Nadia Reid at the Tuning Fork in Auckland, October 2020 (Photo: Dave Simpson/WireImage)
Nadia Reid at the Tuning Fork in Auckland, October 2020 (Photo: Dave Simpson/WireImage)

SocietyJune 10, 2022

Live events are back and more vital than ever

Nadia Reid at the Tuning Fork in Auckland, October 2020 (Photo: Dave Simpson/WireImage)
Nadia Reid at the Tuning Fork in Auckland, October 2020 (Photo: Dave Simpson/WireImage)

The light at the end of the tunnel has arrived for the industry – now it’s time to top up on the life-affirming energy only live events can offer, writes Claire Mabey.

In June 2020 I went to see Nadia Reid at San Fran on Cuba Street. It was my first live event after Lockdown 1.0, part of a series of gigs for the #SaveOurVenues campaign set up to raise money for beloved venues up and down Aotearoa. I remember seeing Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson outside as I arrived to go in – I learned on social media later that the prime minister had purchased some Nadia Reid socks.

Walking up the familiar San Fran staircase felt nothing short of sacred. And seeing the stage poised for action and the space all set up with shiny new systems for table service and social distancing was a strange kind of thrill: like your birthday but on a new date. I sat next to musician and photographer Ebony Lamb, who had woven flowers around the mic stands. Their beauty and brightness said so much. I recognised a few others in the audience, and many others I didn’t know. But we were all on the same wavelength – the feeling of communion was in the air. What we were about to see and hear and do together was a ritual and the need for it runs deep.

When the music started and Nadia started to sing in her luminous voice I remember trying not to cry. I had missed it so much, and for a while wondered if it would ever come back. For so long live events had been the focus of my work, and frankly, my life. The feeling of being in a room of strangers immersed in and connected by sound, all collectively focussed on a real-time experience in the same physical space – there really is nothing like it. The gig unfolded like a dream. My brain fired in spectacular ways: I took out my notebook and scribbled euphoric notes about how magical it was. 

After the gig I spilled out of San Fran with the rest of the crowd feeling like the world had refreshed itself while I was away. And that I had rebooted, too: there was a spring in my step, a tune in my mind, endorphins in my blood, an optimism tinting my tentative looks into the future. Art like that makes you feel alive. 

The arts are so good at helping us live because they are designed to help you access a series of emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual shifts. That might sound overblown, but if you consider how you feel when you’re at a gig – or the theatre, or in a room full of people focussed on a person, or group of people, whose job it is to reveal something to you – there’s a set of reactions that take place that’s difficult to replicate anywhere else. Funnily enough, the only other thing that comes close to that, for me, is a high-stakes sports game, with its narrative of risk, thrills, highs and lows.

It’s taken a long time for live gatherings to start flowing back, and it’s still a rough road. I’ve been making arts events since I was 23 (I’m way older than that now) and it’s never felt so needed or so hard. Covid was and still is exhausting for artists – for many it was the end of the road. Without artists the collaborative industries around them suffer too: venues, technicians, production managers, arts producers, hospitality, ticketing agents, publicists and marketers. This is not new information, but sometimes it takes a pandemic to really feel it, to see the impact of the loss in practice.

The glow emanating from the light at the end of the tunnel is here. Gigs are flooding back, venues are open and booked, and international artists are visiting us again. The art makers and producers among us are busy creating and presenting work once more: taking risks, crafting stories, often making it look so much easier than it is. 

The pandemic is still very much with us and is still affecting the flow of art. In particular, live arts need audiences to come out to things. So now is the time to consider that we all need art in our lives on the regular: that the experiences our artists offer are an essential part of our emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual reboot. 

This is the time to seek out your local events and dose up on the good stuff and support your local creatives as you go. Rediscover your theatres, your music venues, your writers festivals. There are experiences to be had with real live people – memories to be made, moods to be jolted and emotions to be stirred.


Claire Mabey is the host of new monthly event series IN YOUR DREAMS: LETTERS ALOUD, created by Pirate & Queen with The Spinoff. Each month five fascinating people will write a letter to a theme and share it with a live audience. The first salon is Wednesday 29 June, and features Emalani Case, Alice Soper, Madeleine Chapman, Anna Rawhiti-Connell and Stuart McKenzie.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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