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Music venues shutter their doors over coronavirus concerns 

click to enlarge DAMIR HAJDARBASIC / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Damir Hajdarbasic / Shutterstock.com

It all began with this year’s South by Southwest, the Austin music convention that hosts more than a thousand showcase performances by musicians from around the world. The 10-day event, which was scheduled to begin last Friday, was canceled because of COVID-19.

Just days later, organizers of the Coachella music festival, which was set to take place in April, postponed the event on advice from local health officials. The event is now expected to take place in October.

All the while, White House officials continued to reassure the public that they had the coronavirus situation completely under control.

It soon became evident that previous measures being taken out of an “abundance of caution” were not nearly enough, and on March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency.
That same day, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced an eight-week moratorium on public gatherings of 250 people or more, except in cases where the organizers could guarantee a 6-foot space between those attending. Large venues in Colorado Springs, including the Pikes Peak Center, Ent Center for the Arts and Broadmoor World Arena, canceled dozens of concerts and other stage shows, as did Red Rocks and a number of larger Denver venues, while smaller venues continued to proceed with caution.

Then came Sunday evening’s CDC recommendation that no gatherings of more than 50 people should be allowed to take place, potentially putting an end to live music performances for at least the next eight weeks.
Like the virus itself, there are many more questions than answers when it comes to how all this will play out in the long term.

I Lost My Gig, an Australian website that gives performers and industry workers a place to share their stories of how cancellations have affected them personally, has now estimated that, between bushfires and coronavirus fears, some 10,000 events have already been canceled in Australia alone.

Here in the U.S., industry analysts are predicting the concert business may lose billions of dollars by the time the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course.

The implications are no less serious for the musicians on whom the industry depends. The advent of the digital music format had already made income from album sales virtually negligible for all but the most commercially successful artists. As a result, many musicians had turned to touring, which provided a relatively reliable stream of revenue from ticket sales and merchandise tables.
But for the immediate future, that too is no longer an option.

“Everything is in chaos,” Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace told Rolling Stone last week. “Last time I talked to my European booking agent, before the virus, he was like ‘You need to get on top of things right now!’ and ‘Yeah, I’m already booking shows for November 2021.’ Things like SXSW [South By Southwest] are more than a year of advance planning. To re-plan them, re-figure out, re-schedule — you’re hoping more dominoes don’t fall and you won’t continue to have to cancel stuff. People are just waiting to see what happens.”

In the meantime, some musicians have begun exploring the possibilities of “virtual concerts.” This past weekend, the Irish punk-rock band Dropkick Murphys put on their annual St. Patrick’s Day concert in an empty venue, while streaming it live via YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Other popular bands, including The Revivalists and The Real McKenzies, did the same.

Meanwhile, fast-rising British artist Yungblud, who was scheduled to kick off his American tour with performances both weekends of Coachella, is now planning a virtual concert of his own. So too are singer/songwriter/rapper Machine Gun Kelly and steampunk band Abney Park, both of whom have come to Colorado Springs in years past to perform at The Black Sheep.

Even Neil Young got in on the act this past Monday, as he and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James headlined an online-only digital campaign rally for Bernie Sanders.

Granted, none of this can come close to replacing one of the most important, and least tangible, elements of a live music experience. It’s there that a real bond can be formed between musicians and their fans, creating a sense of community that today is found in few other places.

click to enlarge Leftover Salmon, it turns out, will not be boogieing at The Broadmoor this week, one of many COVID cancellations. - JOHN RYAN
  • John Ryan
  • Leftover Salmon, it turns out, will not be boogieing at The Broadmoor this week, one of many COVID cancellations.

A case in point is Leftover Salmon, the Colorado band who were set to hold their three-day Boogie at the Broadmoor festival this weekend. More than two dozen like-minded performers were scheduled to play, including six-time Grammy winner Jerry Douglas, eTown host Nick Forster’s Hippy Bluegrass Church, sacred steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier, and Colorado Springs’ own Woodshed Red.

But when Gov. Polis announced the 250-person restriction, the group finally had to pull the plug on the Broadmoor event, as well as all the other shows they’d scheduled this month.

In an Indy interview conducted a week before the cancellation, bandleader Vince Herman showed the same down-to-earth attitude he conveys during jam-band tours, where his band treats its fans more like friends than followers. “We’re incredibly famous,” he says, “it’s just that few people know it.”

The first half of that sentence is much more true than the second. The self-described “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass” band play Red Rocks at least once a year, are the subject of a 400-page book by music journalist Tim Newby, and have just released a vinyl box set containing all of their studio albums from the past 30 years.

Despite all that, their attitude is much as it was during their early days playing bars and coffee shops in Nederland, Colorado.

“We started out jamming at places like the Stage Stop and Pioneer Inn,” says Herman of those formative years. “The music community up in the mountains is pretty social-based, and that’s carried through to Salmon, too.”

That sense of community may feel very distant now, but Herman is confident it will return. “We have all of you in our thoughts during this time,” the band told fans on its website. “No one has ever been through anything like this before. Please be patient while we figure all this out.”

See next week’s Reverb for updates on coronavirus restrictions and the Springs’ live music community.

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