The Virgin Money Unity Arena in Newcastle claims to be the “UK’s first dedicated socially distanced music venue,” and it just held its first live show this week. The outdoor venue has an extensive green space in front of the stage for fans, with a seating arrangement that’s a bit different: 500 semipermanent, metal, “personal platforms” for groups of up to five—all six feet apart of course. If booking managers want to get major acts such as Taylor Swift selling out concerts sooner rather than later, take note. This could be a way to rock out safely (that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is always about, right??).
The UK’s first socially distanced concert is happening now in Newcastle.
Attendees have their own private viewing area with 6-feet of space between them.
A whole new world…pic.twitter.com/JD8UNGXJdF
— Rex Chapman???????? (@RexChapman) August 12, 2020
Large gatherings have been banned, to varying degrees, for a while now here in the United States, and industries that rely in part on live events for revenue, such as the music business, have been hit hard. Hundreds of events have been canceled or postponed, according to a running list kept by Billboard. At least one concert was held in the United States with social distancing measures: an Arkansas Travis McCready concert. However, it was held in an indoor stadium at 20% capacity.
In contrast, the architecture of the Virgin Money Unity Arena was intentionally designed for the requirements of social distancing, so the space feels at capacity when each of these platforms is full, even if there’s space between them. That shared experience is a big part of the appeal of live events. Who wants to go to a concert and be surrounded by empty seats?
Concertgoers at the Newcastle venue aren’t just released to their respective “personal platforms” either. After parking on-site in spaces six feet apart, fans enter a socially distanced line, and a staff member takes the group to their personal area (they can’t choose it themselves). Fans are encouraged to preorder food and drinks for pickup on arrival, but they can also order on-site via the venue’s app. (More info on that to come, according to the venue website.) Once the concert is over, a staff member escorts each group back to their car.
— Virgin Money Unity Arena (@VMUnityArena) August 13, 2020
Sure, being escorted out of the arena reduces the chance of a serendipitous encore. But summer is almost over. I’ll take any chance for live music I can get. And with design like this, summer concert season could just be getting started. The venue, conceived with live event promoter SSD Concerts, has concerts slated through mid-September.