After over a year of silence, local venues in Birmingham are roaring back to life with bigger concerts and larger crowds.
When bands halted national tours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, local concert venues had to find creative new ways to stay afloat.
Two of Birmingham’s most prominent venues are Iron City and Avondale Brewing Company. Both have been known to secure national acts and attract large crowds, but what sets them apart in the COVID era is the question of indoor shows verses outdoor shows.
Brooke Garrison, the co-general manager of Iron City, said the venue were forced to close when COVID-19 first hit, in compliance with state lock-down regulations. Eventually, it was able to reopen for small weddings.
“When we weren’t having shows, people weren’t able to work. We weren’t able to help them pay their bills, some had to get second jobs outside of the music industry, which was really hard for a lot of people because the music industry has been their whole life. And they just had to change their whole life because of COVID.”Brooke Garrison, Co-General Manager of Iron City
Avondale Brewing Company, on the other hand, has both indoor event spaces and an outdoor space most commonly used to host concerts or screen football games.
Lauren Dunston, the ticketing manager at Avondale Brewing, describes the versatile spaces.
“We have a whole campus, so we aren’t just a concert venue, we aren’t just a brewery, and we aren’t just an event venue, we are all of the above. We’ve got a sports simulator- the bands love it, we have an awesome LED wall on our stage, 30 feet, it is perfect for football games, for concerts — and I think it’s pretty awesome we brew our own beer on site as well, cause you don’t get that at most venues.”Lauren Dunston, Ticketing Manager at Avondale Brewing Company
She credits that versatility for keeping Avondale afloat in the midst of the pandemic,
“During the pandemic, when it hit, we sat and took a step back and said ‘OK, what’s the way to keep our guests as safe as we possibly can?'”Lauren Dunston
The answer to this was hosting local bands and giving guests assigned seating at pods or tables, a first for the venue. Hosting local bands allowed Avondale to continue to provide live music and support Birmingham artists.
Fast forward to now, and both venues have nearly full schedules at nearly full capacity.
National tours bring thousands of fans to local venues, where, no longer confined to tables or pods, they crowd the barricades at the front of the stage. There are no masks required, and consequently very few are seen.
Instead, fans are most often required to provide a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination in order to enter.
“Per the artist’s request, we require a negative COVID test. [If show attendees have a] vaccine card, they are welcome to do that as well but we only require the negative test, not the vaccine card.”Lauren Dunston
That practice is standard for many venues, and while the reception has been generally positive, Garrison said some Iron City patrons have had negative responses.
“We’ve gotten some people who have absolutely sent hate mail. They’ve just been like, ‘I am not wearing a mask, I am not coming.’ I mean I don’t know what to tell you, these are the guidelines, this is what we have to do.”Brooke Garrison
Faith Holley, a Birmingham student who regularly attends concerts and festivals, is vaccinated and believes venues and artists are making the right decisions regarding COVID protocols.
“I am going to about three more concerts this year. I appreciate that we have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, but I also think masks should be mandatory for the unvaccinated and more encouraged for everybody.”Faith Holley, Birmingham Student
Dunston acknowledged that being an outdoor venue has benefited them greatly when it comes to scheduling, as some artists are refusing to play shows indoors,
“Especially since we are outside, we have had a lot of shows move here instead of indoors.”Lauren Dunston
However, despite protocols and potential scheduling difficulties, both venues are optimistic about their coming seasons.
Iron City: “We just got a new talent buyer, so I am optimistic for him to start working and start booking more and more shows. I feel like we have a really good setup to be successful going forward.”Brooke Garrison
Avondale Brewing: “We are incredibly optimistic. We’ve had an awesome reception from everyone. We’ve been able to keep the music coming and keeping everyone happy and we have a really awesome season.”Lauren Dunston
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