The governor’s decision today to allow venues and theaters to partially reopen on Oct. 9 doesn’t mean live music will be back anytime soon. Local Spins explains why.
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The long and silent 2020 for Michigan’s indoor concert venues and theaters might be about to change – but not enough to help many live music halls.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday (Sept. 25) announced a new executive order that allows performance venues, indoor theaters and cinemas to reopen on Oct. 9 at a strictly limited, 20 percent capacity – or 20 people per 1,000 square feet – with a maximum of 500 allowed at the largest venues.
Shuttered since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, concert venues and nightclubs view the decision as a step in the right direction, but don’t expect it to lead to the widespread resumption of live music events.
Some halls and nightclubs warned that transitioning back to live shows won’t take place until there’s a vaccine, capacity is boosted and national touring resumes in earnest.
“Complicated is one way to put it,” said Scott Hammontree, talent buyer and partner in Grand Rapids’ The Intersection, noting it’s difficult to make things work economically for live music at such a reduced capacity.
More critically, he noted that “touring is 90 percent gone” nationally in 2020, meaning most artists are eyeing 2021 or beyond for resumption of touring from city to city.
“Artists just aren’t touring. There are shows out there, but they are few and far between,” said Hammontree, who’s a Michigan representative for the National Independent Venue Association that’s been seeking federal and state funding to assist closed venues. Learn more online here.
The Intersection, he noted, is down more than $3 million in revenue from 2019.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Everybody’s trying to pick up the pieces. It’s crazy.”
In short, don’t expect The Intersection to open anytime soon. Hammontree said the venue might discuss ways of doing some shows “just to re-engage with the community,” but that’s yet to be determined.
Michelle Hanks, co-owner of the Seven Steps Up listening room in Spring Lake, said flatly that the new executive order “does nothing for our live music venue.”
She noted that the touring industry is “decimated across the country. Venues like Seven Steps Up can’t reopen if there are no artists to book.”
Plus, the cozy Spring Lake venue devastated financially by the COVID shutdown only has a capacity of 132. Under today’s executive order, the listening room would be limited to 20 to 25 people which “is not a viable financial model.”
“No one is listening to us. Democrat or Republican, they all only hear what they want to hear,” Hanks added. “Too bad, so sad. The people that understand our industry don’t have the power to change things.”
Hammontree and Hanks insisted it’s critical for the state to provide financial assistance to these venues to keep them afloat until touring and concerts can resume in earnest. NIVA is seeking $10 million in funding for concert venues in Michigan.
Rick Thompson, owner of Traverse City’s popular Union Street Station, said he can’t reopen because state rules require businesses which make more than 70 percent of their revenue from liquor and beer sales to remain closed.
“We have no food, so we make 100 percent of our money from alcohol,” he said. “Trying to bring food in doesn’t help either (because the restrictions are) based on 2019 numbers.
“We have lost so much money this year. It’s also putting us back about five years because of all the loans we had to get to survive. We were two years away from having the business paid off. This one year basically wiped out everything we have worked so hard for the past 10 years.”
Even if the bar and performance space were allowed to reopen, Thompson said the six-foot social distancing and capacity restrictions would make it impossible to host live bands again.
“I can only get 40 people at a time in the bar with the six-foot social distancing in place,” he said. “So I can’t afford to pay bands with such low capacity.”
The latest executive order also covers movie theaters, bingo halls, bowling centers, arcades and indoor climbing facilities which likely will benefit from the relaxing of COVID restrictions more than most concert facilities.
Outdoor events can have larger crowds under the new order. Instead of being limited to 100 people — as it stands now — outdoor venues can now have up to 1,000 people while limiting capacity to 30 percent.
In making the announcement about reopening with “strict safety measures in place,” Whitmer conceded: “We are not out of the woods yet, and we will continue to monitor the effects of these incremental changes.”
Read more about the plight facing concert venues: Concerts in crisis
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