The New Music
By David Rolland
Featured in the Digital Edition
Music to our ears
They say hindsight is 2020, but from this side of the quarantine it seemed in early 2020 South Florida really might have had a golden age for local live music. There were plenty of great musicians, lots of cool venues, and an audience eager to dance to the beat and hum along to the melody.
“We opened in 2019,” said Mike Goodwin, owner and founder of Crazy Uncle Mike’s in Boca Raton, Fla. “We had an extraordinary first year, and were taking off bigger than last year. Our [live music] calendar was packed with some of the best of the best. Our trajectory was great.”
Matt Cahur, music booker at Guanabana’s, concurred. “We were having a banner year. Best in 20 years. We had all kinds of great shows lined up for summer,” he said.
Musicians were also able to prosper. West Palm Beach-based soul singer Matt Brown joked that he was able to give himself a raise in the early days of 2020. “I was busy, man. I was playing 25 to 30 shows a month. I was about to make the most money I ever made in my life. But then rona flew in and everything shut down,” he said.
This is not live
Like Ernest Hemingway described bankruptcy, the coronavirus shutdown was gradual then sudden. In seemingly one day COVID-19 went from some abstract thing people in Italy had to deal with to the major society game changer of our lifetime.
“Our last show in mid-March at Guanabanas was Uproot Hootenanny,” Cahur remembered. “We had about 20 people there. Couple days later we closed the place up like we do for a hurricane. We donated all the leftover food. The restaurant had to let everyone go so they could file for unemployment and we shut down for six weeks.”
Matt Brown had 40 gigs lined up that were all canceled. “Regular shows like the weekly at E.R. Bradley’s, which we hadn’t missed in two years, were canceled. A new Saturday night gig at The Bend, which I only did one week of before the shutdown, was off. I even had a music conference up in Virginia that was canceled.”
When dealing with a virus that was so dangerous and so contagious, there was fear that live music might be a thing of the past, and that musicians and audiences would not be allowed to be in the same room for the foreseeable future.
Do you even stream, bro?
Thankfully humanity is a creative and resourceful species. Throughout quarantine, people innovated to replicate the musical intimacy we once took for granted between a performer and an audience, and live streaming really took off in April. Everyone from global celebrities who could pack stadiums to local bands that play your favorite dive bar to bedroom musicians who never before played in public began streaming concerts online.
“I had to invest in a tripod, so I could stay relevant and active by livestreaming,” said local singer/guitarist Sierra Lane. “The shutdown actually inspired me to step back and write music on a more consistent basis. Financially, it wasn’t great, but luckily people were extremely generous with tipping for livestreams, which was so appreciated.”
Venues had to reinvent themselves for a more remote era as well. Crazy Uncle Mike’s became a take-out only establishment while staying true to their young musical roots with Coronafest, a livestream concert of bands and mixtures from different bands that viewers can enjoy from their couch on a flexible schedule of about every few days.
The event was a way to provide a concert experience with fresh and new content that helps to not only keep the music alive but also people entertained.
Guanabanas found it wasn’t economical for them to stay in operations as only a to-go spot so they took the time to make renovations with their stage for when they reopened. Cahur said he was grateful because it gave him the most time he ever had with his family. “In the music industry we get a lot of late nights. It was kind of nice not to be up until three in the morning all the time,” he said.
Mics on, masks on
In mid-May, Florida entered Phase One of their reopening, allowing restaurants to seat customers again in a limited capacity. It also allowed them to bring back live music. Guanabanas began hosting happy hour shows every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m.
“We didn’t want to do anything that would bring massive crowds. We wanted to get our core musicians who have been playing with us for years back working. So we have some acoustic shows in the open air where people have masks and there’s some space between seats,” Cahur said.
“Most of the people who are coming to shows today are adventurous type of folks. They want to come and enjoy,” Goodwin said of the audiences at Crazy Uncle Mike’s. “The challenge has been balancing safety, regulations and people’s nature. Social distancing isn’t the nature of people who are out at shows, so making it comfortable for all is our desire and the challenge.”
The performers are grateful to be doing the job they love, but sometimes are a bit wary of what they see. Matt Brown’s played 16 shows since venues reopened in May. “On stage I don’t have the mask, but soon as I get off I put it on. Some people take it seriously at the shows, but some don’t care or don’t think the virus is real,” he said.
Sierra Lane also feels a bit conflicted. “It’s been great getting even with less of a crowd. With every gig that I’m offered, I struggle with doing ‘the g to play with my band again, right thing’ and worry that playing live isn’t being socially responsible. But I stick to open-aired venues and businesses that promote social distancing, as opposed to places that don’t follow guidelines not just for public safety, but for our safety as artists as well,” she said.
In these tumultuous times, every day brings a different headline. Some make us hopeful that we can go back to enjoying live music the way we used to, while others make you think things will never be the same.
“It will be challenging for all of us. Getting enough people in a venue to help pay for the band will be difficult with tight restrictions and reduced and reduced occupancy,” Goodwin said. “I’m guessing the way we do things will be in flux for a while. We need to be flexible and be willing to adjust quickly when the government mandates new restrictions. It is our belief that these changes will be happening over and over for some time to come.”
Cahur says he’s trying to book national acts for Guanabanas, but we might have to be patient until 2021 when acts and venues can commit with some certainty. For now, he says tip and buy merch from your favorite acts and support the venues, even if laws and public safety mandate they can’t yet provide you with music.
“Even if your favorite live music venue isn’t playing music yet, go have a burger or beer to help support them. Get out there, be safe about it, but start spending. The music will come back, but we got to do it when the time is right,” he said.