The Year in Music: With the pandemic postponing touring and live events, rock went virtual in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic affected all areas of life this year, but the music industry was among the most affected.  The global concert business lost an estimated $30 billion as live events were completely shut down.

Among the countless artists who had to cancel or postpone scheduled or ongoing tour dates were The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Who, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Steve Miller, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Eagles, Guns N’ Roses, KISS, Bon Jovi, Elton John, The Doobie Brothers, Santana, Guess Who members Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings and many, many more.

A number of musicians also contracted COVID-19, including Jackson Browne, Bon Jovi’s David Bryan, Devo‘s Mark Mothersbaugh, and Christopher Cross.

Without any in-person live events, music fans were glued to their computers and TVs watching virtual or “at-home” performances from their favorite artists that were organized for a variety of reasons, including as charity benefits, award presentations, tributes and more.

Many of those performances were fundraisers for COVID-19 relief efforts, and the biggest one of all was One World: Together at Home, which took place on April 18. The event, which was organized by Global Citizen and curated by Lady Gaga, featured performances by The Rolling Stones, McCartney, Elton, Pearl Jam‘s Eddie Vedder, Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong, Stevie Wonder and dozens more. It raised nearly $128 million.

There were too many significant streaming music events this year to mention them all, but here’s a few:

Ringo Starr celebrated his 80th birthday with a special star-studded concert event that was streamed on his YouTube channel. The program, dubbed Ringo’s Big Birthday Show, featured unique at-home performances and/or previously unseen concert footage from the former Beatles drummer and his All Starr Band, plus McCartney, Joe Walsh, Sheryl Crow, Sheila E., Ben Harper with Foo FightersDave Grohl, and more.  Proceeds raised by the special benefited four charities: Black Lives Matter Global Network, the David Lynch Foundation, MusiCares and WaterAid.

On September 17, a star-studded benefit event called Six String Salute was held that raised money for Live Nation’s Crew Nation relief fund. Among the musicians who appeared or performed on the guitar-centric special were Styx‘s Tommy Shaw, KansasRich Williams, The Black CrowesRich Robinson, Halestorm, ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and many others.

Joe Walsh’s fourth annual VetsAid benefit concert aiding select veterans organizations went virtual this year with a streaming event on December 12 that featured live acoustic performances from Walsh, Jon Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper, Metallica‘s James Hetfield, Eddie Vedder, Gwen Stefani, Steven Van Zandt and many others.  The event also featured archival footage from previous VetsAid shows, including performances by Starr, Don Henley, ZZ Top, The Doobie Brothers and more.

Bringing a very difficult year to an end, and perhaps offering a glimmer of hope for the future, KISS will play a special New Year’s Eve concert in Dubai dubbed “KISS 2020 Goodbye” that’s being billed as “the largest live streaming event of the year.”

The ticketed, hybrid live and livestreamed event will be held in front of a COVID-screened audience and will be filmed in 4K high-def with over 50 cameras offering 360-degree views. The costumed, makeup-wearing Rock & Roll Hall of Famers will perform on a massive stage and are promising to ring in 2021 with the largest pyro display ever.

By Matt Friedlander
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