Jason Kulbel sat looking at the empty, cavernous interior of Slowdown.
The rock venue’s co-owner wondered aloud what they were going to do. The club has postponed all concerts through the end of the month. The next active date on the calendar is in April, but even now he’s not sure if that will happen. Concerts keep getting postponed.
“For now, it’s completely brutal,” Kulbel told me. “It’s not stopping. They just keep going off, one by one.”
It’s happening everywhere — bars that host live music, the city’s local clubs and the arenas as well — as we practice social distancing to battle the spread of coronavirus, and venues, musicians and the people who work for them are all feeling the effects.
“It’s just thing after thing after thing,” Kulbel said. “We can’t wrap our heads around it. We’re just scrambling.”
A lot of people are wondering how they can help. It’s going to be hard. You could buy merchandise (a T-shirt, a poster, anything) from bands canceling tours to help them. Or tune into their live streamed performances and leave a tip.
But for venues, it’s harder.
While many on social media encourage buying a gift certificate for local businesses, things don’t quite work the same at music venues. Buying a ticket for a show in the fall would help them have a good fall, but it won’t help them now. (Those funds won’t clear the ticketing companies and land in the venue’s bank account until several days after the show.)
Marc Leibowitz suggested purchasing merchandise from venues. His clubs, like The Waiting Room Lounge, sell T-shirts, and they’re working on putting them up for sale online.
For now, the venues sit empty. It’s surreal.
While talking to Kulbel, the closest thing we could compare it to was the aftermath of 9/11, when a lot of public events were canceled and people were scared. But even that was different. For one, it didn’t last very long. For another, we weren’t stuck in our homes.
“You still went to the bars. You got in a better mood by seeing your friends,” he said.
Kulbel is hoping someone may find a use for Slowdown’s large space until they resume holding shows. Maybe they’ll work with some local venues to do live streams, but they’re not sure how it would work.
Thankfully, Kulbel said, most concert tours are postponing, though that’s causing another problem: Their fall calendar was already being booked, and now he’s trying to fit all the rescheduled spring shows into an already busy time of year.
But at least people will be excited to get out of the house and hear some live music later this year.
“We hope when we come out of this, we’ll come out of it with a rage,” he told me. “That will be something. Everyone will be ready to go out.”
For now, many artists are doing livestreaming concerts.
John Legend, Keith Urban and Luke Combs are among the major artists doing live online shows.
Tuesday night, The Dropkick Murphys played their annual St. Patrick’s Day concert without a physical audience. The only people in attendance were their crew, but as I watched on Facebook Live, the audience ticker tracking viewers grew beyond 130,000.
They sounded great. They had energy. It was pretty much like watching any other live concert video you’ve seen: Not as good as the real thing, but still pretty fun. And for those of us who are used to seeing friends and family on St. Patrick’s Day, it felt good to participate in a communal event, even though we’re not able to gather together.
“God bless you guys. Be safe,” singer Ken Casey said. “It broke our hearts to miss this, but there’s a greater cause at hand. Let’s beat this thing together.”
Several local musicians are doing it, too. Andrew Bailie has done several live performances. Josh Hoyer will live stream from his basement on Saturday at 9 p.m.
“Myself and many others have lost dozens of gigs and thousands of dollars,” Hoyer wrote on social media. “I am currently homeschooling my two daughters and trying to figure out how to make ends meet.”
While some bands are offering their streams free of charge, others are asking for payment.
Hoyer posted his Venmo and Paypal accounts, asking his fans for a tip. American Aquarium has been hosting daily live streams, charging $15 to watch via stageit.com. Frontman BJ Barham said he used the entirety of the proceeds to pay his band and crew. And while the Dropkick Murphys show was free, it had a corporate sponsor, and the band said they used the money to pay their crew.
It goes deeper than you think, too. It’s not just venues and bands, but their merch, too.
Take rock band Beach Slang, who was set to play Slowdown on April 7 but postponed their entire spring tour. The band bought a ton of tour-specific merchandise that had its 2020 tour dates on it. All of that is essentially worthless now. Who wants to buy a tour T-shirt with dates that never happened?
Still, the band was offering some for sale, referring to it as “the tour that never was.”
They seemed to be putting it up for whatever they could get, promising tour posters for whatever you wanted to pay, plus shipping.
I bought one. It wasn’t much, but it was a little thing I could do to help.
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