April 2020 Recap: John Prine Dies, COVID Rocks the Music Industry
With the coronavirus pandemic affecting every aspect of life, April 2020 saw the music industry responding in various ways.
The effects of the virus struck close to home for many musicians with the COVID-related deaths of several high-profile musicians. Chief among them: Grammy-winning singer-songwriter John Prine and Adam Schlesinger, cofounder of the band Fountains of Wayne and a prolific writer of music for TV and film.
Many artists spent April participating in benefits raising funds for COVID-19 relief, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones. Organized during lockdown, these events introduced music fans to what would become the new normal in 2020: watching virtual performances as artists livestreamed from their homes.
With no traditional concerts taking place, the live-music industry continued reeling this month. Promoters and ticketing companies were inundated with refund requests, while red tape and logistics complicated efforts by fans to get their money back.
Still, it wasn’t all bad news - a memorable reality-TV stint by Bret Michaels was among the lighter stories of the month. Read more about the biggest news from April below.
John Prine and Adam Schlesinger Die Following COVID Complications
With the first wave of the pandemic at its most intense, the rock world was delivered a series of tragic blows. On April 1, Adam Schlesinger, the Emmy- and Grammy-winning songwriter who also served as bassist in the group Fountains of Wayne, died at the age of 52. He is best remembered for penning the band’s hit song “Stacy’s Mom,” as well as the Oscar-nominated tune “That Thing You Do” from the Tom Hanks-directed movie of the same name. Less than a week after Schlesinger’s death, country and folk legend John Prine died. The 73-year-old singer-songwriter had a long and influential career and was revered by generations of artists for the storytelling quality of his lyrics. Artists from across the musical spectrum paid tribute to Prine, including friends and collaborators Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Jason Isbell. Legendary “Lean on Me” singer Bill Withers, Amboy Dukes’ singer Steve Farmer, record producer Hal Wilner and bassist Matthew Seligman (who worked with David Bowie and Thomas Dolby) were among the other notable deaths in April.
Rockers Aid in COVID Relief
With the pandemic affecting people worldwide, rock’s biggest stars participated in many benefits and fundraisers to aid those in need. One World: Together at Home found some of music’s biggest names performing from their homes, including the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Eddie Vedder and Billie Joe Armstrong. Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi participated in the Jersey 4 Jersey benefit show, while Geddy Lee, the Band’s Robbie Robertson and singer Bryan Adams were among the artists who appeared on Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble, a Canadian television event saluting frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Dave Grohl led an all-star lineup of artists in a rendition of the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These,” an effort spurred by the BBC to raise funds for coronavirus relief.
Band Masks Arrive
One of the most heated topics of 2020 was face masks - a safety measure that quickly took on political overtones, with many railing against the requirement of their use. Nevertheless, masks became a necessity in 2020, leading to a new trend of band-related facial accessories. Many artists saw the item as an opportunity to raise funds for various causes, with Queen, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Kiss, Jimi Hendrix and Metallica among those donating proceeds from their mask sales to charitable organizations.
Music Industry Grapples With the New Normal
Even as artists found new ways to virtually interact with their fans, a frightening reality for the live event industry was settling in. Pundits questioned whether fans would return to concerts once they started up again, while the timeline for any kind of reopening was continually pushed back. Making matters worse, those who purchased tickets to events that were eventually postponed due to COVID-19 found getting a refund to be difficult, if not impossible. Even as their main source of income was quickly evaporating, ticketing giants like Live Nation remained outwardly confident that the industry would emerge from the pandemic stronger. Still, such comments sounded hollow as Ticketmaster furloughed a quarter of its North American employees at the end of the month.
Bret Michaels Revealed as the Banana
Despite the pandemic doom-and-gloom, there were still lighthearted headlines in April. Following weeks of speculation among reality-TV fans, Poison singer Bret Michaels was revealed as the Banana on Fox's hit series The Masked Singer. Renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation” were among the rocker's highlights during his run on the show.