In March 2020, COVID shut down live music across Michigan. A year later, there’s hope for a slow return with more than 100 venues finally set to receive state aid and summer amphitheater concerts possible.
Exactly one year ago, the world as Michigan knows it – and the music world, in particular – came to a screeching halt.
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With a fast-spreading coronavirus already interrupting many national tours, The Intersection nightclub, Founders Brewing Co., 20 Monroe Live and the Grand Rapids Symphony shut down operations in mid-March, with high hopes of reopening in three or four weeks. Of course, that didn’t happen.
I remember getting the stunning news – along with Celtic music faves An Dro, just prior to the band’s Local Spins Wednesdays appearance at SpeakEZ Lounge on March 11 – that the upcoming, throng-attracting Irish on Ionia celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Grand Rapids had been canceled.
Unbeknownst to most of us at the time, Lauren Daigle’s crowd-pleasing concert at Van Andel Arena that week would be the last show held on the arena stage for more than a year.
We also were unaware that the COVID-driven statewide ban on concerts or gatherings of 250 or more would become a near-permanent restriction, effectively wiping out anything but the smallest live music shows, with scattered driveway, patio and deck performances over the summer.
I described it in a Local Spins story that week as “the live music apocalypse,” but even that falls short of describing the devastating and cataclysmic impact that the pandemic would have on concerts, festivals and the music industry as a whole for the next year.
What followed in March and April of last year were jarring stories about bar and restaurant closures, festival cancellations, struggling musicians turning to live-stream shows for virtual tips and the Michigan Music Alliance’s call for donations to help artists who lost their income during the shutdown.
Revisit the sad succession of 2020 stories here:
While optimism has replaced despondency this spring with the rollout of COVID vaccines nationwide, the outlook for many concert venues remains uncertain partly due to continued capacity restrictions and the reluctance of many national touring artists to return to the road until the fall or 2022. And for the second year in a row, there will be no Irish on Ionia street party (though some bars are planning St. Patrick’s celebrations).
SUMMER SHOWS POSSIBLE; MICHIGAN VENUES TO RECEIVE GRANTS AVERAGING $33,000
Still, my discussions and communications with music industry officials, venue managers and booking agents indicate that some outdoor shows will definitely return this summer – whether in festival form, via community concert series or at outdoor amphitheaters.
The head of Live Nation predicted recently that major outdoor amphitheater shows across the country could resume by mid-summer, something reported by the Wall Street Journal.
(Check out a recent update on cancellations and those festivals that currently plan to move forward in 2021 in this recent Local Spins update, with a full listing of festivals in the Michigan Music Festivals 2021 Guide.)
But it’s also true that small-capacity or well-under-capacity shows don’t make financial sense for most venues, something recently reported by Rolling Stone magazine. Michigan bars and restaurants currently are restricted to 50 percent capacity; the same is true for music venues, with a 300-person maximum.
In fact, many venues are so steeped in debt due to the extended closures that it may be difficult for some of them to return at all.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel, however: Michigan this week began notifying venues who’ll receive state financial assistance within the next 30 days, as authorized by a COVID relief bill passed in December.
Scott Hammontree, partner in the Intersection and member of the National Independent Venue Association as well as Michigan Independent Venue and Promoter Association, said the state will distribute 101 grants in 30 Michigan counties, with venues receiving an average of $33,000.
Overall, the Michigan Stages Survival Grant program will inject $3.4 million in aid to assist closed concert venues,
It’s a lifeline welcomed eagerly by concert halls, nightclubs and theaters which have reached the desperation stage while holding out hope for a return to concerts later this year.
Granted, we’re unlikely to see a return to “normal” for the music scene until 2022. But it’s a start.
Copyright 2021, Spins on Music LLC