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The Year in Rock 2021: Touring returns, but COVID still takes its toll

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After touring was sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, live music made its return in 2021, but not without complications.

Tour announcements started to pick up in the spring and summer as the vaccine rollout continued in the U.S., a welcome change of pace from the past year of show cancellations and postponements. One of the first biggest concerts back was Foo Fighters headlining New York City’s Madison Square Garden in June, marking the famed arena’s first full-capacity show since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Big tours that had been planned for 2020 finally happened in 2021, including the Hella Mega tour featuring Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer, and The Rolling Stones‘ No Filter tour, which was the highest-grossing tour of the year.

Other artists who returned to the live stage included Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Slipknot, Twenty One Pilots, Dave Matthews Band, Machine Gun Kelly, KISS, The Black Crowes, Tame Impala, Evanescence, Megadeth, St. Vincent and Shinedown. Additionally, festivals including Lollapalooza came back after going virtual in 2020.

COVID-19 safety measures including proof of vaccination or a negative test were often required for attendees. While many artists promoted and endorsed these policies, they were a source of contention for others. Eric Clapton claimed he wouldn’t play any venue with a vaccine requirement, while 3 Doors Down canceled two shows at venues with COVID “regulations.”

Beyond arguments over safety protocols, COVID-19 still took its toll on tours. The rise of the Delta variant forced some artists to reconsider their plans, whether that meant moving shows to outdoor venues or postponing dates.

Tours were also affected when artists themselves caught COVID-19, including System of a Down‘s Serj Tankian, KISS’ Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and three members of Korn. Fall Out Boy missed three shows on the Hella Mega tour due to a touring party member testing positive; Evanescence postponed the last five dates on their co-headlining tour with Halestorm for the same reason.

Even with many bands returning to the road, some of the biggest tours originally planned for 2020 forewent 2021 entirely in favor of 2022. Among the tours set to finally happen next year include My Chemical Romance, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Mötley Crüe.

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