March 2020 Recap: Coronavirus Arrives, Rock’s Plans Go Haywire
In March 2020, the music industry sat on the cusp of an unknowable future.
Just as bands began announcing their tour plans for the year, coronavirus lockdown restrictions forced them to postpone, leaving live music venues effectively empty.
Nevertheless, amid losses of beloved artists like John Prine and Adam Schlesinger, tentatively rescheduled dates and the firing of longtime Journey members Ross Valory and Steve Smith, March also saw the arrival of various new-album announcements, livestream shows and benefit songs. You can read all about the month that turned the rock world upside down below.
Tour Cancellations Commence
At the beginning of March, blissfully unaware of what was to come, many bands announced their upcoming 2020 tour dates. Robert Plant plotted a U.S tour with his new band, Saving Grace, Genesis planned to reunite for the first time in 13 years, King Crimson mapped out a summer run with the Zappa Band and the Hollies announced an extensive American tour, their first in nearly two decades. But just as quickly as tours were announced, they were canceled. As the magnitude of the pandemic became more clear, and the risks of large gatherings grew more severe, musicians were left no choice but to scratch their shows. Pearl Jam, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Queen + Adam Lambert, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Who and dozens more postponed events. Even two of the world’s biggest concert promoters, Live Nation Entertainment and AEG Presents, announced the cancellation of all tours through March. Still, some acts like Reverend Horton Heat and Scottish punk band the Exploited chose to tour anyway, despite pushback from wary fans. As the weeks went on, the situation only worsened, and though ticket holders were encouraged to retain their seats for rescheduled dates, the remainder of 2020 appeared uncertain for artists and concertgoers alike.
Rock Stars Catch COVID
The pandemic soon took on an even darker tone as musicians across the board began to contract coronavirus themselves. Numerous artists took to social media to announce their diagnosis as well as to warn fans of the dangers of the illness. Ozzy Osbourne's producer and guitarist Andrew Watt, Bon Jovi's founding keyboardist David Bryan and Jackson Browne were among those who fell ill but ultimately recovered. Others, sadly, were lost. Legendary songwriter John Prine, who was diagnosed in March, died from COVID-19 several weeks later in April at the age of 73, while Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, 52, also died in early April after a hospitalization.
Lockdown Shows and Benefit Songs
Unable to tour and yet eager to do their part, many musicians devised new ways to keep the music coming. Elvis Costello, Graham Nash, Paul Stanley, John Fogerty and others began streaming live performances from their homes so fans from all over the world could tune in. Neil Young launched his “Fireside Sessions,” hoping to provide some musical respite amid the chaos. “Pretty much anything you do that adds to the solution rather than adds to the problem is the right thing to do, as you know,” said Costello in one of his livestreams. “You don’t need me to tell you that.” Sammy Hagar and the Circle even managed to get the band together in socially distant fashion, releasing a new song called "Funky Feng Shui,” with each member contributing parts from respective home studios. Neil Diamond lightened the mood with a revamped version of "Sweet Caroline" that featured all of the Diamond charm and none of the hand touching. And as the pandemic raged on, musicians also used their work to give back to their communities. Bon Jovi released a new version of their 2019 song “Unbroken,” the proceeds of which were donated to support military personnel injured in the line of duty. Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Nick Mason teamed up in London for a concert to benefit the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. Bono wrote an inspiring new song dedicated to healthcare workers. "For the Italians who inspired it … for the Irish … for anyone who, this St. Patrick’s Day, is in a tight spot and still singing,” he wrote on U2’s Facebook page. “For the doctors, nurses, carers on the frontline, it's you we’re singing to."
As COVID-19 raged on, Journey fired bassist and cofounder Ross Valory and longtime drummer Steve Smith, claiming the pair had initiated an "ill-conceived corporate coup d'état,” supposedly hoping to “hold the Journey name hostage and set themselves up with a guaranteed income stream after they stop performing." It wasn't the first time Valory and Smith had been fired. In May, guitarist Neal Schon announced the arrival of three new Journey members.
New Music Gets Released
In spite of it all, and much to the delight of quarantined fans, artists continued to release new material. The Pretenders announced a brand new album, Hate for Sale, as did Kansas with Absence of Presence and Pearl Jam released their 11th studio album, Gigaton. Meanwhile Deep Purple revealed a new single, “Throw My Bones,” from their album Whoosh!, while Jackson Browne released “A Little Too Soon to Say," a track inspired in part by the chaos of the surrounding world. Bob Dylan also joined in on the buzz, unexpectedly releasing “Murder Most Foul,” a 17-minute ballad that wove through 60 years of U.S. history.