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Music in 2021: What we're looking foward to, so far
Truth be told, music fans want just one thing from 2021.
Poised for its biggest and busiest year ever during 2020, the global live music industry was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic to the tune of $30 billion in losses, by some estimates. Venues were shuttered, and musicians and particularly crew members and support staffs remain out of work, supported by fundraising campaigns and, more recently, inclusion in the latest governmental relief packages.
There's optimism that the live entertainment and theater sectors will rev up again in the new year. With vaccines on hand, there are shows and tours scheduled as well as major events, such as the Lollapalooza festival and music cruises, announced. Live Nation President Joe Berchtold predicted "a lot of confidence about that return to live ... by next (2021) summer" on CNBC, while the company's CEO, Michael Rapino, wrote in an internal memo that he's "confident that fans will return to live events when it's safe to do so."
All concerned, however, expect limited capacities, testing, masks and other precautions to be part of the complicated task of restarting the dormant industry.
But while that's a question mark, there's still plenty of music events we're looking forward to in the new year. Here's a baker's dozen of the most highly anticipated.
Aretha A-Go-Go: What was supposed to be a banner year for Aretha Franklin's legacy has now been delayed to 2021. The highly anticipated "Respect" film, starring Jennifer Hudson, is now on tap for Aug. 13 just three days before the third anniversary of the Queen of Soul's death. Two other pandemic-delayed projects the National Geographic network's mini-series "Genius: Aretha" and the career-spanning box set "Aretha" are also expected to surface this year.
"The Beatles: Get Back": "Lord of the Rings"/"The Hobbit" director Peter Jackson raised eyebrows when he went back into the "Let It Be" footage to make a new film about the era. It was pushed back to Aug. 27, and after seeing the dynamic five-minute "sneak peek" Jackson slipped out during Christmas week that date can't come too soon.
Rolling in Adele: While hosting "Saturday Night Live" during October, the Grammy Award-gobbling British songstress acknowledged that she's been working on her fourth studio album, whose progress was delayed by the pandemic. Five years since "25," we figure, is enough time to wait.
Foo Fighters, "Medicine at Midnight": Dave Grohl and company had to scratch most of their 25th anniversary plans last year, but the group did record its 10th studio album, which Grohl describes as a "really up, fun record ... filled with anthemic, huge, sing-along rock songs." The first single, "Shame Shame," already hit big, and the rest is slated for Feb. 5.
Alice Cooper's "Detroit Stories": The shock-rock icon came back home to make his next album, an homage to Motor City rock with Detroit musicians such as MC5 co-founder Wayne Kramer, Detroit Wheels/Rockets drummer Johnny "Bee" Badanjek, Paul Randolph and the Motor City Horns, among others, and taking on covers from the canons of Bob Seger, the MC5, Detroit and Outrageous Cherry. Out Feb. 26.
Greta's Back: Greta Van Fleet promises a "very dynamic" adventure with "The Battle at Garden's Gate," the Grammy Award-winning Frankenmuth quartet's second full-length album, due out April 16. Working with new producer Greg Kurstin, who also co-produced the new Foo Fighters album, GVF recorded in Nashville and has so far released a pair of singles and videos from the set.
Father Knows Best: Steve Earle pays tribute to his son, Justin Townes Earle, who died in August, with "J.T.," a heartfelt and heart-wrenching collection of Justin's songs recorded by Earle and his band the Dukes. It comes out Monday, Jan. 4, on what would have been Justin's 39th birthday.
Blast of Bowie: The first big virtual music event of 2021 will be "A Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day!," a concert celebration of David Bowie's birthday on Friday, Jan. 8. Organized by longtime keyboardist Mike Garson, it features a wealth of Bowie band alumni as well as guest singers such as nine inch nails' Trent Reznor, Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter, Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, the Pretty Reckless' Taylor Momsen and more. Details and tickets via rollinglivestudios.com/bowie.
Rewarding "Patience": It's been more than 12 years since Guns N' Roses last album, "Chinese Democracy," came after its own 15-year interim. But guitarist Slash tells us the group has been working on new material, and he tells us he "would like to think we'll have stuff out" this year though best to believe it when we actually hear it.
"All Things Must Pass" again: The pandemic pushed back 50th anniversary plans for the late George Harrison's famed solo album, though we did get a new stereo mix of the title track. A fully revised and expanded reissue is due this year, which we certainly wont want to "Pass" up.
When Paul met Rick: On the heels of his acclaimed "McCartney 3" album, Paul McCartney teams with super-producer Rick Rubin for "a documentary series event," directed by Frank Marshall (HBO's "The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart"). No title or release date yet, but the trailer indicates a deep dig into the McCartney's history, musicianship and songwriting prowess.
Stayin' alive: Buoyed by the momentum of aforementioned Bee Gees documentary, oldest brother and sole survivor Barry Gibb delivers "Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1" on Jan. 8, recasting the group's favorite with guests such as Dolly Parton, Olivia Newton-John, Keith Urban, Brandi Carlile, Miranda Lambert and others.
Ann Arbor Folk Festival: The 44th edition of the event, coming Jan. 29-30, gets even better by doing online with 22 acts, including the Mavericks' Raul Malo, Men at Work's Colin Hay, the War and Treaty, Bruce Cockburn, Kiefer Sutherland and David Bromberg in his record 10th appearance.
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