Todd “played” Austin the night I saw him in Chicago.

I have written for the live event magazine PLSN for almost two decades. My love of music and general background as a theater geek has been richly rewarded for the experience. A year and a month ago, I was looking at potentially my most successful year yet: The concert business was booming (which is about 60 percent of my business), and I had several small clients who were ramping up their digital marketing activity. The other clients included a concert video company and the city of St. Louis, for which I wrote a weekly blog about this town’s potpourri of great live music.

It’s been exciting for me to suddenly be able to help completely different clients, including one doing Extended Reality (XR) performances. And it’s been interesting to see my primary source of work, concerts, react to the pandemic in creative ways. This has included a live event manufacturing company getting into the sanitizing business for a series of concerts in December at St. Louis’ Pageant to a recent Todd Rundgren “tour.” More than ever, technology is playing a major part of it all.

The Clearly Human Live Virtual Tour

Published in the April edition of PLSN is my cover story on Todd’s completely original approach to the streaming idea. Here’s the story of that one-of-a-kind experience. “Playing at all was our first objective,” he told me. “Next was that it be as close to what we normally do in a  live show as opposed to me just sitting in front of a bookcase with an acoustic guitar.” I got to go to Chicago (!) for this show. There at a club, they had built a set and hung lighting and video rigs. It was all much more elaborate than one of his typical tours in recent years. Also unusual was a 10-piece band complete with background singers and horns.

It was striking in that he wanted his team to make it as good for the band as the audience. So I wrote in the article: Its 25 performances over five weeks were directed each night at a specific city’s audience. Rundgren and team created the six-minute video loops that ran prior to the show, highlighting whatever city he was “playing in” that night. These included images of local monuments and well-known buildings to local delicacies (i.e., Buffalo NY = Buffalo Wings).

Those who bought the $35 tickets appeared on LED screen in the audience, and Todd and the band interacted with them. He told me that even nodding their head to the music fed energy to the band. Todd would even recognize some long time fans and call them out from the stage.

The Future of Concerts?

In a desert of concerts to write about this year, this was something of an oasis. I have to say the trip was much-needed as I sorely missed traveling. And it helped that a crew member I had friended, knowing I’m a fan, gave me one of Todd’s actual guitar picks. The article ends on an interesting quote from Todd:

Me with one of my heroes – the great Kasim Sulton.

As to the future, “The pandemic will go, and at some point, we hope to return to live touring as we once knew it. But maybe there will be some who will feel that a virtual aspect is a viable alternative. In the end, it’s about audience response and how they feel about it. I could see a segment of the audience PREFERRING to see a show this way. On our first night I watched a guy on one of the screens chain smoke through the whole show. I’ve seen people dancing with their pets. You can’t do either of those at a live show. Also, the tickets were $35, and for that, a whole family could come. Plus, then the liquor is cheaper!”