Pano: A Live Event Field Report and a Reading Where Women Play Men

What It’s Like to Enter the Santa Barbara Bowl

John Legend performs at the Santa Barbara Bowl. | Credit: Erick Madrid


After four shows in as many days (all outdoors), I’m happy to report that, despite a range of behaviors regarding masks, the two Santa Barbara–region venues I attended are both doing a good job keeping everyone safe. The ushers at the Santa Barbara Bowl, where I saw John Legend on Thursday, September 16, and Gary Clark Jr. on Sunday, September 19, are doing great work. From my observation, the protocols now in place at the Bowl involve five separate steps. 

Step one takes place just past the box office, where ushers check vaccination cards and photo IDs. In step two, ushers and security staff run all the vaccinated/negative-tested people through metal detectors

After retrieving your wallet and keys from the plastic TSA bowl, you climb to the turnstiles where they used to scan your paper tickets for step three. Because virtually all Bowl tickets are now digital QR codes on your phone via the AXS app, this step has changed. Instead of scanning the crumpled paper ticket you’ve had in your pocket, the ushers at the turnstiles now scan the QR code on your phone and print out a brand-new paper “boarding pass” ticket for you to use once you’re inside. 

Step four: show this piece of paper for a section access wristband (if your section requires one) and show an ID for a different wristband if you wish to consume alcohol

Gary Clark Jr. at the Santa Barbara Bowl | Credit: Charles Donelan

Once you’ve acquired the necessary wristbands, it’s on to step five: the inside ushers will want to see your recently acquired paper ticket in order to help you find your seat. 

If all this seems excessive, consider the alternatives. Double up any of these functions, and unmanageable lines will form as ushers multitask with impatient concertgoers. When the various stations and steps are spread out like this, and thanks to the steady uphill grade that starts at Milpas Street and doesn’t quit until you’ve topped out on the glorious Scranton Overlook, the Santa Barbara Bowl actually enjoys a near-optimal setup for complying with COVID constraints. 

Once seated, most audience members at the Bowl take their masks off, leaving those concerned about breakthrough COVID to decide for themselves how comfortable they are amid the resulting density of unmasked-but-vaccinated people in an outdoor setting. Seated just above the General Admission floor area on Sunday for Gary Clark Jr., I was grateful for the elevation and wore my mask whenever I was not actively consuming Brander sauvignon blanc. Looking down on the crowd in the pit, where few masks were in evidence, I observed what appeared to be a mostly younger crowd enjoying their evening. 


Rhiannon Giddens at the Ojai Music Festival | Credit: Timothy Teague

At the Ojai Music Festival, September 16-19, an older audience observed a more strict protocol. Within the outdoor seating area, the festival organization requested that people remain masked and seated throughout the performance. During the 10-minute intermissions, they asked that people limit their movement to necessary trips to the restrooms in order to avoid crowding the aisles. Compliance with both measures appeared near total. The musicians I spoke with told me that they were required to be both fully vaccinated and tested daily. Proof of vaccination was also required for audience entry. 

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on June 2, 2023. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


Ojai Music Festival Artistic and Executive Director Ara Guzelimian requested that the audience remain masked while seated for the performance. | Credit: Courtesy

This whole “return to live” thing has become a supreme test of the concert industry, and it’s not just about musicians needing to get back to work. Big tours like the ones that stop at the Santa Barbara Bowl cost a fortune. For the artists and their crews to make money, they need to succeed at every venue. On a tour of 20 stops, it may take the first 15 nights just to break even. If even one gig falls through for any reason, money will be lost, often rapidly. 

What this means is that touring artists must now institute a previously unimaginable rigor in their protocols for screening people and maintaining the crew’s health. The days of friends and family hanging out backstage are over, at least for now. If the COVID bubble pops, the tour stops. 

Dozens of tours and hundreds of individual gigs have been canceled since June, with untold damage to the artists’ bottom lines. Some tours were suspended out of an abundance of caution, but more had to slam on the brakes because of positive COVID tests. Last Saturday in Boston, the Orpheum Theater had to cancel a 7:30 Dawes show at 5:12 p.m. because of a positive test, leaving ticket holders who had failed to check the venue’s website before heading to the show standing in the street outside the locked doors of the venue.  

Yet artists need us to come out and support them now more than ever. Those of us who have been fully vaccinated, are healthy, and are comfortable with the risk have got to continue showing up and applauding, not only for the great music that’s being played, but also for the brave men and women who are making it happen, whether that’s onstage, backstage, or in the aisles and at the turnstiles. Let this be the year you were extra-kind to ushers, vendors, and security. We need those folks now more than ever.


The UCSB Theater Department’s Launch Pad series will be having a pop-up reading of a new play called Yellowstone on Friday, September 24, in the Theater/Dance Courtyard. It’s free and open to the public, but registration and proof of vaccination are required. To register, go to

Playwright Jennifer Barclay is embarking on a series of pieces examining issues surrounding America’s national parks, of which Yellowstone is the first. The reading is directed by Pesha Rudnick of Boulder, Colorado’s Local Theater Company, and the show depicts “a land-grabbing, fracking fight between a group of working-class, rural, conservative white male characters — played by a multiracial company of women.” The show begins at 5 p.m., and if you attend, be sure to bring a chair, a blanket, and a mask. 

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