At a time when most Valley concert promoters are stuck in limbo with empty calendars for the next several months (or even longer), Thomas Turner is gearing up to put on shows again.
The owner of local electronic dance music events company Relentless Beats is days away from relaunching outdoor pod concerts at Rawhide Event Center in Chandler where masks are required, capacity is reduced, and safety measures like social distancing are enforced.
The series, which kicks of with three events taking place nightly February 12 to 14, will feature groups of up to eight patrons situated in various 8-by-10-foot pods located on Rawhide’s Sonoran Lawn, each with a view of a massive stage where DJs and producers do their thing.
This weekend’s events will be love-themed, owing to Valentine’s Day, with “Heartbreakers" happening on Friday and Saturday (which will be headlined by EDM stars Sullivan King and Valley native Ghastly, respectively) and “Lovemakers” on Sunday with house music DJs like Shiba San and Dombresky.
Turner says Relentless Beats is planning to put on three-day pod concerts during four additional weekends over the next few months.
The company ran similar events over five weekends starting in mid-October last fall. (They halted the series over beginning in mid-November because of the weather and the impending holidays.)
According to Turner, the concerts had a few “operative kinks” under the pod concert format (largely with patrons adjusting to the new setup), but were considered a success.
“We were learning how to do [events] a completely different way than festivals, so there were bumps the first weekend with adapting to that,” he says. “After that, it was really easy.”
Although any sort of mass gathering is generally considered to be dangerous these days, particularly in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, Turner says the pod concerts have smaller turnouts than festivals in the before times.
“Because it's only like a couple of hundred pods at most, you don't have that many people coming, to be honest,” Turner says. “It's significantly less than the [EDM] events we were running before the pandemic.”
The concerts also feature portable toilets and hand-washing stations clustered at the end of each row; food and drinks (including alcohol) can be ordered through the Relentless Beats website and delivered to each pod. It’s part of the various safety rules in place at the events.
"We try to keep the entrance process simple and safe. There is an overabundance of bathrooms so you don't feel like you're using the same bathroom that everyone else is using,” Turner says. “And having orders delivered to each pod keeps people from waiting in line at [concession stands].”
While Turner says Relentless Beats is focusing on pod concerts, at the moment, he doesn’t rule out returning to a pre-COVID festival format for its events later this year, but only if COVID-19 infection rates lessen significantly and an appropriate number of people are vaccinated.
“It’s a game of 'wait and see,'” he says. “For right now, we’re about pod concerts. We're comfortable promoting them and they're safer than normal festivals. But we’re not ruling anything out if things improve.”
That said, he isn’t certain if Phoenix Lights, the company’s annual April festival that’s one of its biggest of the year, will happen. The 2021 edition is scheduled for April 5 and 6, but Turner says everything is up in the air at the moment.
“We're agile enough that we could put together a festival in a few weeks if we had to,” he says, “But I don't know if the world is ready to host something like that right now.”
Heartbreakers. 8 p.m. on Friday, February 12, and Saturday, February 13. Lovemakers. 5 p.m. on Sunday, February 14. Rawhide Event Center, 5700 West North Loop Road, Chandler; rawhide.com. Tickets are $150 to $495 via relentlessbeats.com.