The late summer and early fall of 2021 saw a huge swell of energy in the indie scene, with dozens of artists whose followings had grown exponentially during the first year of the pandemic finally able to tour with the countless albums, EPs, and singles they had been sharing online. New York saw artists like Lucy Dacus headline half a dozen shows in Brooklyn during her back-to-back tours.
Some artists had trouble with COVID cases in their touring crews and had to postpone or cancel shows, but—thanks to vaccines and careful planning—most were able to get through their tours unscathed. And it was exciting. Not just because there were so many shows to go to right then, but because it felt like it might not be too long before we could go to shows again like the old days—unmasked, without considering the size of the venue first, and just generally unafraid.
But, with the overwhelming force of the Omicron wave, 2022 started with dozens of tours being canceled and postponed. Some smaller performers powered through, and by the end of January, some artists were even announcing new tours (I already bought tickets to the Wild Hearts Tour this summer with Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, and Julien Baker—my sad gay holy trinity)… but it absolutely feels like the wind was taken out of the indie scene’s sails.
For example, I saw Samia and MUNA both headline shows at the Bowery Ballroom in New York last fall. I danced harder to MUNA than I had since before the pandemic, and Samia’s homecoming performance was so beautiful she cried during the set twice.
To make their show happen, MUNA was adamant about the audience masking. They posted repeatedly on social media to remind fans they preferred everyone stay masked. But it felt as much like a gesture of community care as it did a fearful precaution. Everyone just knew it was the right thing to do so everyone could be comfortable.
Then, at the Samia show, most people were masked, but there was a significant contingent of audience members who took theirs off to get a drink and never put them back on, and even a decent handful that arrived without them. And that seemed ok.
Last week, when Samia headlined a sold-out show at Webster Hall, everyone had fun (and more happy tears were shed), but there were way more masks, and way fewer drinks. And today, for MUNA’s headlining show in New Jersey, it was specifically stated on my e-tickets that while the venue doesn’t require masks, the band does. I agree with this approach, of course, but it’s a different energy. Omicron has brought some fear back to concertgoers.
Moreover, the fear isn’t just amongst concertgoers, it’s a huge influence on artists. The threat of tour cancellations is not just about fans’ ability to connect with artists…it’s about the artists’ ability to sustain themselves. For many indie artists, touring provides their primary income. They make more money on live performances than streaming or merch sales or even brand deals and sponsorships.
This is why, with each new COVID wave and subsequent cancellations, platforms like Bandcamp will run promotions like “Bandcamp Fridays” where they forfeit their profit to give artists 100% of merch proceeds. They know artists need the support.
Every time tours get canceled, there’s more risk that they won’t be rescheduled. Bands can’t go on forever without touring, and without other support, some artists may eventually have to step out of the game.
Really, the point is…when artists have to cancel or postpone their tours, you can rest assured they’re doing it out of necessity, and when they offer you other ways to support them, you should probably do it if you can. At the very least, people should be exercising whatever personal cautions they can to ensure the safety of their fellow fans and the future tours of their favorite artists.
And definitely grab some tickets when you can, because even with this gloomy air around the indie scene right now, there are some killer shows coming up.
Original photography by Joseph O’Malley