Live music has returned to Washington — but curtains aren’t up on normal life quite yet. Months ago, as audience-starved bands announced tours, prospective concertgoers hungrily snatched up tickets.

Then the coronavirus’s delta variant threw a curveball, prompting venues to modify reopening plans and some artists to cancel their tours.

As patrons return to shows, “vaccines will — literally — be the ticket,” says Melissa Hawkins, an epidemiologist who’s the director of undergraduate programs at American University’s Department of Health Studies. “We’re back to a lot of uncertainty, with the rise in cases and the variant being more transmissible. It’s all about balancing risk.”

Before deciding to attend a show, she suggests considering your personal risk — are you immunocompromised, for example, or the caretaker for an elderly person? — and whether it’s an event that will attract a crowd from many different cities. “We know that travel increases risk for lots of reasons,” Hawkins says. “So thinking about the accumulated risk of everyone who’s attending, where they come from and what they’ve been doing — and now we’re all here together.”

Here’s a guide to what to expect at shows this fall — plus tips on concert etiquette that will help ensure everyone has fun (and stays healthy).

What to expect

Last month, I.M.P., which operates the 9:30 Club, the Anthem, Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion, announced that all patrons must show proof of coronavirus vaccination or negative test results from within the previous 72 hours. Starting Oct. 17, only proof of full vaccination will be accepted. (Kids younger than 12 — who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination — will still be able to show negative test results to gain entrance.)

“What has been really gratifying is the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’re getting from customers and from the artists,” says Audrey Fix Schaefer, I.M.P.’s communications director. “Is it easy? No. None of this is easy. But being shut down was excruciating, and we don’t want to do that again. We want to keep people as safe as possible, and that means we’re going to be monitoring what the policies are.”

Nearly every major concert venue in the D.C. area is requiring proof of vaccination or negative test results, including outdoor ones such as Merriweather, Wolf Trap and Jiffy Lube Live (effective Oct. 4). Public health experts applaud the move.

“It’s not no risk, and it may not be low risk — but it’s not very high risk if you’re vaccinated and everybody else is vaccinated and there’s an indoor mandate for masking,” says Ranit Mishori, professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and senior medical adviser at Physicians for Human Rights. “You can feel a certain level of safety going to a venue like that.”

District resident Josh Moody briefly considered selling his tickets to see Modest Mouse perform at the Anthem in mid-August. “But no, I’m vaccinated. I’m young and healthy and I decided to roll the dice,” he says. He was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the show-night logistics were: When he arrived a half-hour before the opener took the stage, there was almost no line at the door. He showed the Anthem staff a photo of his vaccine card, and “the whole process took maybe three minutes between security and vaccine check.” (As Schaefer points out, staff are already accustomed to checking patrons’ IDs — so adding the vaccine card to that check isn’t a huge change.)

In addition, masks are required at most venues in the area, whether because of local mandates or venue-specific policies. Patrons need to be masked at all times except when actively eating or drinking. But that isn’t license to drop your mask for the 40 minutes it takes to slowly sip a beer: “You take a sip, you take a bite, you put it back on,” Mishori says. And she says masks should be worn for any interaction with venue employees.

Another issue concertgoers will need to navigate: Where to stand inside a packed venue. When Bethesda resident Ben Sanders went to that same Modest Mouse show, he snagged a spot in the back of the Anthem, next to the soundboard. Patrons in certain areas, such as directly in front of the stage, were body-to-body, but there were plenty of spaces to the side and in the back “where you did have space to be off on your own if you wanted,” Sanders says.

Of course, the reality of attending any crowded event is that there will be lines. When you’re waiting at the restroom or bar, “just make sure that you’re masked up and practicing all the public tools that hopefully now are good habits, in terms of washing your hands and not sharing drinks,” Hawkins says.

New era, new concert rules

Much of concert etiquette boils down to a simple premise: Be nice. Here are some more tips, for our changed times — or any time.

Get there early — and be prepared. Some venues, including Strathmore in North Bethesda, plan to open earlier than usual so patrons have extra time to find their seats, without all rushing in at once. Take advantage of this and arrive early, says Allison Alonzy, Strathmore’s director of patron experience.

Strathmore, like other spots, has shifted to a contactless mobile ticket system that replaces paper tickets. “We’re going to be doing a lot of communication with our patrons around how to find their ticket and where it lives now, because that will be a very different experience,” Alonzy says. Make sure to read all such communication and have your ticket, proof of vaccination and photo ID ready when you arrive. Otherwise, you’ll hold up the eager concertgoers behind you.

Stay home if you’re not feeling well. It was common sense before the pandemic; now, it’s an important public health measure. You obviously shouldn’t attend an event if you’ve recently tested positive for the coronavirus, but you also shouldn’t attend if you have any symptoms or have been in close contact with anyone who tested positive in the previous 14 days. Suffering with the run-of-the-mill sniffles? The same advice applies: Stay home. “Protect other people,” Schaefer says.

Don’t spend the show chatting with your friends. As Schaefer put it: “Don’t consider [the venue] a loud bar to have a conversation.” Constant chatter is distracting and, especially during quiet songs, can interrupt the music for bystanders. If you’re at the 9:30 Club, and you’d rather talk than listen, Schaefer suggests popping into the Back Bar; most other venues also have spots where you can steal away for a conversation. Similarly, it’s okay — encouraged, even — to sing along if you’re masked up (otherwise, you risk spraying tiny aerosol particles).

Don’t crowd other patrons or staff. Since reopening, Echostage general manager Matthew Cronin has noted that concertgoers aren’t slamming into each other in the way they might have before. “We’re still crowded concert venues, but people are giving a little bit more space, especially in lines,” he says. That’s good etiquette for this new pandemic era, when we’re eager to be back together but maybe not, well, that together.

Throw away your own trash. Otherwise, venue staff will have to clean up after you once you’ve gone home. In this pandemic era, especially, that means touching potentially germy bottles and cans. “We’re always very appreciative when patrons can deposit their own trash in the trash bin or the recycling bins,” says Ken Bigley, the acting superintendent of Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. “It’s better from a hygiene standpoint, and it’s a big help for our staff.”

Tip your bartenders, and be patient. That’s always been good advice, but it’s particularly relevant now. “Tip your servers — take care of them,” says Nicholas Fontana, proprietor of D.C.’s Pearl Street Warehouse. “They had a hard year.”

Cronin adds that it helps to be patient with venue staff, including bartenders. Just as you’re getting back to shows, they are too, and “they’re rusty,” he says. “I really hope everyone’s just aware and kind and lets everyone hit their pace again.”

Buy the band’s T-shirt, or decal, if you can swing it. The pandemic walloped the music industry, just as it did so many other industries. Not every venue survived, and artists weren’t able to make money from touring. “Everybody is still trying to dig out from underneath,” Schaefer says. “To buy merchandise from the artists that night, that’s a really nice thing to do.” If there’s a long line at the merch table, click over to the artist’s online store instead.