Van Andel Arena’s first post-pandemic concert: Eric Church

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There’s a new sign Grand Rapids’ concert scene may soon return to normal after a big announcement from country music star Eric Church.

Church’s The Gather Again Tour”is set for a stop at Van Andel Arena Jan. 21, 2022.

It’s the Van Andel’s first newly scheduled concert since the pandemic. It does have some concerts already scheduled for 2021, but those are all concerts that had to be rescheduled due to COVID-19.

Along with announcing a full schedule of tour dates and no limits on seating, Church, the Country Music Association entertainer of the year, is also pushing the vaccination message, telling Billboard magazine, “It became very clear to me that the only way to really get back to normal is through vaccinations. You’ve got to get needles in arms.”

“It’s exciting. You have no idea how the build-up has been just with our staff, because this has been in the works for a couple of weeks,” Richard MacKeigan, Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place regional general manager, told News 8 Wednesday.

While recognizing the intense personal effect COVID-19 has had on those who have been infected and their families, MacKeigan said Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall in downtown Grand Rapids have been financially impacted to the tune of between $15 to $20 million.

“The real impact is the two and a quarter, two and a half million people that weren’t downtown for events, for conventions, for concerts over the last year-plus,” MacKeigan explained.

Tickets for The Gather Again Tour go on sale 10 a.m. May 7. Don’t line up at the Van Andel box office: They’ll only be available through ticketmaster.com. Tickets will be on pre-sale for Church Choir members Tuesday, May 4 at 10 a.m.

As for how venues like Van Andel will determine if you’ve been vaccinated as well as what other safety measures it may have in place, MacKeigan said major league sports teams will likely establish procedures that most everyone else will follow.

“The NBA, the NHL, and also I think part of it will be the artists themselves may decide how to best keep their fans safe,” MacKeigan said.

The Gather Again Tour isn’t the only date on the Van Andel schedule. The calendar for both the arena and DeVos Place is full. But those schedules come with a lot of uncertainty, with promoters setting dates anticipating relaxed restrictions and holding others open in case restrictions increase.

“The problem is … it’s not a switch, right?” MacKeigan said. “You can’t just start having shows. You’ve got to have the whole tour put together. So there’s got to be a real strong degree of certainty before things start clicking.”

If we’ve learned one thing from the pandemic, it’s that certainty is often hard to come by.

Still, Live Nation and AEG, the world’s two largest concert promoters, have told venue managers expect to start hosting outdoor concerts in July, with indoor concerts starting in September with full capacity.

“I think that may be a month ambitious. In my mind, for our planning, we’re hoping for October,” MacKeagin said.

Other area venues like 20 Monroe Live have shows scheduled. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is planning for its traditional Summer Concert Series at the amphitheater and hoping to announce a schedule starting in late June or early July.

The return of concerts is being planned with a mix of optimism and realism, with venues recognizing it depends on how many of us have a shot in the arm.

“The quickest way for my business to get back is with vaccinations and herd immunity,” MacKeigan said.

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