The Virgin Money Unity Arena in Newcastle, England, which bills itself as the world’s first socially distanced concert venue, kicked off the first of several concerts on Tuesday with a show from English indie rock act Sam Fender, who played a set for a couple thousand fans spread out across the horse track-turned-arena venue in their own socially distanced pods.
Regional promoter SSD concerts had begun planning for these socially distanced shows in April and finally announced the concept in July when it became clear the promoter could pull off the event. It’s one of several experiments the live music industry has attempted to bring back live shows as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has brought the entire industry to a standstill. The concert series will feature a slate of well-known U.K. performers including Van Morrison, the Libertines and Two Door Cinema Club.
Photos and footage from concert attendees shows an organized effort from SSD’s part (albeit a bit less of a raucous show than one may expect at a rock concert) as fans remain sequestered from one another outside of their individual groups.
These shows aren’t dissimilar from the drive-in shows that have been increasingly common this summer, but instead of making dedicated spaces for cars, SSD had fans attend in their own spaces in socially distanced queues. Compared to the disastrous Hamptons concert from the Chainsmokers or this weekend’s South Dakota show from Smash Mouth — where organizers and attendees eschewed caution for packed, mask-free shows that ignored an ongoing deadly pandemic — SSD’s show seemed to take far more precautions.
Attendees looked relatively confined to their individual raised platforms, which were separated far enough apart to keep with social distancing. A venue of the Unity Arena’s size could potentially hold 20,000 people, organizers previously told Rolling Stone, but shows will be capped at 2,500. To avoid lines, fans preordered food and drinks they received as they entered the venue.
“The lack of human connection has been hard, and we wanted to be at the forefront of finding ways to safely go around to let people do what they love,” Libertines co-frontman Carl Barât told Rolling Stone of the band’s upcoming show at the arena. “But the method of it is fucking bizarre, man; it’s telling of the way things are right now. The fact that we’re at a place where people have to sit in their own bubbles to go to shows is mental. Like everybody, we didn’t really understand how it could work at first, but if this is the first thing we can legally do, then, yeah, sign us up.”
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