Here’s why tickets at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater are selling out so quickly
Tickets are selling out fast to events at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. With limited programming and seats available due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans have been jumping on ticket sales, online and in person at the box office.
“We have been having tremendously quick sell-outs. We’ve been having tremendously positive response,” said Director of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater Tom Boyd.
But even the fact that The Amp is able to host concerts and movie nights is a national anomaly. Since nationwide shut-down orders, musicians and the venues that host them are struggling to survive financially. While The Amp has faced some of those same problems, key quirks about the venue have allowed it to position itself in the best way possible: offering valuable concert experiences in the Vail Valley during the pandemic.
The first question is: how is the Vail Valley able to even offer concerts right now?
The answer starts outside the music industry itself. Eagle County was an early hotspot for the virus. As a small community, governments were able to quickly mobilize, implementing stay-at-home orders that ultimately allowed the county to move to less-strict phases of social distancing earlier than other areas around the country.
Though recent public health orders have tightened previous gathering size caps as a result of increased COVID-19 case numbers, the county is still able to offer experiences that are currently impossible in other areas of the country. One of those things, of course, is live music.
Boyd went on to explain that the key factor that has enabled The Amp to resume operations in a COVID-safe fashion is The Vail Valley Foundation. The non-profit owns the venue structures, and is able to provide several things:
- Individual donors making financial contributions of all sizes
- Municipal support from the town of Vail
- Corporate sponsors, which are matching to the VVF’s Turn Up The Amp campaign to help support the venue
The same goes for the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, also owned and operated by the Vail Valley Foundation. The VPAC has been selling tickets to the Ghost Light Sessions, which started as a series of livestream-only concerts with local and regional artists. The VPAC is also following strict social distancing guidelines.
The other question is: how are tickets selling out so fast when that’s not the case anywhere else in the United States?
“Pollstar, which is a national industry magazine, called asking the same question,” Boyd said.
When you consider the fact that the venue is only able to sell 175 tickets to comply with public health orders, it makes sense why they go so fast. The venue normally can host 2,600 people.
As for venue safety, The Amp has placed staff members at every step of the way, including on the path from Vail Village to the venue. Before the event, each ticketholder receives emailed communications about venue policies. At the event, staff reminds guests of COVID-19 policies at the venue, including required use of clear bags for touchless security checks. They’ve been giving bags to people who don’t have them.
“We’ve had 99% compliance with every single one of our protocols, and in the rare case that somebody isn’t following the protocols, we quickly correct them and they change their behavior,” Boyd said. “Everybody’s been understanding that it’s completely different and they’ve been really thankful.”
And statistically, social distancing guidelines at The Amp can be far exceeded. Boyd said that the Colorado social distancing calculator asks outdoor venues to be able to provide 29 square feet per person in. With 175 people in the 3,300 square foot amphitheater, each person gets 188 square feet.
Even though The Amp is facing some of the same problems all venues are facing in the pandemic, the conversations happening here in the Vail Valley are so different from the national ones.
The vast majority of live music venues are small businesses. They have zero incoming revenue without shows: with high fixed costs like rent in desirable urban areas, venues face an impossible challenge to stay afloat.
As a result, venues are closing nationwide as businesses, artists and fans lobby congress to support the Save Our Stages and RESTART Acts. Introduced by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the bill would provide six months of financial assistance to venues. The Payment Protection Program (PPP) is not well-designed for venues: the 8-week loan period won’t help an industry which was the first to close and the last to reopen. Additionally, that program is designed to foremost help companies pay employees, where most venues had to lay off or furlough nearly all staff.
The House of Representatives enters August recess starting Friday, July 31 and the Senate is off starting Friday, Aug. 7. Both are off until after Labor Day. Delays in passing the bill could be fatal to 90% of all venues in the U.S.
Artists themselves are also in a financial bind, as the lion’s share of a musician’s paycheck comes from tours and live shows. To help artists directly, Bandcamp streaming services’ Bandcamp Fridays give the company’s revenue share of merch and music sales directly to artists. The program started over the spring, and due to resounding success, will continue through 2020. As of July 23, fans have put more than $20 million directly into musicians’ pockets.
The National Independent Venue Association, one of the forefront voices in the live music conversation, represents 2,000 venues in all 50 states and is working to educate the public about these issues on social media channels.
On top of financial crisis, many national stories coming out about concerts right now haven’t been positive. Most notably, a drive-in Chainsmokers concert on July 25 in the Hamptons in Long Island, New York required touchless temperature checks to enter, but once guests parked their cars, many did not wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines, and venue staff was not enforcing policies. That concert is now under a Department of Health investigation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced two days after the show.
The Amp has not seen or had to deal with those issues because of its commitment to creating an environment where guests can feel safe throughout the duration of the event. Because, after all, though concerts aren’t considered essential businesses, Boyd believes they’re more than essential to the human experience.
“What’s the difference between human beings and every other species on Earth? And it’s art and artistic expression. To me, it’s essential to what it means to be human,” he said.