From May 26 through May 29, 2020, The Dropkick Murphy's and Mindpool Productions collaborated to produce a broadcast quality concert "Streaming out of Boston" in the intra/post-COVID-19 world. Prior to this date, the live music industry has been struggling to find some solution to bringing quality produced live music to a home audience without the musician in the basement look. The answer was an open-air baseball stadium not currently used for it's intended purpose due to the pandemic. The venue has hosted major musical acts in the past, such as Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney, to name a few. However, the concerts were in the traditional stage and audience format we were all used to attending. This concert by the Dropkick Murphys did not have a stage nor audience, and the musicians were roughly 15-20 feet apart, and the final output was to streaming broadcast. The logistical challenges were unique for both the venue, the production company, and the band. This article looks to document best practices throughout the planning and execution of this concert using the CDC guidelines for preventing COVID-19 exposure.
The planning of this concert was the idea of the Dropkick Murphys. They approached Mindpool initially to produce this show. Josh Adams, the owner of MindPool Live "The Dropkick Murphys, reached out to me and said, Hey, we're thinking about doing this. Is this something you would consider or be interested in? And you know, right away the conversation has turned to, you know, how are we going to do this with safety in mind? And once we all realized we could put a safety plan in place, that's when things started to go forward."
The concert staff consisted of three groups: The Dropkick Murphys and their backline staff, the MindPool Live crew, and the production crew. Mindpool was in charge of the overall production. Video Productions was assisting Mindpool with the technical direction of the show as well as providing playback and access to the main video board in centerfield. Along with this, video productions were also in charge of some graphics and transmission lines to broadcast.
However, there were significant crew health questions that needed addressing. How could we do this safely without getting the crew, the band, and other workers sick? Was additional personal protection equipment (PPE) needed, and who needed it? Who was going to pay for that equipment? How do you safely let musicians and crew use restroom facilities? How do you divide and isolate certain parts of crew members to avoid cross-contamination between crew groups?
The first step in the planning process was designating crew areas and limiting contact between other crews. "Everybody had a color-coded assignment that defined workspaces. Josh said, "we had assigned bathrooms per group of workers, so there was no cross-sharing of bathrooms." Secondly, the city of Boston had a few public safety rules in place, mainly the number of people in an area at one time and a citywide curfew of 9:00 pm. The venue was only allowed to have 35 people total in the park at one time. This included band members, working staff, security, and park detail. "The part that took it the next level was identifying work times, adding much more time that is normally needed for a load in because everything was taking a lot longer. We used half as many people, and we took twice as much time," said Josh. Time management became a crucial component of the concert at every level of the crew's organizational chart. Also, the decision about which team member was allowed to be onsite and allowed to work remotely became a key factor. "Our technical and production co-manager was off-site. It turned out to be a great decision. He wasn't getting pulled into a thousand other things. He was probably better able to coordinate than he would have if he were onsite because of just the rush of trying to get everything done, and that was a pleasant surprise." Said Josh. Other Mindpool members worked off-site in such capacity as graphic creation and editors.
The CDC recommends a multi-step approach to preventing the spread of the virus from person-to-person. As of the date, this article was written, the virus spreads through "close person-to-person contact (within 6 feet) through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms."
Dr. Eric Osgood, Medical Director at Physician Practice Enhancement and front line COVID-19 doctor in Trenton NJ, commented: "I believe the first law of safety in the COVID-19 pandemic is 'behave as though you are asymptomatically carrying it,' so assume your respiratory droplets are loaded and act accordingly to protect those around you and everyone they interact with."
To prevent the spread of the virus, the CDC recommends these preventative measures:
1) Wash your hands often. If you are not near a hand washing station, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
2) Avoid close contact. Maintain a 6-foot minimum separation between you and another person.
3) wear face coverings. Face coverings could be cloth or surgical in the material.
4) Clean and disinfect surfaces with EPA registered household disinfectants. These surfaces include all workstations, equipment, and commonly touched surfaces like doorknobs and light switches.
5) Monitor your health. Take your temperature daily and look for common symptoms of COVID-19, such as:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Upon entering the venue, workers were asked to complete a health screening survey before driving to the facility. The survey asked the following questions:
"Have you, or anyone you have been in contact with, had a positive test or presumptive positive test for Covid-19 in the last 14 days?"
"Have you had any signs or symptoms of a fever in the past 24 hours, such as chills, sweats, or had a temperature that is elevated for you/100.0F or greater?"
"Are you experiencing any of the following symptoms?
Fever chills or repeated shaking with chills
New Cough (not related to chronic condition)
Nasal Congestion or Runny Nose (not associated with seasonal allergies)
New Loss of Smell or Taste
Shortness of Breath or Chest Tightness (that is new/unusual to you)"
Musician Plot and Layout
There were some unique characteristics of playing in a baseball stadium. First, the stadium is an open-air facility. The crew and Musicians had plenty of space to operate safely with plenty of fresh air. Because of the pandemic, no major league sports were in operation at the time of this concert. Thus, the band had use of the infield, which is typically off-limits to concerts during the season. The musicians were able to set up 15-20 feet apart as if they were positions on the baseball diamond. Technical tents were set up near the dugouts and were roughly 40 feet away from the closest musicians. Musicians wore face coverings until they got to their stations on the field.
Because the musicians were playing on the infield, most of the equipment sat upon plastic flooring used to protect the infield dirt from scaring. This synthetic flooring also protected the amplifiers from sitting directly on the crushed clay of the baseball diamond. The singers were allowed to sing on the infield grass and, on occasion, the pitcher's mound. Again, this allowed for 15-20 feet of distance between each musician at all times during the performance.
Once you passed the screening questionnaire, you had to print out or provide a screenshot to the security gate. At the security gate, all workers were wearing face coverings and gloves. Security asked each individual to stand in front of a thermal camera, which took the person's temperature. If the temperature was below 100 deg Fahrenheit, the worker was then cleared to pass through the gate. Once the person passed through the metal detectors, they were provided a sticker, which indicated which zone they worked in and which restrooms you were assigned.
Inside the park, employees wore masks at all times, and Clorox wipes were available at each workstation. Hand sanitizer stations were visible at each doorway and consistently refilled by the cleaning staff. Bathroom floors, walls, and fixtures were washed and sanitized with industrial power washers and cleaning products every 3 hours.
Load-in for a concert or production is often a carefully choreographed in pre-COVID19 conditions. In post COVID19, it was more complicated (insert a quote from A1). All stage hands wore masks and gloves. Most of the time, the stage workers were socially distant except when cases required a two-person carry. Small 10x10 tents were set up for the technical crew off to the side near the dugouts. These tents only had top coverings, and all four sides were exposed to the open air.
The set up of the instruments and microphones occurred just like any other live concert would have. Instrument techs set up amplifiers and road cases in position according to the plot provided. Audio crews set up microphones and monitors while video production crews set up robotic cameras at each musician station. The most significant disadvantage to the stage crew was the distance needed to travel from the equipment staging area to its final position. (insert stage crew quote) Since the musicians would be on the baseball infield dirt, all equipment had to be moved by hand and carried as not to damage the turf. Again, each worker wore a face covering.
Once the band's equipment was in place, Audio and Video placed microphone cables and video cables in the positions outlined in pre-production. Each band member (except for the singers) had robotic iso cameras. A video engineer on the field controlled these. Each band member had an individual monitor speaker and a singing microphone. Audio FOH also placed microphones in front of speaker cabinets, in front of bagpipes, and over the drums at this time.
Sound Check Camera and Blocking
Musicians wore face coverings while on the sidelines, while walking to their equipment and until they were ready to play. Because of the distance between the performer and their amplifiers, the soundcheck continued to be socially distant. Performers were able to play their instruments while tech crews adjusted microphone positions and cameras far enough from musicians to be well outside the CDC recommended 6-foot distance.
Four camera technicians operated the hard patched Triax cameras. One camera operator was above the field in the high home position frequently used during baseball broadcasts. Two other operators were on the ground about 120 feet away at the edge of the wall and infield foul territory. One camera person was operating a wireless hand-held Sony XD camera and was able to move to different positions. This operator observed all social distancing rules and had frequent communication with the director about blocking positions that were creative yet safe to both themselves and the band.
The concert, Breakdown, and Loadout
The show was rehearsed and executed with minimal changes to the original format. The final output stream was delivered to BrightCove, a back end service provider. Viewers were able to view the concert on various social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch)
During the breakdown, the same precautions were taken as during the setup. Staff still wore face coverings and gloves. Equipment was cleaned and wiped down as typically would be during an outdoor concert.
Crew members were socially distant and packed each piece of equipment inside road cases while rolling them out individually.
As for the band's performance logistics, Jon Marcantonio, monitor engineer, said that precautions were taken even with the instruments. "Yes, we were constantly wiping everything down we touched, everyone stayed in their own “zone,” nobody used anyone else’s mics, and we stayed masked up all day. There were no direct instrument handoffs, their next instruments were left in stands behind them, and in some cases, guitar changes were made by musicians tossing guitars across the field at techs. Note: The guitar was caught every time."
Challenges and Recommendations for Future Concerts
According to the CDC, the first line of defense is frequent hand-washing. In addition to hand sanitizer, portable wash stations closer to the worksite for crew members would have an even more significant impact. Dr. Osgood recommended a good rule of thumb is to wash your hands often, for a minimum of 20 seconds.
Masks and face coverings made it very difficult for open-air communication. "Generally, standing so far away from people you’re trying to communicate with was a challenge," said John Marcantonio. Once wireless communication was established, crew members were able to talk a bit easier to each other. Masks often block out the high-frequency portion of the voice spectrum, usually where the intelligibility of speech lies. Assigning every crew member a headset microphone and headphones might make communication a lot easier with face coverings.
Manual labor with face coverings proved extremely challenging. Often heart rates get up around 120-160 depending on the task. That challenge will be something that managers need to monitor for crew safety and best practice effectiveness.
In terms of people management, Josh Adams found that the required level of planning was more significant than he anticipated. "The biggest challenge is that you just can't do anything that you're used to doing. You have to plan everything, including meals. We couldn't have a food service because we couldn't ensure an environment where we could feed everybody safely. So workers had to bring their meals and social distance while eating." Additionally, with a limited crew, Josh stated that he would add a day to the load in process in future concerts and plan to use even more space between technical crew stations.
As for taking temperature for crew members, Dr. Osgood said, "as far as using temp of 100.0 - temp guidelines vary state to state, I would use oral temp of 99.5 as a cutoff which some states have done, this was the cutoff for temp used in the original studies coming out of China. I would also advise caution with those forehead gun thermometers for people working outdoors in the sun, which will give you false fevers." Some states do allow a "cool off period," giving the worker a chance to re-test in the case of a false fever. Check your local guidelines as they vary from state to state.
Mindpool demonstrated entertainment production could happen while closely observing the CDC guidelines for preventive COVID19. Caution is still needed to ensure performer and crew safety as the CDC recommendations are there to minimize the risk of transmission, but not eliminate it. Crew members can always be asymptomatic and be within the infective window; thus, not all risk can be minimized. Proper planning is essential. Reducing exposure between crew groups through pre-production planning and project management is a crucial component of risk mitigation. Ensuring that crew members follow safety protocols is where thoughtful leadership will set the example. Our goal in the production industry is to provide quality production and entertainment to an audience starving for art in the time of this pandemic. It is our responsibility to produce that art safely to all those involved.