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First socially-distant concert venue in UK offers glimpse at future of big events

A Sam Fender concert in England featured about 2,500 fans separated in small groups on 500 raised platforms.
Sam Fender plays the first socially-distanced gig in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, as fans in groups of up to five people watch the show from 500 separate raised metal platforms.
Sam Fender plays the first socially-distanced gig in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, as fans in groups of up to five people watch the show from 500 separate raised metal platforms.Owen Humphreys / AP
/ Source: TODAY

Fans at the United Kingdom's first socially-distanced venue got their own stage to watch the stage.

According to Variety, about 2,500 fans gathered on 500 separate raised metal platforms at a pop-up venue in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, on Tuesday night to watch a concert by British singer-songwriter Sam Fender that offered a possible glimpse into the future of live music events during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Each elevated platform at the pop-up amphitheater at Newcastle upon Tyne's Gosforth Park, dubbed Virgin Money Unity Arena, was limited to a maximum of five people. The platforms were also separated by 6 feet to observe the recommended social distancing measures.

Fans maintained social distancing during the show after being asked not to mingle with other groups of fans. Owen Humphreys / AP

Fans were asked not to mix with other fans outside their group, and photos from the event showed people staying within their small gatherings on each platform with plenty of distance between them. Concertgoers also wore masks while walking around the venue or getting food and drinks.

Each platform is set up to be more than 6 feet apart from surrounding platforms to observe social distancing. Owen Humphreys / AP

"I think it’s fantastic that our region is going to lead the way on this, and we’ll be the trailblazers for something that will hopefully continue on through the rest of the pandemic," Fender told the BBC at the show. "It’s not going to be exactly the same as a gig that you normally have, but we’ve got to do what we can do."

The show essentially was like the drive-in concerts that have been held in the United States this summer but without the cars. Acts like Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton have performed at drive-in venues since the pandemic began.

Sam Fender performs for the sold-out crowd at the pop-up venue in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Owen Humphreys / AP

There have been some issues like the scene at a drive-in show put on by The Chainsmokers last month in Southampton, New York, which drew criticism for thousands of fans standing shoulder to shoulder with only some wearing masks.

Some bands have also abandoned any precautions whatsoever, like the '90s band Smash Mouth and a host of other acts playing on Sunday at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Photos showed them in front of large crowds with few people wearing masks or observing any social distancing, and Smash Mouth frontman Steve Harwell also mocked the pandemic during the show.

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The amphitheater in Newcastle upon Tyne is the latest attempt to re-imagine public venues during the pandemic, whether it's the revival of drive-in movie theaters, alterations to indoor movie theaters, or restaurants filled with plexiglass dividers and other changes.

Fender has another sold-out show at the venue Thursday, which also has booked shows featuring comedians Bill Bailey and Jimmy Carr and music acts Van Morrison, Maximo Park and The Libertines through the rest of this month and September.