This is what it was like to attend the UK’s first ever socially distanced gig

You have to arrive at 6pm for the first act at 9pm…wow

On the surface, attending a socially distanced concert sounds like absolute hell. For extroverts, at least. Dancing in a group of four as opposed to a crowd of 40,000. None of the mess of a regular gig, no sneaky drug-taking, or drink throwing. But for introverts? It’s heaven. Socially distanced pods, no pushing and shoving in the crowd, only having to interact with people you already know.

But really the new reality of gigging in the UK has something for everyone. Drinks get brought to you on a little buggy, you can choose whether you want to sit or stand and don’t have to stick to it, tall people can’t stand in front of you, the toilets barely have a queue and they’re sparkling clean. Covid has eliminated all the grimy parts of concerts, which is sad initially – the grime is part of the experience – but in practice, it’s pretty sick. Two attendees of the UK’s first-ever socially distanced concert talked to The Tab about their time seeing Sam Fender in Newcastle this week, and everything you should expect from a post-Covid gig.

You had to arrive early, and by car

Everyone attending the socially distanced concert was asked to arrive by car, so Elisa and her friends booked a taxi for Thursday and it took them directly to the venue. “We queued for a while in the taxi,” she told The Tab, “but that’s because they did staggered arrival times to keep people moving in and stop crowding in one area, so cars for every few rows of ‘pods’ came at different times starting with the ones closest to the stage. If you were in the first row you have to arrive really early.”

Elisa was sat in a middle row, so arrived at 6pm with the first act beginning at 9pm. Caitlin, however, was in the back because her mate thought they were going to the Thursday gig, not Tuesday, so everyone arrived late. “We got there very last minute, meaning we got one of the further back pens. Basically the earlier you got there the closer to the front you got. We also got our temperature checked before entry and had to use hand sanitiser.”

Security can’t check for drugs or alcohol because they can’t touch you

Because security cannot pat anyone down they just have to straight up ask you if you have drugs or alcohol on your person. “If you wanted to you can get anything in there, unlike at normal festivals,” Elisa said.

She continued: “You queue but socially distanced to go through security – they can’t touch you but they have masks and they use the airport-style metal detector wands to wave over you, I don’t think they were focused on checking for drugs or alcohol just weapons etc for safety and anti-terrorism – it makes sense because we were contained in pods and it adds a level of safety plus there were direct grid-like walkways between the pods so you could get people in and out if needed help and they had an ambulance and first aid on standby.

“The lack of touching definitely made security less intense. I did wonder if people would bring in gear but I couldn’t tell who did because our pods worked and kept us away from others.”

Everyone had to sit in socially distanced pens or ‘pods’

The gig was made up of 500 socially distanced pods with scaffold barriers, of different size capacities but with a maximum size of five. “They had the main stage at the front,” Elisa said, “then around the side were bars and food stalls. Everything was super spaced out to allow for barriers and marking for social distancing. Then in the centre, all the pods were set up in a grid – the pods were all 2m apart either side. They were like metal scaffolds with a raised platform, they gave you folding chairs and provided disability access too.”

There was a ‘booze buggy’ to deliver your drinks

One thing Caitlin preferred to the regular gigging experience was the ease of getting drinks. Instead of pushing past rows and rows of people and trying to relocate your mates, you could get a new round of drinks within minutes. “Getting drinks was so easy and efficient, it took my friends about five minutes,” she told The Tab. Elisa added that you could also have your drinks brought to you by someone in a “booze buggy”, Elisa added. “A guy came round and you could get your drinks delivered to your pod. They had a rubbish bucket and everyone was contained in their pod so there was legit NO litter or empty cups either it was so refreshing and so good for the environment.”

People danced in their pods

“It felt strange at first,” Caitlin noticed, “the only thing we really missed was the atmosphere of dancing with everyone else.” But everyone warmed up to it and started dancing in their individual pods anyway. “People were even getting on each other’s shoulders!” Caitlin said.

Elisa agreed, saying: “Yeah people were on each other shoulders in their pods having a good time. I can’t even remember what it’s like to be able to be in a normal crowd, so I was probably so hyped about the gig because we have been denied so much due to the pandemic! We danced and so did everyone else just like you would at a normal gig, except it’s confined to your group. The pods were a good size so we could make a circle and all boogie and let loose!”

It was more accessible and relaxing than a normal gig

One of the main positives of the socially distanced concert according to both attendees was simply “not being rammed” the whole time. Crowds didn’t exist, so everything was a lot less anxiety-inducing. Elisa told The Tab: “I felt so much more relaxed and felt like I could drink more and enjoy the show without thinking someone was gonna rob my phone or grope me.

“What was good was everyone could do their own thing in their pod so ravers can rave, kids can come and sit with their family and dance safely in their pod without the worry of being squashed by adults.”

The gig was also more accessible for those with disabilities. Ramps could be attached to individual pods and people were able to stay in their wheelchair within the pod the whole time without having to deal with the hassle of a crowd.

Trips to the loo are waaay easier

Everyone knows the pure peril of realising you need to piss 20 minutes into a gig when you’re three beers deep and 30 rows into the crowd. It’s near impossible. But at a socially distanced concert you don’t have to worry about pissing in bottles or forming a squat circle, you just hop out of your pen and go! “You can get in and out of the pod area to the loos and for food easily or to get to the first aiders,” Elisa said. Caitlin added: “The toilets were super clean they had attendants who cleaned them straight after you’d been in, but you do have to wear masks everywhere that isn’t in your little pen!”

It was harder to enforce socially distancing when everyone was leaving

“We left absolutely boozy and they escorted us out row by row,” Elisa said. “At this point, social distancing was harder after we left site because the security was only on-site but everyone wore masks – like everyone cared! Even though those like myself and my friends who didn’t have a pre-booked lift on the way back, we ended up on the road together with loads of others who were in the same boat waiting for a taxi but people kept their masks and stayed apart. I think the whole experience proves you can still vibe at a social distance!”

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