“It’s a wild freeze frame when your job and your passion both stop dead in their tracks.”
On March 12, culture as we knew it basically stopped due to the coronavirus crisis.
Sports across the board got either cancelled or postponed, while theaters and concert venues began to close up. From that point until now, it has been a downward spiral of uncertainty.
No one can escape it; people are picking up the pieces of what is available so we can continue to thrive. The process leaves a lot of questions for the managers of music venues and their employees who, like pretty much everyone else, are wondering what tomorrow might bring.
Where does a typical music venue employee stand in this fiasco? How about the bookers, bartenders, promoters, stagehands, and security guards, all of whom are vulnerable, whether or not they qualify for unemployment? And in case it doesn’t go without saying, the musicians who play at these venues are also at risk, in many cases perhaps even more so than the people who help their shows run smoothly.
“It’s truly sort of paralyzing,” Daniel Carswell said. A bassist for Boston punks Rebuilder who also books shows at Charlie’s Kitchen and Hong Kong in Cambridge, he said that venues closing down and the cancellation of shows are a booker’s worst nightmare, leaving a shroud of the unknown looming over the calendar.
“Anyone who books shows can deal with cancellations,” Carswell said. “We have some from time to time, but not knowing when we can start again is what’s killing me personally. Granted I understand there are larger issues at hand, overall public safety and health, but just it’s a wild freeze frame when your job and your passion both stop dead in their tracks.”
Venues like Great Scott and O’Brien’s Pub in Allston, as well as ONCE in Somerville, have started GoFundMe pages to support their staff through the COVID-19 crisis. The page for employees of the former two recently surpassed its $15,000 goal, while at the time of this writing, ONCE is nearly three-quarters of the way to its $20,000 goal.
“The money raised will all go to our door, bar, and sound staff,” Tim Philbin, general manager of both Great Scott and O’Brien’s Pub, explained. “No proceeds will go to myself or the ownership. I’m also very proud of some employees who have declined to accept any of the money due to their particular financial situation, or the fact that they had another job at which they are currently still employed.”
“The funds raised here so far are a huge help in terms of what we need to bridge the financial losses our employees are suffering,” ONCE proprietor JJ Gonson explained on their fundraiser. “If we happen to raise more money than we need to cover employees, we will start allocating funds to essential expenses like liquor bills. This is a stressful and, frankly, scary time for ONCE. Thank you so much for supporting our little-venue-that-could. We believe that community, personal interaction, and the arts are vital to everyone’s well-being and we look forward to enjoying our time together again, worry-free, at ONCE.”
At The Sinclair and Royale, which are operated by Bowery Boston through their Los Angeles-based parent company AEG Presents, employees remain on the books while management is hopeful about the coming months.
“Our plan is that we’re not laying people off,” AEG Chief Communications Officer Dennis Dennehy said. “Our employees are all working either at their venue or remotely. We’re looking forward to when everything gets back on track.”
Live Nation, one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world that operates the House of Blues, did not respond to a request for comment.
For local musicians in need of financial assistance, The Record Co. started the Boston Music Maker COVID-19 Fund. It’s been a successful endeavor, raising more than $50,000 so far for musicians who had gigs cancelled.
“We created the Boston Music Maker COVID-19 fund because music makers are struggling financially,” Community Manager Maria Bartolotta said. “Small grants of up to $200 are being paid rapidly on a first-come, first-served basis. Right now we have over $56,000 raised, and we have approved and funded almost 300 applications. We have received over 800 applications and we’re working hard to raise enough money to fund all requests. It’s a big goal, but we’re doing our best, and we encourage people to apply no matter what if they’re in need, because every application will give us more data to make a case for music makers in future advocacy efforts.”
Bartenders looking for help paying their bills can apply to the USBG’s Bartender Emergency Assistance Program, while engineers and stagehands can find information at unionfacts.com about how they might find support during this time of uncertainty.
As for fans, you can stream endless shows online, and of course support by purchasing music and merchandise. A little money will go a long way in helping someone get through these next weeks and months, until venues open their doors once again.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.