A Look at How Local Venues Are Rescheduling Already Rescheduled Events

When will it be safe to host large events again? Event planners are having to place their bets.

After performing in front of a capacity crowd at Fiserv Forum in October 2019 as part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, legendary performer Elton John quickly planned a return visit to the sparkling Downtown arena for an encore performance.

That show, scheduled for April, ended up being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Elton’s show was among many major concerts scheduled for Fiserv Forum that had to be temporarily shelved, or canceled altogether, as performing in jam-packed arenas became impossible to carry out responsibly in the middle of a crippling public health crisis. 

The Lumineers’ tour stop on March 11 turned out to be Fiserv Forum’s last event, to this point. Concerts by Blake Shelton, Michael Bublé, Roger Waters and others ended up being scrapped. No concerts are scheduled for the remainder of the year. 

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Frustrated concert promoters are slowly starting to reschedule shows, a task that requires some serious speculating on their part as to when the COVID-19 crisis will be controlled, or a viable vaccine developed. 

Promoters recently announced that Elton’s Milwaukee show has been rescheduled for April – of 2022. This means that the concert, if it happens, will take place two years later than initially scheduled. 

In an announcement on Facebook, the English rocker said he is “making big plans for a return to touring that will allow us to ensure the health and safety of everyone.” He plans to start his tour again in Europe and the United Kingdom in the fall of 2021, with North American dates starting in January 2022.  

Popular indie rock act Tame Impala’s show at Fiserv Forum, originally planed for May, has been rescheduled for October 2021. Other rescheduled shows at Fiserv include: Bublé (February 2021); Alan Jackson (September 2021); and Dan + Shay (September 2021).

Fiserv Forum formally opened in August 2018. The first live event featured a concert by The Killers and Milwaukee’s own Violent Femmes on September 4, 2018. Since it opened its doors, Fiserv Forum had become a hub for sports, concerts and other events until it all came to a screeching halt in March.

Since then, the $524 million arena has sat virtually empty. The Milwaukee Bucks, who had compiled the NBA’s best record when the pandemic hit, had to finish their season in a “bubble” created at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  

A Fiserv Forum spokesman declined to comment on the rescheduling of concerts at the facility and the challenges it presents, but there is no doubt that getting rescheduled shows, as well as new ones, on the venue’s calendar will remain an extremely challenging task.

A return to packed concert venues any time soon seems implausible, especially given that Wisconsin has become a hotbed of COVID-19 cases.

The Pabst Theater Group, which operates the Pabst Theater, Riverside Theater, Turner Hall Ballroom, and the Backroom at Colectivo Coffee, has been scrambling to set new dates for concerts that already had been rescheduled because of the pandemic.

“That’s been going on for many months,” Pabst Theater Group Chief Operating Officer Matt Beringer said.

Back in March, optimistic estimates fueled hope that local concert venues would be back in action by summer, Beringer said.

“That obviously didn’t happen,” he said.

Now projections of a return to some sort of normal stretch well into 2021. 

Major arena shows have huge investments attached to them, a main reason for why some concerts are being pushed to 2022, Beringer explained.

“I don’t believe that is the industrywide belief of when live shows will come back but it certainly feels like a conservative, safe estimate,” he said. “But I think it’s a foregone conclusion that any semblance of those normal, full-capacity concerts aren’t going to happen for sure inside of 2020 or early 2021. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.”

The Pabst Theater Group has monitored what other groups are doing in Milwaukee and across the country and is encouraged by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s decision to hold a one-actor version of A Christmas Carol with a socially distanced audience at the Pabst Theater.

“That feels like encouragement that something could make sense for the size of the venues that we have,” Beringer said. 

The Pabst Theater Group has been putting on ghost tours at the Riverside Theater this month, which have been limited to groups of 10 or less. Attendees are required to wear facial coverings and abide by social distancing requirements. 

But a return to live music with sizeable audiences is essential for the survival of local performance spaces, he insisted.

“There is no sustaining this without some kind of government assistance,” Beringer said. “For independent venues, it’s just a basic fact. It’s not sustainable.”

The Pabst Theater Group continues to work the National Independent Venue Association to raise awareness among the public and government officials of the need for funding.

“It’s not just a given that these institutions will always be around,” Beringer said.

After an initial round of federal funding, support has dried up, he added.

“We’re also hopeful that the state of Wisconsin will identify the need of helping out these independent venues that will die without some level of governmental support. There’s just no getting around it,” he said.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.