Why the biggest star of the Hollywood Bowl 2021 lineup is the COVID-19 vaccine

The Hollywood Bowl is expected to announce Tuesday its 2021 season lineup after an unprecedented 18-month closure brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlights include Christina Aguilera, Cynthia Erivo, Kamasi Washington, Yo-Yo Ma, H.E.R., Viola Davis and the Bowl’s first Marvel movie to be staged with live music to picture, “Black Panther.”

If you hope to score a ticket, though, you’d best be fully vaccinated: For the entire Bowl season, which officially launches July 3 with Kool & the Gang and the traditional fireworks spectacular, 85% of seats will be reserved for those who have gotten their jabs. The remainder of the tickets will be reserved for those showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of a given performance. Masks will be required for all patrons.

“From a public health standpoint we need to be encouraging people to get the vaccine. It’s the safest way for our community to bounce back,” said Chad Smith, chief executive of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which manages the venue for Los Angeles County. “And from an economic standpoint for the L.A. Phil it’s a no-brainer. We can welcome three times as many patrons back to the Bowl.”

With L.A. County in the yellow tier of the state’s reopening restrictions, even sections for fully vaccinated audience members must be sold at a maximum 67% capacity. But social distancing rules could vanish by June 15, California’s target date for full reopening. If that happens, the Bowl will be able to sell single tickets to fill in seats not already occupied by loyal subscribers, many of whom claim the same benches and box seats year after year.

The 15% of the seats set aside for unvaccinated people with negative COVID-19 tests will be governed by the social distancing requirements the public has become accustomed to for much of the pandemic, including six feet of distance between household pods, which brings capacity of those areas down to 25%.

The verification process for vaccinations or negative tests is a work in progress, but the Bowl expects that by July, some kind of digital system likely will be available. Season subscriptions go on sale Tuesday; single tickets go on sale on May 18 for the July 3 and 4 concerts and on June 1 for other shows.

The 2021 season will feature about 50 events, whereas a normal season would have more than 70, and there won’t be the musical production theater fans have come to expect. But there’s no shortage of variety.

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil will stage 14 concerts. James Blake, Earl Sweatshirt and Brittany Howard will make their Bowl debuts. Sergio Mendes, Ray Chen, Herbie Hancock and Ziggy Marley will return to a stage they know well, and audience favorites such as the Tchaikovsky Spectacular and Sing-Along Sound of Music will be back.

Movies with live orchestral accompaniment include “Black Panther,” which was scored by Ludwig Göransson and had original songs performed by Kendrick Lamar (though Lamar isn’t on tap for the Bowl shows). Other screenings with live music include “The Princess Bride” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” John Williams will conduct film music as part of “Maestro of the Movies.”

Smith said the L.A. Phil is working hard to implement COVID-19 safety protocols with minimal effect on the audience experience. Audience members can still bring that picnic basket and bottle of wine, and the restaurants and markets will be open with modifications. Mobile ordering will be available for picnic boxes or for suppers delivered to seats and boxes. Some but not all picnic areas will remain open.

The Bowl will get into the swing of things starting this weekend with the first of five free concerts scheduled through June for healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers who worked to keep the city safe and running during the worst of the pandemic.

The full season lineup, including details about vaccination and testing requirements, can be seen here.

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