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How Social Sanctuary Reimagined Live Entertainment For The COVID Era

Saint Mark performs at Social Sanctuary

Photo by Dominic Palacios

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How Social Sanctuary Reimagined Live Entertainment For The COVID Era

The Los Angeles-based venue/studio has produced approximately 60 events since April, bringing bands, DJs and even comedians into a highly controlled space to record "safe at home" shows for streaming on social media

GRAMMYs/Jul 14, 2020 - 06:36 pm

A 40,000 square foot warehouse in southeast Los Angeles has been hosting concerts throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The stage was created by the same company who built Coachella's main stage in 2019, the lighting and LED wall are a similar festival quality, and the sound is huge. Yet there are only a dozen people working the venue—all of whom are operating at a distance with masks—and while the band is performing at full energy, there's no audience.

This is Social Sanctuary: a venue/studio designed for COVID-19 risk mitigation by some of Southern California's top music industry professionals. Social Sanctuary has produced approximately 60 events since April, bringing bands, DJs and even comedians into a highly controlled space to record "safe at home" shows for streaming on social media. Their goal is to far exceed the traditional in-home production many music fans have become used to while viewing livestreams during the pandemic, and provide an outlet for professionals whose industry has been decimated by the coronavirus. Live entertainment will be among the last pieces of "normal life" to resume—with many experts looking toward 2021 to begin tours, festivals and mid-sized shows—and the industry stands to lose billions in revenue in the interim. For the expansive network of event production professionals whose work dried up following nationwide shelter-in-place orders in March, Social Sanctuary is not only a proof of concept for post-COVID event production, but a return to normalcy.

"The mental health of our community has been really devastated during this pandemic," said Gallagher Staging CEO Joey Gallagher, whose company was set to build the main stage at this year's now-cancelled Coachella. "We were in expansion mode, and then all of a sudden that work immediately stops. So it's been great to have a place for us to put some focus and take our mind off of the current situation. Showing up at Social Sanctuary or doing a changeover mid-week has really given the crew something to work towards."

Gallagher and partners Anaconda Street Productions, Red House Productions and Surface-US had been working on separate streaming efforts early in the pandemic but quickly combined forces at Gallagher’s recently purchased warehouse using equipment each had on hand. “We didn't want to just jump on the wave of live streaming. We really wanted to make an impact with our production,” said Jordan Hartman, whose Red House Productions handles much of Social Sanctuary’s business development. Today there are 10 companies with equipment at Social Sanctuary, including Canon, and 40 to 50 crew (though the majority work from home). "It’s really pretty amazing to see all these companies coming together to keep the community alive in a time of uncertainty," Hartman said.

No one has opened a venue during a pandemic and the crew behind Social Sanctuary see themselves as pioneers in the development of best practices—to that end, their protocols are strict and comply with the highest standards set by the CDC, OSHA and the EPA. Talent, crew and media are all registered in a database, must fill out a health questionnaire and undergo a brief medical screening prior to entering the venue. Personal protective gear such as masks are required, a seven-foot social distance actively practiced and common areas such as restrooms, green rooms and break areas are regularly disinfected. There are no shared microphones and equipment such as turntables, and mixers are disinfected after every use. Social Sanctuary’s policies minimize the number of people on-site (which means no large entourages or media presence) and the venue has distanced workspaces surrounded in plexiglass for those employees who are always on set, as well as separated viewing platforms. They're also following up with people who have been in the building to monitor their health. "No one's gotten sick. Everyone complies with the CDC guidelines; everyone's wearing a mask. If you go out for lunch, you have to check back in and your temperature's taken; you're asked about your personal protection equipment. Everyone takes it pretty seriously," said audio/video/broadcast supervisor Ernie Mondaca, who owns Surface-US. "We've had DJs show up and they don’t want to wear a mask. We don't let them in; we have to cancel their set."

Social Sanctuary shares these best practices with others in the industry through the Entertainment Industry Response coalition (which Gallagher co-founded in April) and associated organizations like the Event Safety Alliance. "It's not as simple as it seems to give somebody a new way of performing or a new way of handling production. You're constantly having to remind yourself and others, Hey, pick up your mask, wear it properly," Gallagher said, adding that while some risk-mitigating protocols may not last, regularly disinfecting a venue's communal areas will likely continue post-COVID. "We’re essentially trying to retrain everybody. It's gonna take time and every day is a challenge when you have new personnel or new artists showing up to the venue."

Social Sanctuary has done concerts with EDM DJ crew 40oz Cult, The Gaslamp Killer and GraveDGR, country artist Rob Staley Band, an album release show for L.A. locals Arise Roots and a multi-band Reggae Against Racism event on Juneteenth emceed by Fishbone's Angelo Moore. A variety of band managers are helping fill out Social Sanctuary's concert calendar, which usually features four events a week. "We've had artists that were very afraid to show up to the venue. But by doing the right thing, and making sure they feel that they're being taken care of and we're mitigating risk as much as possible, we really got to see a shift in their attitude—from being afraid to being excited and being comfortable," Gallagher said. Everyone who's visited Social Sanctuary wants to come back, added Hartman.

Because all shows are streamed, Social Sanctuary has tweaked its production to become less of a live music event and more of a television broadcast. While every day is a learning experience, there haven’t been many technical difficulties beyond minor issues with streaming latency—due in large part to the venue's reliance on a seasoned crew. Although 80 percent are experienced event production professionals, Social Sanctuary employs a handful of younger staff who are "learning on the job, on a festival level rig—something that people who have been in the industry for 15 years don't have access to," Hartman said. "We're trying to bring in people who are just starting out in the industry to learn on this real production, rather than…being 40 years old and finally get their first tour where they get to play with some fun toys. We have all those toys ready to go."

The partners are still trying to figure out how to increase viewership—thus bringing in grants and marketing dollars from major companies and larger band—though growth has been organic thus far. Much like a traditional venue, Social Sanctuary's streams have more views when a bigger artist performs or there's significant promotion. "We don't have a massive amount of eyeballs on us, but the eyeballs that we do have are very important to the world of music," Hartman said. "I think that the most important thing that is missing is how the end user receives it. How do we bring that energy [of a live show] into the user's home?" Until the space can be used as a regular venue, the partners envision small, VIP-only shows and renting the space out to corporate clients. Those special events, as well as potential partnerships with virtual ticket sales companies, could make Social Sanctuary more financially feasible. "A lot of people didn't get to use their fourth quarter marketing budget [because of COVID] and are trying to offload all this money so that their budgets don't get slashed next year. How do we bring them into our space to do that with us, that's what we're dealing with right now," Mondaca said. "The product is great, it works beautiful. You can come in tonight with Diplo and we'll put on an amazing show. That's how tight the crews [is] running. Now that we got the great product, we've got to figure out how to attract BMW, Toyota, Honda, Coca Cola, whoever."

Yet the partners behind Social Sanctuary have varying ideas about the role streaming will play in the world of live events after COVID. While Mondaca thinks an emphasis on streaming may be temporary, Hartman, Gallagher and the duo behind Anaconda Street believe virtual shows will augment live performances into the future. A handful of independent venues are equipping their spaces for streaming, while more than 12 million Fortnite players watched an avatar of rapper Travis Scott during a virtual concert in April and various companies have been experimenting with augmented and virtual reality performances since at least 2017. "Post COVID, this is definitely gonna be something that people look to for live entertainment. Maybe they didn't even know it was an option, but now their favorite bands are performing in a live, high quality audio production, and they're able to see bands that they never thought they could," Hartman said.

Although people are embracing streaming, Gallagher believes it will never fully take over the experience of being at a live performance. Once large gatherings are allowed again, "everyone is going to want to go to a live event, be with a crowd, get that experience because there's nothing like that. You can't duplicate it. No matter how hard you try, going to a live concert or show is the best thing in the world."

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Jay-Z And Meek Mill's REFORM Donates Surgical Masks To Vulnerable Prison Population

Meek Mill

Photo: Brian Stukes/Getty Images

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Jay-Z And Meek Mill's REFORM Donates Surgical Masks To Vulnerable Prison Population

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says correctional facilities are particularly vulnerable places for COVID-19 to spread

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 05:01 am

Jay-Z and Meek Mill's criminal justice reform organization REFORM has donated roughly 100,000 surgical masks to correctional facilities including in the states of New York, Tennessee and Mississippi.

The organization said it donated 50,000 masks to New York City's Rikers Island Correctional Facility, 40,000 masks to the Tennessee Department of Correction and 5,000 to Mississippi State Penitentiary. Spin reports that an additional 2,500 masks were sent to a Rikers medical facility. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says correctional facilities are particularly vulnerable places for COVID-19 to spread.  

"Incarcerated/detained persons live, work, eat, study, and recreate within congregate environments, heightening the potential for COVID-19 to spread once introduced," according to the CDC. Other vulnerabilities include the fact that incarcerated people, for the most part, can't leave and, depending on the size of the facility, space for someone to medically isolate could be limited.

"We need to protect vulnerable people behind bars & GET THEM OUT!" REFORM said in a tweet. The organization sees this as a threat to public health and said on its website that it is working with experts and advocates "to develop a set of common-sense recommendations that would make us all SAFER."

They also announced on Twitter that they helped the South Carolina Department of Corrections locate 36,000 masks for their population. 

Across the nation, COVID-19 cases have been popping up in correctional facilities, including North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee

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Tame Impala Announce U.S. Tour Dates

Tame Impala

Photo: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/Getty Images

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Tame Impala Announce U.S. Tour Dates

In addition to headlining Coachella 2019, the Australian psych-rock outfit has revealed several more show dates stateside

GRAMMYs/Jan 30, 2019 - 06:55 am

Tame Impala, the GRAMMY-nominated psych-rock project of Australian Kevin Parker, has announced four new spring U.S. tour dates, following the group's headlining sets at Coachella in April.

The 2019 U.S. dates begin in Indio, Calif. at Coachella on April 13 and 20, followed by dates in Nashville, Tenn., Asheville, N.C., St. Augustine, Fla. and Miami in May. While Parker is a one-man show in the studio, he has a touring group to translate the music live. 

Last week, the group was also announced as a headliner at the Corona Capital festival in Guadalajara, Mex. on May 11. Other May dates Tame Impala is set to play include Shaky Knees in Atlanta, Boston Calling in Boston, and Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain.

Parker has revealed that a new album is on the way and will be released sometime before the end of 2019. Tame Impala's last album, 2015's Currents, was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 58th GRAMMY Awards

Tickets for the new show dates go on sale on Feb. 1 at 10 A.M. local time via Ticketmaster.

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Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

J. Cole

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

The second annual music festival from J. Cole's Dreamville Records squad and friends was first postponed from April until August, and will now have to wait until 2021

GRAMMYs/May 19, 2020 - 02:27 am

Dreamville Festival has announced they are canceling their 2020 event due to public safety concerns caused by coronavirus. The second annual edition of the one-day music fest, hosted by J. Cole and his talent-filled Dreamville Records, was originally slated to take place on April 6 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, N.C., but was rescheduled to Aug. 29 after the pandemic struck the U.S.

Like countless other events that were set to take place this year, it will now have to wait until 2021. Dreamville says all 2020 ticket holders will be receive refunds soon.

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"After much deliberation and careful monitoring of the current situation, we have decided to cancel Dreamville Festival 2020. Although we originally hoped it would be possible to bring you the festival this August, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has made this timeline no longer possible. This decision has been extremely difficult to make, but the safety of our fans, artists, and staff is always our top priority, and nothing will ever take precedence over your well-being," the organizers wrote in a statement shared across their social channels and on the fest's website.

The message also shared details on refunds, noting that all tickets purchased online will automatically be refunded to the original payment method, beginning this week. Fans who bought physical tickets from official points of purchase can request a refund here.

"Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this. Please stay safe, healthy, and sane so we can reunite with you in 2021," the statement added.

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According to Pitchfork, the debut Dreamville fest also faced unforeseen setbacks; it was originally set for Sept. 15, 2018 at Dorothea Dix Park but was pushed to April 6, 2019, due to Hurricane Florence. The 2019 event featured performances from Dreamville head Cole and labelmates J.I.D, BAS and Ari Lennox, as well as SZA, Big Sean, 21 Savage, 6LACK, Rapsody, Nelly and other heavy-hitters in hip-hop and R&B.

No artists have been revealed yet for the second edition of the fest.

The Dreamville squad earned their first two collective GRAMMY nominations at the most recent 62nd GRAMMY Awards; for Best Rap Album for the collaborative Revenge Of The Dreamers III and Best Rap Performance for one of its singles, "Down Bad." Cole earned a total of five nods, including for his work on that project, and took him his first GRAMMY win for his feature on 21 Savage's "A Lot."

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Coachella: How many years have GRAMMY winners headlined?
Lady Gaga is among the headliners at the 2017 Coachella festival

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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Coachella: How many years have GRAMMY winners headlined?

Find out how GRAMMY winners have dominated the lineup throughout the iconic Southern California festival's history

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

GRAMMY winners Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead are set to headline the 2017 Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival in Southern California over the next two weekends.

Did you know that a GRAMMY winner has been among the headliners at Coachella for all but two years in the festival's 18-year history? The lone exceptions are 2001 when GRAMMY nominees Jane's Addiction headlined and 2002 when GRAMMY nominees Björk and Oasis headlined.

Here's a list of GRAMMY-winning Coachella headliners by year:

1999: Beck, Tool
2003: Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers
2004: Radiohead
2005: Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails
2006: Tool
2007: Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers
2008: Prince
2009: Paul McCartney
2010: Jay Z, Muse, Gorillaz
2011: Arcade Fire, Kings Of Leon, Kanye West
2012: The Black Keys, Dr. Dre, Radiohead
2013: Phoenix, Red Hot Chili Peppers
2014: Arcade Fire, OutKast, Muse
2015: AC/DC, Drake, Jack White
2016: Calvin Harris
2017: Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead

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