Reflections on managing a successful COVID-Safe event during the Omicron Wave with Melanie Hoad – Head of Production for Under the Southern Stars
With 12 dates stretched across 4 States and a line up consisting of multiple local and international bands including headliners Cheap Trick, Stone Temple Pilots and Bush; putting together a touring festival the size of Under the Southern Stars would be no easy feat at the best of times. Throw in the Omicron wave and some changing mandates and requirements at all levels of Government and you have the potential for so much to go wrong. However, with meticulous planning and cool-headed determination, UTSS was a resounding success.
So, what does it take to pull together an event of this scale during a pandemic? We caught up with Head of Production – Melanie Hoad, for some insight into how to keep your mindset positive, and your Covid tests negative while on the road.
Like many events impacted by the pandemic over the last two and a half years, Under the Southern Stars had its fair share of setbacks, postponements and uncertainties. Despite that, Melanie remained cautiously optimistic that they could see this through “Throughout the entire planning process for UTSS since the onset of covid – covid safety measures and precautions have been at the forefront of all decisions.”
While free hand sanitiser and contactless payments are now familiar sights in most public settings, there were additional measures put in place for UTSS to keep patrons COVID-safe without impacting on their overall enjoyment. These included selecting large open air outdoor venues that allowed for natural physical distancing, increasing the amount of amenities, food and beverage offerings to avoid crowding and queues in places, as well as simple things like allowing patrons to BYO camp chairs so people could stretch out and enjoy the bands from a comfortable distance rather than crowding at the stage.
Behind the scenes was also a carefully managed “bubble” for the crew, support staff and the artists themselves as COVID-safe measures were even more strictly controlled to avoid any possible outbreaks of the highly infectious Omicron strain that was sweeping through the Eastern States at the time. Melanie emphasised “Only performers, their immediate crews, production crews and select support crew were permitted back of house. Any additional or local crew were subject to daily rapid antigen testing and were not actually permitted within the “bubble”.”
UTSS also employed a back-of-house Covid Marshal who “took charge of testing and enforcing these areas so that our Covid bubble remained in place throughout the twelve date tour.” Explained Melanie. Having a dedicated person on-site taking charge of risk mitigation when it came to infectious disease management was an important addition to the tour. It was also a valuable one when you consider the impact cancellations and sickness can have on the success of an event and the health of your performers, some of whom are in higher risk categories.
With the festival now concluded and Melanie having had time to relax and reflect on an event that had “consumed our lives for the last three years – through no fault of our own” thanks to the pandemic, she stresses that the overall benefits of putting on shows and keeping tours on the road far outweigh the setbacks that you may encounter along the way. “Encouragement is what’s called for in my opinion! While touring has ‘evolved’ since the onset of covid, the cathartic benefits to the music lovers of Australia remains the same and if anything is in higher demand than ever before. The challenges are worth it and the show/s must go on – as music, live shows, live music and entertainment are part of our human DNA and we cannot live without them!”
With Covid case numbers steadily decreasing and restrictions easing across the country, there are encouraging signs that things are finally returning to normal, albeit with some added precautions. Melanie has a few tips for those heading out on tour and a couple easy items to chuck in the bag “One of my life goals was to eventually travel light, but I’ve thrown that concept out the window. Here are some essential, cannot tour without items for your own suitcase: disposable gloves, face masks, lip balm, RATs and antibacterial wipes.”
While Covid may have changed so many aspects of our lives, it has caused a shift in mindset on what it means to take care of our health while on the road. Knowing that one positive case can quickly spread and ground a whole tour means people are now being more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to preventing illness. They’re talking about their physical and mental health regularly, they’re taking precautions and making choices that ultimately benefit not only their own wellbeing but that of all of those around them. One day when the pandemic is a distant memory, we should still be reaping the benefits of those positive lifestyle changes we had to make as a result of it and that will make all those tough times we faced in the industry worth it.