Pop music had a year like no other, beginning 2021 with shuttered venues and ending with an explosion of concerts.
Not that music wasn’t being made. In the early months of the year, many musicians learned to change direction in 2020 and were streaming concerts, collaborating via Zoom and making albums one way or another, even if they couldn’t follow up those albums with concert tours.
Music was also back on television, and Columbus native Deshawn Goncalves competed on a socially distanced version of “American Idol,” making it into the top 10.
By March, live music was also peeking its head out in Columbus again, mostly in smaller clubs such as Natalie’s Grandview and Ace of Cups, which were at that point, restricted to 25% capacity.
In June, capacity limits were lifted in Ohio, but many larger venues remained closed for the summer. Outdoor concerts, however, started to take off.
The Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Picnic With the Pops returned to John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons in June, and, as Dispatch reviewer Lynn Green said, the concert was “exactly what so many people in Columbus needed to hear.”
Many music festivals were not as heavily attended as in the past. Some of the regulars — including Comfest and the Jazz & Ribs Fest — opted to wait until 2022 to resume programming. Others, such as the Dublin Irish Festival, chose formats that didn’t include quite so many people crowded together.
Other festivals, particularly those later in the summer, went on as planned, urging social distancing but not limiting crowds.
The Lancaster Festival was back in action in July, with lively outdoor concerts featuring The Band Perry and Don Felder.
One of the year’s biggest concerts, the Hella Mega Tour featuring Green Day and Weezer, unfolded in front of a large crowd on Aug. 17 at Historic Crew Stadium, in an event Dispatch reporter Adam Jardy called “a slice of normalcy again soundtracked by some of the best-known rock songs of the past 25 years.'”
Express Live made good use of its outdoor space beginning in August, with concerts by, among others, the Avett Brothers, Modest Mouse, Lady A and two sold-out shows featuring the homegrown music of Caamp, the first of which Dispatch reviewer Curtis Schieber called “as sunny as the afternoon was hot.”
Summer cruised toward an end with the Wonderbus Music Fest, featuring Kesha and Wilco, on the weekend of Aug. 28 on the CAS lawn, and the electronic music-themed Breakaway Music Festival at Historic Crew Stadium on Sept. 3-4. Luke Bryan extended the season into September with a Farm Tour concert in Baltimore on Sept.17.
Fall brought a certain amount of confusion for venues and their patrons, as establishments struggled to balance public safety and private enjoyment, and policies regarding masks, vaccinations, COVID testing and other safety measures were issued, re-examined and re-issued in a constantly evolving process that meant patrons had to be on their toes before attending any concert.
Musicians also got in on the act, with some refusing to perform in venues that required vaccinations, and others demanding that audiences be vaccinated or tested.
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Confusion aside, fall brought a music schedule that was at least as packed as any previous year, as concerts that had been postponed two or three times over the course of more than a year finally started to happened. Musicians who had been champing at the bit to get back onstage began touring and audiences who had been waiting, sometimes for literally years, to see their favorite artists finally got the chance to do so.
Nationwide Arena came back to life with a raucous, good-humored concert by Eric Church on Sept. 18.
Value City Arena returned with rock stalwarts Guns N’ Roses on Sept. 23.
The outdoor festivals came to a conclusion in the Hocking Hills on the weekend of Oct. 9, when the Nelsonville Music Festival and the Duck Creek Log Jam joined forces for the Hocking Hills Music Festival, a low-key but soul-satisfying event highlighted by a performance by bluegrass legend Del McCoury.
Columbus natives Twenty One Pilots put on three successful and very well-attended shows at Nationwide Arena at the end of October, with patient attendees waiting in line in the rain for a chance at prime real estate close to the front ot the stage, where Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun took full advantage of the theatrical possibilities offered by an arena show, without becoming bogged down by the mechanics of them.
Bob Dylan was back in town in November, in the resumption of his now 30-year-long “Endless Tour.”
December brought an explosion of arena and other large concerts, including a mellow one by James Taylor and Jackson Browne, and a higher-decibel one by Genesis.
Even in a year where COVID numbers were rising and falling and rising and falling and now rising again, most music venues have kept going, and a few new ones even joined the area.
The Ace of Cups opened under new ownership, Howl at the Moon came back to town — now in the Arena District — after more than 15 years, and the King of Clubs opened at the Continent. All are holding their own.
“Can’t complain,” said Ricky Wolf of the King of Clubs.
Many venues remain determinedly positive about pop music in Greater Columbus.
“Sales are going well. It looks to be a strong 2022, thankfully,” said Marissa McClellan, marketing director of PromoWest Productions, which handles Express Live and the Newport, as well as several smaller clubs.
“Ticket sales have been excellent,” said Gary O’Brien of Nationwide Arena and Value City Arena. “We have done 21 combined shows, including one at Mershon Auditorium, since we have resumed.”
Beneath the optimism, all has not been sunshine for pop music this year.
“Ticket sales have definitely increased since we started selling individual seats rather than socially distanced table seating only,” said Charlie Jackson, of the Natalie’s venues in Grandview and Worthington.
“But we continue to have canceled shows due to COVID. Band members test positive and have to reschedule, so sometimes we have empty nights due to that. The short answer is that ticket sales have gotten better, but we’re still not where we were attendance-wise before COVID.”