac Events, tweeted on March 18 (and again on March 25, post publication of this article) that Electric Daisy Carnival, slated for May 21-23, could happen. “Nothing has changed” for EDC Las Vegas, he wrote. “If we can have a safe show in May, then we’re going to make it happen.” It most certainly may not, but it’s been a long time since a festival didn’t cancel less than eight weeks out. 
Meanwhile, the UK government late last month issued a road map for a 100% reopening based upon hitting certain public health benchmarks. If  those are met, all restrictions may be lifted by June 21. Late August festivals like Redding, Leeds and Creamfields sold out in 24 hours and have a good shot of happening.  
“If you look at the U.K. as a model,” Live Nation President Joe Berchtold, said on the company’s Q4 earnings call, “I think what they’ve laid out is a series of thresholds and timelines to reopen and really get almost fully reopened this June has been very helpful and has really unlocked a big burst of consumer demand.” 
Perhaps the best sign, after so many months of painful furloughs, layoffs and belt-tightening, is news that both Live Nation and AEG, the first and second largest promoters in the world, are bringing employees who were furloughed or worked reduced hours. This is much-needed good news and sure a sign that the industry is ramping back up. Looking at Pollstar’s route book, we’re already up to nearly 2,000 events for April, which is a fraction of what we saw in April 2019, but certainly more than what we saw in 2020. 
A number of production sources have confirmed several artists are planning to go out this summer and most certainly in the fall. While nothing is absolutely certain these days, there’s a very good chance by then the implied asterisk will have completely faded away.