Dance Gavin Dance’s ‘2021 Afterburner’ Overcomes Mid-Tour COVID, Rehab With 78,500 Tickets Sold

Dance Gavin Dance
Photo by Matthue Cole
– Dance Gavin Dance
Dance Gavin Dance’s “Afterburner” tour was the Sacramento band’s biggest yet, with more than 5,000 tickets moved over two shows in Philly to go along with sellouts including Hammerstein Ballroom, Hollywood Palladium and Aragon Theatre among highlights.

Any touring story in 2021 is one of perseverance, with not just any band able and willing to take on the challenge of navigating a full tour while COVID is still very much a thing. But Sacramento, Calif.-based Dance Gavin Dance is not just any band.

“We were in a very unique situation that, the way the band is made up, there’s either people in the crew or in the band that can switch roles and step in and do other things,” says manager Derek Brewer of Shelter Management. “And, while it’s not ideal at all, we can do shows with one vocalist.”
Dance Gavin Dance was forced to do just that, as both vocalists in the band, both co-founder Jon Mess, who does the “scream” vocals, and more recent addition Tilian Pearson, who does the “clean” vocal parts for the difficult-to-classify band with prog and emo tendencies, came down with COVID while on tour. Members from the support bands – Veil of Maya and Eidola – also stepped in, learning parts between shows for a band and style of music that can only be described as difficult to play and an acquired taste, akin to something along the lines of the Mars Volta or Coheed and Cambria.  
“If we didn’t have those abilities, that you don’t see in a lot of bands, definitely more shows wouldn’t have been the best experience for fans,” adds Brewer, referring to the one show that was forced to be canceled at the last minute in St. Louis, with both singers either coming down or recovering from COVID. 
That’s before even mentioning that the band’s drummer, Matt Mingus, had to leave the tour early for rehab when it became apparent he was in no state to perform at the band’s Detroit gig. With support from MusiCares and a talented drum tech named Dakota Sammons able to quickly step in, even that couldn’t stop the band. And, although you can’t please everyone and negative social media comments can sometimes be a vocal minority, fans mostly didn’t even mind.
“The crowd response was overwhelmingly positive and [the tour] was much more successful than I thought it would be,” says the band’s Jon Mess, who, ahead of the tour while the Delta variant was making headlines, thought it would eventually get canceled at some point. “Overall it was great, but it was really challenging. I just hope for future tours, we can hopefully move past it. Because if every tour was like the one we just did, it would be very difficult to tour every year.” 
Dance Gavin Dance’s “2021 Afterburner Tour,” which originally went on sale in 2019, continues its steady build as its biggest headline run to date, with more than 78,500 tickets moved over 33 shows in September and October, with four shows upgraded to larger rooms and sellouts across both coasts in large clubs. As more and more “firsts” continue to emerge from the pandemic, the “Afterburner” tour is one of the first coast-to-coast, full-scale indoor tours to take place since COVID.
“We didn’t want to be the guinea pigs but we all knew the tour had to happen,” says 33 & West’s Matt Pike, longtime agent for Dance Gavin Dance. Crediting promoter partners in AEG Presents and Live Nation, Pike says despite the COVID cases and ever-changing regulations, the tour actually went well on a production and logistics level, which isn’t a given right now either.

Dance Gavin Dance
Photo by Matthue Cole
– Dance Gavin Dance
Dance Gavin Dance’s “2021 Afterburner” tour had to contend with band members coming down with COVID, the drummer entering rehab during the tour and being one of the first major indoor tours since COVID. Courtesy Shelter Management
“Honestly, outside of the stuff we couldn’t control, like COVID and illness, the tour as a whole ran so smooth. That’s with us dealing with venues that are understaffed and a whole lot of uncertainty,” says Pike, who notes there were very few refunds despite the shows being re-booked four times. “Especially when you’re in a different city and town and state every day, with different restrictions and policies, and we had to abide by all the rules. The fact the venues were able to just take care of us was a big thing. These shows weren’t small. We definitely were very lucky the outcome was what it was.”
Even with everything from crew to catering lined up as perfectly as possible, there’s no show without the band being healthy enough to perform and not in danger of spreading to other members and crew. Credit the quick-thinking team to do whatever it takes to keep the show on the road, which means becoming  public health experts or de-facto nurses in this case.  
“I’m not a doctor or anything like that, but I can tell you that,  between the monoclonal antibodies, being vaccinated, and we got some other drips like vitamin C that I think were mostly therapeutic, those guys were testing negative only a few days after, with multiple tests,” adds Brewer, who says that the tour mandated vaccination for everyone on tour and had 100% compliance. “In hindsight, I think that proved to save dates that could have gone a lot worse.”
Guinea pigs or not, it seemed to work.
“I probably did 50 tests,” says Mess. “We did the monoclonal antibodies; certain cities were offering them and you could show up and get them. So you do soundcheck or not, depending on your test or how you felt, and then go get an IV somewhere. We had doctors come to the venues and give us different IV drips, we had an NAD drip that I honestly don’t even know what it does, but it’s supposed to set something in your bodies to when you were younger or kill something or fight something off, and vitamin C and other concoctions you could order.” 
“At the end of it, our expenses were nuts because we weren’t holding back,” Mess says. “It was either spend a bunch of money to keep everyone healthy, or the tour gets canceled. It was the better option.”
Dance Gavin Dance is looking forward to putting on its second Swan Fest – named after the band’s co-founder and guitarist Will Swan – at Heart Health Park in the band’s hometown of Sacramento in late April, which has also been rescheduled multiple times thanks to COVID. The event’s 2019 debut outside the Grove of Anaheim surprised many when it sold out at 7,500 tickets. Mess says that’s par for the course for the band, which has come a long way from selling in the 100-200 tickets range at its lowest point to now planning another headline run of secondary markets for spring 2022.
“There’s always been kind of a ‘we-need-to-prove-ourselves’ mentality in this band,” Mess says, adding that some might point to pent-up demand as a reason for success on this tour, with around $18 per head sold on merch as well. “So now we’re saying next time, when there’s no pandemic, we’ll sell out the venue, everyone will show up and then we’ll have really proved it,” he says, laughing.