“Exhilarating, joyful, and of course pretty scary": Musicians on the pressures of returning to the stage

Illustration by Maxine McCrann
Culture

For the past year and some change, touring hasn’t really been a thing. Musicians who relied on performing music to, well, exist, crawled into their metaphorical gig bags and slid themselves under the bed.

The various shut-downs that took place during lockdown affected people differently, depending on their individual interests. For musicians, and fans of live music, the March 6, 2020 announcement that SXSW would be cancelled for the first time in 34 years was confirmation, maybe more than anything that had happened thus far, that this COVID business was serious. But that was just the beginning. Every scheduled music festival shut down in 2020, and every music venue followed suit. If your main pleasure was watching live music, or your main source of income was performing it, life effectively froze. But now, just like that, the ice is melting.

With COVID-19 vaccinations readily available, musicians are free to book tours again, and a new wave of much happier announcements is taking place. And with music lovers finally getting back in front of a stage for the first time in more than a year, they’ll be hoping for the type of epic, unforgettable concert that reminds them of exactly what they love so much about live music. We spoke to eight musicians about the pressures and anxieties they’re experiencing heading out on the road for the first time post-pandemic, and what touring in 2021 will look like. Here’s what they had to say.

Nate Walcott // Bright Eyes

Shawn Brackbill

“It feels amazing to be able to go out and play music with each other, with our friends, and to be with people in a real place in real time. We’re taking whatever precautions we can to make this a safe experience for the audience, our fans, our crew, and everyone involved. The last year and a half has taught us to not take anything for granted, so there’s a new level of awareness of how lucky we are to be out traveling around playing music. Now more than ever we’re realizing how intrinsically linked our health, the environment, and our basic day-to-day decisions are, so we’re approaching the tour with a new consciousness about the impact that touring has on the planet and how important it is to start moving rapidly toward a reality where touring, concerts, and festivals can happen in a way that minimizes damage to planet Earth. Hopefully our actions could soon support the healing of the Earth rather than cause harm.”

Matty Mayz // Oxymorrons

Victoria Sanders

“Since as a band we will all be vaccinated, the concern for our health isn’t really high. I wouldn’t call it worried, but we are a little nervous about our live show. We haven’t played in front of a crowd in over a year, and we will be playing all new material. It’s a little nerve-racking, but we got this. We have plans to rehearse three times a week until our first show on September 4. We believe this will ensure that not only will we be back, but we will be better.”

Laura Stevenson

Bon Jane

“It feels exhilarating, and joyful, and of course, pretty scary. I’m just happy to have something to practice for. My situation has changed a lot since pre-COVID. I had a baby in late March 2020, so I’ve been pretty terrified for the safety of my child this whole time. Now that I’m vaccinated, I can transfer antibodies to her through my breastmilk, so until she’s able to be vaccinated, we are pretty much tethered to each other. I can pump milk in the green room of shows and in the van in the short term, but I don’t want to be too far away from her — we’re kind of a package deal until I feel confident that she’s safe, so there’s a lot to navigate now.”

Ladyhawke

Lula Cucchiara

“I feel incredibly grateful to be in New Zealand where we've managed to weather the COVID storm really well and have had a lighter sentence than most around the world. I honestly didn't think I'd see touring any time in my near future, so the fact that I'm able to head out soon for some shows is incredible! I think this is the most excited I've ever been about a tour! The last tour I did I was ‘secretly pregnant’ (in the first trimester), so that experience made the tour more challenging than usual! I was always the person that travelled with a ton of hand sanitizer anyway, so now it's just making sure we have enough for the band and crew — and obviously a good supply of masks. I think probably now, for us, the biggest risk would be the borders closing mid-tour, meaning we're trapped somewhere in Australia. These are now the things you just have to consider when touring. Even though as countries, Australia and New Zealand have managed to deal with COVID really well, we still have had minor community outbreaks which have closed the borders between the two countries. I'm really crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, because as we've learned from all of this, COVID seems to be unpredictable at the best of times.”

Blothar // GWAR

Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic/Getty Images

“How does it feel to be heading back out on tour after ‘lockdown?’ Well, in all honesty, we love watching humans destroy themselves, and we are always looking for excuses to avoid being around each other and our acne-bedazzled fans, so 2020 wasn’t so bad for us. In fact, GWAR was never really locked down. We were just locked away in Antarctica, watching 1,000-b Sisters and doing what we always do, which is cocaine, and lots of it. As for the human thralls that serve GWAR, no one wants to be around them anyway, and social distancing is their natural state of being. They spent all of 2020 secretly masturbating while playing Dungeons & Dragons on Zoom calls. Even so, GWAR is a live band and live shows are our medium, so we are delighted to get back on the road, and back into truck stop bathroom stalls across the country. During these unprecedented and trying times, touring with GWAR will look a bit different. To begin with, we are only allowing unvaccinated and COVID-positive people to attend the shows. We are enforcing this by doing rectal temperature checks and blood tests at the door of every venue. And when I say ‘we,’ I don’t mean the royal ‘we.’ I mean that the members of the band will be at the door of every club sticking thermometers up people’s butts, tying off their arms, and looking for a vein. We have spent the entire pandemic planning our world domination and perfecting our super freaky stage show. So if you are ready for a blood draw, some butt play, and the best in theatrical shock rock, come on out to see GWAR this fall. But don’t call it a comeback! We never went away...we just got lost on the way to the show. Every show, for more than a year.”

Rou Reynolds // Enter Shikari

Tom Martin

“For a while at, the start of this year it was like we were experiencing the death of our band. experiencing life without the manic touring schedule, the creativity, the community, the human connection, the sweat, the tears, the purpose. Now, there's real joy being back in rehearsals with my band, and extreme excitement about the festivals and shows we have coming up this year. I’ve never spent anywhere near this long off tour since we started the band, so there is real anxiety about reigniting the flame. I’m trying to get fitter and up my stamina and try to be as prepared as I can because we also have no idea what to expect. It’s going to be electric.”

Sonny Sandoval // P.O.D.

K. Baldes

“We are super excited to hit the road. I don't think I've ever been this stoked about touring. We've been touring for so long and it's become a love/hate relationship. I'm always excited for tour, and then a few weeks in, I start to miss home and my family. During this time off, I've realized how much touring and live shows have been such a crucial part of my existence. This time off has made me realize just how grateful I am to do what I love and take care of my family at the same time. And not to mention, our fans and friends have become a part of our lives, and it will be awesome to see every single one of them back out on the road. I think we've all learned so much in the past year, and we're all adapting to the new normal. We'll do everything necessary to abide by all new protocols and rules not only for the safety of the fans and the band, but to make sure that we all do our part to ensure the future of live shows and public events. We don't take this lightly and look forward to proving that together we can make concerts possible again and remind everyone of the healing power of live music when like minded individuals get together for a little rock 'n' roll.”

Mackenzie Scott // TORRES

Scott Legato/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

It feels like a good time for me to start traveling and performing again... my girlfriend needs alone time. There are going to be ten bands playing each city every night [on our tour]. Crafting a big loud fun live show to make sure the people that choose my show feel that it’s worth it, that they chose the right gig to come to...that’s what I’m thinking about. It’s most important to me that people have fun this time.”