Dallas Musicians Are Still Opting for Drive-In Concerts, Calling Maskless Crowds 'Unsafe'

Entertainment for a COVID world. Taylor Shead and Olivia Taylor listen to Ashley Whitby play guitar while being served food by Casey Reid at Keller's drive-in. Vintage car owned by Lindel.EXPAND
Entertainment for a COVID world. Taylor Shead and Olivia Taylor listen to Ashley Whitby play guitar while being served food by Casey Reid at Keller's drive-in. Vintage car owned by Lindel.
Kathy Tran/Assistants: Daniel Rockey and Dean Burse
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Live music shows in crowded bars or music venues are soon due for a comeback, and the idea of maskless crowds gathering in indoor spaces is worrying one sector of the workforce: musicians.

Following Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement last week lifting the mask mandate and statewide restrictions for all businesses, audiences are itching to see live shows again. This week, many Dallas music venues said they'll be ignoring Abbott's mandate reversal, however, and will continue to observe CDC guidelines by operating at a limited capacity and requiring customers to wear masks.

Local artists, some of whom haven’t performed live since the early months of 2020, also aren't keen on the idea of getting back to performing in indoor spaces with packed and maskless audiences.

Nick Wright, a psych-rock artist in the band Caved Mountains, says it’s not the right time.

“We would love to do it. There’s a lot of excitement to go play shows, but it’s not the right thing to do,” Wright says. “Right now we’re focused on health and making sure people don’t get sick. We’re practicing here at my house. We’re not going into a jam space.”

Wright and the Caved Mountains worry that practicing in a space where other bands have also recently practiced could put them at risk of catching COVID. Since Grail Fest (a live-music listening and record-digging event that Wright had in the works since 2019) was canceled when the pandemic hit in 2020, the band has not done any live shows and isn’t planning any until it’s safe.

Caved Mountains is one of many Dallas music scene performers favoring safety and health over returning to business as usual. Some artists are sticking to virtual, socially distanced, and outdoor performances until more people can get a vaccine and COVID-19 cases go down. Drive-in performances are still an option for artists who want to see their audiences protected from each other. The Civilized Concert on March 6 offered just that.

Maya Piata, a soul singer who performed at the event, says drive-in concerts are the — current — future.

“It’s cool, but it’s also safe,” Piata says. “It operates within the social mandates we have, even with Texas with the recent lift of the mask mandate, we still have social cues. Everybody needs to decide for themselves as far as drive-in shows go; it makes enjoying life and live music, a community, a lot safer, which makes it a lot more fun.”

Many of the artists at the Civilized Concert were playing their first live show since last year. Van Gammon, a rapper and R&B artist from Arlington, has done virtual shows since last January and says he understands the decision to open businesses back up but isn’t going to be interacting with the public as much as he would like.

“Between the stage and the audience, I’m not too excited about them opening up so quickly,” Gammon says. “But I understand from the business aspect people need to go back work. There’s still gonna be ways that we can keep this safe for both performers and people who want to enjoy themselves.”

This is not to say live performances haven’t still been going on before the lifted restrictions. Some artists, such as Alex Hand and Richard Haskins, say this won’t change the music scene much, and they were used to maskless audiences.

Hand, a Denton-based guitarist who started doing live performances in December, says the new rules won’t make much difference.

“About the mask thing, it wouldn’t make much difference because most of the places I’ve been playing, people aren’t really wearing masks” Hand says. “So it’s probably not going to make that much of a difference at this point.”

Haskins, the singer for punk rock band Wee Beasties, has done a mix of virtual, live and drive-in shows during the pandemic. Drive-ins have proved to be the preferred option to indoor performances, even with lifted restrictions, he says.

“You want to be able to build a crowd,” Haskins says. “But at the same time, coming back, I just want people to be responsible.”

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