Kristina Dawn: Attack of the Touronavirus

Photographer Kristina Dawn faced the challenge of adapting to the live music industry’s shutdown when she was forced to return home in the middle of tour due to the COVID pandemic. Photos by Kristina Dawn.

It was early March 2020, and Portland-based photographer Kristina Dawn was on the road with LA-based bands Armors and Transviolet, acting as the tour’s official photographer for what would have been a month-long trek. In mid-February, when Dawn flew out to L.A. to kick off the tour, the talk of COVID-19 was slim. 

“It was at that point where everyone thought it was a joke,” Dawn said. “Everybody on the internet was making fun of it.”

But as the tour progressed, the reality of the situation began to become more clear.

“When you’re on tour, it’s kind of interesting because you’re in like this other reality. You’re so busy and you’re not paying attention to a lot of what’s happening outside of your schedule,” Dawn said. “We had like a week straight of shows, no days off, and we would drive ten hours to the next spot. So it wasn’t until we had a day off that we started to realize it was getting weird.”

At a show in Cambridge, Mass., they began to notice there was a strange lack of hand sanitizer, and many people were starting to wear masks. By the time they got to Chicago, the show’s attendance was cut in half. At that point, they decided to discuss their next steps.

“We all sat down to talk about what we needed to do, and the band I was with [Armors] just didn’t feel comfortable after that putting people at risk,” Dawn said. After one last show in Burnsville, Minn., the group decided to call off the rest of the tour. “Then we drove to Denver, I flew home, the boys drove back to LA, and that was it.”

Dawn arrived home from tour in mid-March, just as COVID shutdowns across the nation were beginning to take hold. 

For many in the music industry, coronavirus has been catastrophic. Tours have been canceled or postponed, venues have begun to shut down permanently after a loss of income, and thousands who work in the live music industry–including photographers like Dawn–have lost their main source of income.

“When I was on the road, honestly, I was very skeptical, and we were joking about it. We called our tour for a couple of weeks The Touronavirus,” Dawn said. “But it was just like, it went from everybody joking about it to what felt like, overnight, was this really serious thing.”

Armors poses with the crowd at their show in Cambridge, Mass., one of the last stops before their tour was cut short due to COVID shutdowns. Photo by Kristina Dawn.
Armors pose with the crowd at their show in Cambridge, Mass., one of the last stops before their tour was cut short due to COVID shutdowns. Photo by Kristina Dawn.

Since she’s been home, Dawn has been taking the virus and COVID precautions very seriously. Now seven months later, the effects of COVID lockdowns and industry shutdowns for Dawn personally have taken root and affected her outlook on work and life.

“It was more of an emotional, mental struggle than a financial one,” Dawn said. Thankfully, her main source of income wasn’t touring. Dawn also works in the film industry, most recently on the set of Hulu’s Shrill as producer’s assistant. At the beginning of the COVID shutdowns, the film industry took a massive hit. Luckily, since then, productions have returned in a new COVID safe form. But unfortunately, the same can’t be said about live music.

“I haven’t not been to a show or some sort of live event for this long of a period of time since I was like 12,” Dawn said. “It’s just super weird to go from touring and having at least three shows a week and constantly being around people, or being so busy that you don’t even have time to sleep, to just nothing.”

When the shutdown first started, Dawn put her camera away and took a long break from photography of any kind.

“I was kind of in this cycle of just constantly shooting things and never really having a break. And after a while it gets old. It feels more like a chore to have to edit photos or shoot. You don’t have any creative energy left,” Dawn said. “It was kind of nice to have a break and just be lazy and play video games and not touch my camera. But after a while, I started to miss it.”

After the wildfires that ravaged the Pacific Northwest in September, Dawn picked her camera back up and went out for the day, driving around and taking photos of what all had just occurred–more for herself, she said, to look back on this crazy thing we went through.

“I’ve tried to use [photography] more lately for an emotionally fulfilling thing rather than a job, which has changed things,” Dawn said. But though Dawn may have been able to find a slim silver-lining in the rubble, her concern still lies heavily with the uncertain futures of many of her fellow live music photographers, who find their livelihoods in an industry on the brink of collapse.

“I have friends who are living out of their van at their parents’ house because they can’t get jobs because they’re not really qualified to do anything else. They’ve been doing this their entire life,” Dawn said. “And I’m worried that a lot of these local small venues are going to just disappear, which is really sad.”

The shutdown of the live music industry hasn’t only just affected those who work within it, but those for whom live music has become a sanctuary and escape.

“A lot of that community is really important to bringing people up in the industry, and creating a safe space for people to hang out in,” Dawn said. “For it to possibly not come back for years, it’s just… it’s terrifying.”

Back in October, talk about reopening venues and live events with COVID safe precautions was just beginning. A survey went out to many in the music industry about what they’d like to see as guidelines for pre-vaccine live events, and Ticketmaster announced that when they begin to restart events, they will require everyone in attendance to have proof of vaccinations.

Dawn, however, remained cautiously skeptical about restarting live music events too soon.

“It just seems too uncertain and there are so many people out there… like one person can ruin it for everybody,” Dawn said. “There are people out there that don’t really care who are saying this is fake, that’s fake, I don’t wanna do this because it’s an inconvenience. And I think that’s the scary thing.”

There are even more concerns for photographers like Dawn once live music starts back up.

“It’s hard enough to get photo passes to shows, but it’s gonna be even harder because they’re gonna have to have a limit. And they’re gonna have to make the pits bigger,” Dawn said. “I’ve been in some packed pits before just crawling all over these people, ducking underneath each other and sweating all over each other.”

Though the industry may be gasping for breath as the shutdown goes on and revenue from live music events continues to be lost by venues and tour companies, making sure that every possible safety guideline is implemented and followed will be crucial before anything can return with guaranteed safety for everyone working in the industry.

For the time being, Dawn says the most important thing to do is to make sure you’re supporting the artists and photographers who need it most by sharing their work online or buying a print. 

“Not that social media engagement is the most important thing, but it is a form of income and how we get our business in the 21st century,” she continued. “So I think it is important to support people. If you see your friend put up a print for like $20 and you have the means, buy a print for them so they can pay their phone bill you know?”

Check out Kristina Dawn’s live music photography over at www.kristinadawn.com

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