Eventbrite hosted the RECONVENE summit in May 2021, bringing together thousands of event producers. We’re sharing key takeaways from popular sessions — on topics like safely returning to in-person events, the future of virtual, and best practices for growing your audience — on our blog and our RECONVENE Recaps hub.

Music fans travel from around the world to see their favorite bands play inside The Caverns, an exceptionally unique venue in rural Grundy County, TN, that happens to be inside a cave. So when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the space, which is what draws people, general manager Joe Lurgio was at a loss. How could the live music venue stay alive?

Lurgio and his team figured out the answer by looking up — literally. They built an outdoor amphitheater on the field that’s above their cave and, since last fall, have hosted dozens of successful shows. The venue didn’t become a COVID-19 hotspot, didn’t experience bad PR, and found a way for artists and crew to return to work during a difficult economic period.

At Eventbrite’s RECONVENE summit, Lurgio described how The Caverns kept its business alive during the pandemic. Here are five takeaways for creators.

Watch Joe Lurgio’s full talk below:

Prioritize artist and promoter relationships

When The Caverns launched its outdoor space, it worked in tandem with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit on a sold-out, four-night run. That included collaborating on safety policies, weather planning, ticket pricing, and marketing plans. The transition to outdoor shows would not have happened without such a successful partnership, Lurgio said — and, most importantly, the trust between teams.

Implement clear safety precautions

The Caverns’ outdoor venue debuted with new regulations and procedures. Safety measures included:

  • Lowered capacity
  • Enhanced cleaning
  • COVID-19 testing and screening
  • Increased staff
  • Staggered arrival times
  • Contactless merch and concessions delivery using a mobile app to avoid long lines
  • Staff and patron education about safety

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Create informative marketing materials

Around October, coronavirus cases began rising again in the US, and many event promoters and artists got bad press for poorly executed events. The Caverns team realized that it needed to look forward, and instead of focusing on the present, began marketing shows for 2021. This helped build trust between all sides: the artists, fans, and staff.

Planning for the future was a two-part process, Lurgio said: 

  • Creating engaging and informative marketing materials to distribute to artist agents/management.
  • Marketing to fans who were on the fence about buying tickets for a show that might not happen.

Show what the live music experience is like through video

To communicate to patrons — and bands — how they were operating, The Caverns produced an engaging video that was full of information (and also fun to watch). The video included footage from outdoor events, including the venue’s COVID-19 checkpoints: Staff, wearing face shields and N95 masks, conducted temperature checks and screenings as each patron remained inside their car. Also on display: socially-distant walking paths and contactless delivery. 

“The video was a key part of what we did to convince and build trust with the bands, that we had something that would work for them, and also of course with the fans,” Lurgio says. “We really did it in part to reach out to artists and let them know we had a plan in place.”

Find the silver lining

In some ways, the consumer experience has been enhanced by COVID-19 restrictions, Lurgio says. For example: Patrons now enjoy increased venue communications; they can pre-order merch and concessions that are delivered directly to them; and staggered arrival/departure times cut back on annoying lines. Plus, there’s increased space for everyone, and better cleaning techniques. All these perks lead to happy — and hopefully, repeat — customers.