Fuck You Covid
By: Erin Parrish
I’ve had some shitty show experiences. Who hasn’t, right? Cleaning up a random guy’s vomit from my shoes, losing an ex’s keys at the Metro in Chicago, the lead singer of a band I love being too drunk to sing, a sleeze groping me, the aforementioned ex ditching me during a show leaving me without a ride two hours from home, full on panic attacks from a crowd that got too rowdy - these all rise to the top of my “shitty show” list. But the good and phenomenal shows always outshine the bad. And, excluding the groping, I’ve been able to look back at most of these experiences and laugh.
But the persistence of COVID has created experiences and emotions that I struggle to reconcile. Since pandemic restrictions were lifted and being fully vaccinated 8 months ago, I’ve been to or planned to go to a handful of shows. Each show has been a freaking roller coaster of emotions and experiences. Shows are typically a roller coaster of emotions for me. I’m introverted, anxious, and, I’ve been told, intense. Any given show and I’ll feel excited, joyous, angry, anxious, joyous again, and sad, in that order, but at the shows I’ve attended over the last few months have brought on a new emotion. With COVID cases persisting and a new variant emerging, I felt shame, not related to alcohol consumption (sobriety rocks), for the first time while attending a show.
Let’s get a few things out of the way before I go on. First, I’m not writing this to pass judgement or make anyone feel bad about their choices. I’m writing this to share my experience and, maybe, a few people will relate. Second, I absolutely appreciate bands getting back on the road to share their gifts with and bring joy to fans. The last few years have been tough for musicians and those working in the industry. I imagine it’s difficult getting back out and playing shows with COVID still lurking. Finally, I’m privileged to be able to work from home, not putting myself at risk on the job. However, I work for an advocacy organization representing a vulnerable population impacted by the pandemic. Every day, there is an email in my Inbox with the latest COVID death count, broken down by demographics and maps showing the hot spots with new case numbers for the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Once a month, sometimes more, I’m on a call with public health officials discussing grim details about the newest challenges to curbing the virus. It’s daunting. I know it’s worse for them.
What does my work have to do with shitty shows? Well, each call and email ends with public health officials citing the biggest challenge in curbing the virus - people, unvaccinated and vaccinated, are behaving like the pandemic is over. Theses public health officials plead with advocates to remind the populations they work with to:
Wear a mask indoors with people not in your immediate household
Avoid crowded spaces
Keep your distance from others not in your immediate household
Get tested if exposed
Stay home if you’re sick
Quarantine if you test positive
*These are the guidelines from state officials where I live and might not apply to your state. Check your health department’s website or the CDC guidelines for COVID information.
So, based on this guidance and the shows I’ve attended over the last few months, you might begin to see why I’ve felt shame:
Show #1:My first show post-vaccination was an acoustic set with Brendan Kelly and Tane Graves from Tightwire opening. It was a good, low-key way to dip my toe back into shows. At a tiny Minneapolis bar with a killer patio, the show was outdoors. COVID numbers were low but people were still slow to getting back out to public gatherings so there was a small crowd. I felt good about attending this show. Unfortunately, my husband and I were two of eight people wearing masks. And, yes, I counted because I have anxiety. People kept a wide berth from us and I think because we were wearing masks they assumed we were unvaccinated. SMH.
Show #2: My favorite show this year was Rancid, Dropkick Murphys, and the Bronx. It was loud, the crowd was giddy, and I danced so much. The Bronx killed. They are such a phenomenal band. The show was at a gorgeous new, outdoor venue and it was a beautiful Minnesota summer night to boot. The venue is large enough that you were able to find a spot far enough from others to feel safe. COVID numbers were low but the venue is in a COVID hotspot outside of the Twin Cities. People do not believe in science in Central, Minnesota. Probably less than a quarter of the crowd were wearing masks and there were a lot of people.
Show #3: COVID cases were rising but I traveled to Chicago to see Rise Against, Descendents, and the Menzingers. I frickin’ love the Descendents and would cancel my own wedding if it conflicted with their show. While at an outdoor venue, there were far too many people and too few masks for me to feel safe. I actually upgraded my tickets to stand inside an astro-turfed, fenced-in area with eight other people. I felt safer but also felt trapped on a tiny, astroturf island surrounded by a sea of dancing COVID blobs but it did allow me to enjoy the show. (And take note, astroturf is far kinder to aging knees than concrete). I left the show early to avoid a crowded exit.
Show #4: Peak Minnesota summer and COVID cases are down again. It was a blissfully warm day for a small, local hardcore festival with a full day of music. The festival was outside in an alley. A handful of people were masked but it was easy to get away from the crowd. Later that night, a local resident drove his jeep, decked out with a bubble machine, over to the alley. Hardcore and bubbles = big fun.
Shows #5 - 7: I bowed out of Bayside and the Bombpops, Anti-Flag, and Off with Their Heads because I wasn’t feeling well. Playing COVID or allergies roulette is no fun. Tickets went unused but I felt good relinquishing money spent to support the bands.
Show #8: The unicorn of punk shows for middle-aged punkers - a MATINEE show! Seriously, this is my dream. A brunch only venue with shows. I’m not an entrepreneur so somebody else open this, preferably in Minnesota. This was a super fun show with Loss Leader, Honduh Daze, and Battery Eyes. I recommend checking these bands out. The show was indoors, masks required, and it was a small crowd. That said, it was a small venue and I was still too close to some folks for my liking.
Show #9: I danced so much at the Violent Femmes, Flogging Molly, and Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies that I didn’t take a single photo or video. I had forgotten how much I love the Violent Femmes. The show was at a large venue and proof of vaccination was required. COVID numbers were OK but I it was my first large indoor show and, frankly, it was frightening to see how few masks were being worn indoors. Vaccinated or not, you can still spread that shit with your gnarly breath.
Reflecting on each of these shows, I see a few things in common. One, punk shows bring me so much happiness. Two, unfortunately, right now that happiness is overshadowed by this nagging feeling that I’m being irresponsible during the pandemic. Three, not enough people got the memo about masking up indoors.
The last show I went to is where the shame started to get intense for me. The morning of the show, Minnesota was named the “Hottest of the Nation’s COVID Hot Spots.” Two of our largest counties had zero hospital beds and all other counties were quickly approaching zero. The Department of Defense was sending in medic teams for support in our largest county. Breakthrough cases were on the rise, no deaths but hospitalizations were increasing. This was in November, just a few weeks ago.
Later that day, Bad Religion pulled out of the show due to a COVID exposure in their touring bubble but Alkaline Trio and War on Women were holding down the stage. The venue required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test but, frankly, COVID protocols seemed lax. A bouncer was outside monitoring a group of people taking home COVID tests on a concrete planter, littered with cigarette butts and trash, in the cold. I’m not a scientist but it doesn’t seem like this type of environment is going to produce a reliable result. Because the show was going to be a larger crowd, my husband had gotten tickets in the balcony seats, knowing there would be less people than on the floor. I’m glad he did. It wasn’t crowded in the balcony and I’d be surprised if a quarter of the crowd on the floor was masked.
It was difficult for me to concentrate on the show. Sitting in seats doesn’t bring the same buzzing energy brought by the crowd on the floor. Alkaline Trio already brings back a flood of angsty, suburban Chicago hell memories for me. This paired with anxiety about the pandemic created a perfect spiral down to the gloomy pit of shame. I took photos and videos but was reluctant to share them because I didn’t want my peers to know I was at a crowded show when my state is facing another COVID spike. It didn’t feel right to be there.
The next morning at work, an exasperated public health official, pleaded with advocates over Zoom to express urgency to the populations they work with - COVID is not over. So where does this leave things? What is the right answer? I don’t know and I don’t think there is one. COVID is still here. It’s not going away any time soon. So how does one reconcile enjoying life (aka live music), pandemic anxiety, and shame? If being prepared for uncertainty and doubt is the “new normal,” what does that mean for bands, people working in the music industry, and fans?
I’m not the person to answer these questions for anyone but myself. But I hope that putting this out there accomplishes two things: one, resonates with folks feeling some of the same things, and, two, serves as a reminder that the best way we can support each other and the music industry is to put on your damn mask and make decisions with the greater community in mind. I hope canceling tours and shows, pandemic anxiety, and uncertainty are not the new normal. But if it is, we need a supportive, mindful community to get through it. In the wise words of Amy Gabba and the Almost Famous, “Fuck You COVID, please go wash your hands. We are tired of social distancing and canceling our plans.”