Tami Neilson asks fans to mask up to protect touring artists

Tami Neilson performs at the Aotearoa Music Awards at Spark Arena in November 2020 in Auckland....
Tami Neilson performs at the Aotearoa Music Awards at Spark Arena in November 2020 in Auckland. Photo: Getty Images
It's no longer compulsory indoors, but if you're heading to a gig, should you be masking up?

Some artists and promoters are encouraging their audiences to wear face coverings to help keep them safe.

That's because a Covid-19 outbreak during a tour can destroy years worth of planning and wreck musicians' livelihoods, not to mention the potentially devastating health consequences.

Country and soul musician Tami Neilson, who's currently on the New Zealand leg of a world tour for her new album Kingmaker, is among those urging show-goers to wear masks in order to protect performers and other audience members.

"Asking my audience to just try to help us to stay on the road. It's something that I really felt compelled to do to protect my band, to protect myself and my crew," Neilson said.

"You know, my audience, I have a more mature demographic and want to protect them as well."

And it appears her audience have listened - at her sold out Aotea Centre gig last Saturday, a sea of face coverings warmed the Canadian-born artist's heart.

"Walking onto the stage and seeing 2000 people wearing masks because they care enough about us to protect us and to protect each other was really special," she said.

"It filled my heart and it put me at ease completely, and then I could perform the show feeling pretty safe that I could continue to tour for the rest of this month."

Neilson said she's seen the toll that Covid-19 has taken on the live music scene, with touring parties struck down by the illness on the road.

"I've just had that happen to way too many artist friends and colleagues who get about three or four shows into a tour that they've been looking forward to for and working on for a year, after so many cancellations and postponements for the past couple of years.

"So much heartbreak and money lost and income. If all it takes is asking if someone can please wear a mask, you know, that's not a big ask when it comes to the livelihood of the performers that you love."

Promoter Reuben Bonner runs Auckland-based Banished Music, which puts on shows for local and international artists.

After the lean times caused by lockdowns and alert levels restrictions, Bonner said the live industry is not out of the woods yet.

"After you've gotten through this really tough couple of years where you weren't sure if the environment would let the show go ahead because of restrictions, now we're kind of full guns blazing and we're able to do shows.

"But that doesn't mean that if an artist gets sick it's gonna go ahead, so that's another way things get stopped really quickly. So it's still like Russian roulette really."

While Banished Music staff wear masks at shows and encourage the audience to do the same, Bonner said he understood that some people see gigs as an escape from all things Covid-19, so might be reluctant.

But from a promoter's point of view, he said last minute cancellations due to artists' going down with Covid-19 could be extremely disruptive.

"It's a nightmare. It really just smashes things around completely - on an organisational level, on a morale level, on an emotional level and severely on a financial level."

US experience hits home

For Tami Neilson, when she travelled overseas and saw how badly other countries had been affected, it really hit home.

She recalled a conversation she had with an Uber driver in Texas in March.

"I said, 'We reached our first 100 deaths today', and my Uber driver just started sobbing and said, 'Do you mean 100,000?'

"I said, 'no', and she said, 'I'm sorry, I lost my momma to Covid'.

"We just don't realise how horrific it's been around the world because we haven't lived in that experience."

While no one liked wearing masks, it was worth it to keep people safe, she said.

"I don't know one person who enjoys wearing a mask. I don't, and it's very disconcerting looking out to an audience and not getting to see people's smiles and expressions.

"It's not something that any of us enjoy, but it's the same as if you sneeze in front of someone, you sneeze into your elbow.

"It's just really basic hygiene, and even without Covid we have so many bugs going around right now, and you don't want to give that to anyone, and you don't want to get it from anyone."

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