Music

Foo Fighters mark return of big live events in Anchorage at a tense pandemic moment

The Foo Fighters played to a packed crowd at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday night, the first time the city has hosted a major touring musical act since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the first large event here to require proof of vaccination or virus testing for entry.

The concert happened at a tenuous moment in the pandemic. Alaska is in the midst of a surge of coronavirus cases. With hospitals straining capacity, the state recorded 459 new virus cases Tuesday and five deaths.

Meanwhile, Alaska is returning to large events, with Tuesday’s show the first in a series of three Foo Fighters concerts for thousands of spectators, and the Alaska State Fair and accompanying shows starting Friday.

The Foo Fighters, the multi-Grammy-winning band fronted by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, have been among the first major bands to launch cross-country tours this summer. In June, the band reopened Madison Square Garden in New York City, playing to a crowd of more than 15,000 people in the first live music in 466 days at the venue, according to a documentary about the show, “The Day the Music Came Back.”

The band was also among the first big touring acts to require vaccination or proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test for entry to concerts, a policy that has been met with small protests at some concert dates, including a gig in Agoura Hills, California, where people carried signs accusing the band of “medical segregation.”

Ticketmaster announced Saturday that the Foo Fighters’ three Alaska dates would require proof of vaccination.

No protesters were visible at Tuesday’s show — though on Craigslist some people were trying to offload tickets. “It’s been tricky getting peeps to go with the testing thing,” wrote one seller.

A security line snaked around the Dena’ina Center to Sixth Avenue downtown Tuesday night, with ticket holders asked to show vaccination proof or a negative test within 48 hours before passing through a security check and metal detectors.

Security officers said almost everyone in line complied. Those who lacked the necessary documentation were steered to an on-site and free rapid testing booth where a rapid antigen test produced results within 10 minutes.

Rick Brooks, a longtime Anchorage acoustic guitar player, and his 19-year-old son, Django Brooks, were at their first concert in a long while. Brooks said he was at the concert because the vaccination requirement made him feel more comfortable.

“I’ve got my vaccination card right here,” he said. “In fact, I’ve also got my wife’s and she’s not even here.”

In the fast-moving security line, Michael Liberti wore his hair draped long past his shoulders and a T-shirt that said “F--K YOU COVID” in bold letters. He had been unsure about getting vaccinated at first.

“But I knew (not being vaccinated) would really limit the things we can go do, and I didn’t want to miss things like this,” he said.

Joshua Potter said he’d been able to pick up tickets from people who wanted to offload them.

“All of a sudden there were like 1,000 tickets available,” he said. “All of those people who were unvaccinated or were unwilling to say they were vaccinated decided to return their tickets, and were unable to refund them. So I bought them at half-price.”

Inside, the lines for T-shirts and drinks were long, and the crowd gathered thick on the floor of the Dena’ina Center, though there was plenty of room in the back for people to stand far apart.

Inside, the lights dimmed and it was a sea of people lifting $10 Alaskan Amber beers and cellphones as the band launched into its opening song, “Times Like These.” It was hot and sweaty, and Dave Grohl paced around the stage with his guitar in a cloud of blue light and fog as fans cheered and took videos.

Outside, Julie Harris and Mel Buhr took a break. They’d been hesitant because of the surge but heartened by the vaccine requirement.

It just felt really good to see live music, Harris said.

“It makes you feel some semblance of normal life,” she said.

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