The music business is not immune from the ill effects of the coronavirus. On the contrary, it's already begun to ail significantly. As I type this with Purell'd fingers on a Clorox-wiped keyboard, I'm overwhelmed by the bad news and sad anecdotes from musicians, DJs, and promoters who are dealing with the repercussions of COVID-19. This outbreak is taking a toll on the entertainment industry, and current trends as well as the Trump administration's reaction to them do not inspire confidence that things will improve soon. Here are a handful of real-life sob stories behind the sickening headlines. For more info on how to safeguard yourself in public spaces, check out these Seattle government guidelines. [UPDATE: SXSW has been cancelled.]
Sanoj Sniksah (Low Hums): Low Hums had to cancel our trip to Vietnam to play at the Saigon Psych Fest—all three nights. We were gonna have an amazing time [there and do] some sightseeing, but the CV [coronavirus] came in. Was hard to judge, but a few days before we left, they closed all the schools and I saw a photo of one of the venues with our poster up in the window next to a CV ad that masks would be handed out at the performance. Eek. Plus, we had to go through Tokyo on the way in and Singapore on the way out. Mostly concerned about the airports; Vietnam seemed pretty okay in the South. Though cases were starting in the North and all the Chinese came back to work in Vietnam after the holiday.
My wife was shitting herself sideways, and we have kids, so it would have made an easy one-week trip into a week in Vietnam and two weeks in a remote cabin in self quarantine. So we bailed. It was a bummer, but oh well. The fest went off with out a hitch, all the photos looked like normal folks having a blast. March 1 would have been when I could've seen the family again, just about when the CV is really "raging" in Seattle.
Eric Padget: I've already lost $2.1k in studio work and I've been back in the country less than two days. There is no help available at any level to make up that time besides convincing artists I won't cough on them, all with an extreme sense of urgency.
Chris Brokaw: I was supposed to do 11 solo gigs in Italy, February 27-March 8. I was going to fly the evening of February 25. On the February 23, NPR announced the Italy [was experiencing] the biggest outbreak outside of Asia. By Monday morning, my first two shows, in Genoa and Bologna, were cancelled —troubling, as neither of those two cities were in the "affected regions."
The dialog was changing by the hour and basically within 48 hours of hearing anything about Italy, I had to make a quick decision. It seemed like it was going to get worse before it got better, so I cancelled the tour. Lufthansa refuses to refund my ticket ($1,145). So besides that it was definitely the most lucrative two weeks I had coming up over the next seven months, it's been a big hit to me.
I guess I made the right call. I think more shows would've been cancelled and I might've ended up quarantined somewhere.
People in Italy are pissed off at what they see as media sensationalism. All the clubs I play operate on the margins and they cannot afford to be dark for weeks or months. It really seems like the dialog changes every day, and I can't imagine what comes next.
In the meantime, I'm stepping up giving guitar and drum lessons. If you know anyone who wants lessons from the comfort and safety (!!) of their home, I do lessons on Skype to anyone anywhere! And if anyone knows how to get money back from Lufthansa, send them my way.
Chris Pollina (drummer of Eldridge Gravy & the Court Supreme): Eldridge Gravy had a private gig for a Roofer's Expo at Tulalip Casino on the calendar for two days ago. This was going to be a juicy payday for us and two days before the gig they cancelled the whole event. The most disappointing thing for me is that coronavirus is probably either a) everywhere in the country now or b) will be everywhere in the country in like a week, so I doubt this will really keep anyone safer. We're trying to reschedule it for October or November.
Caitlin Sherman: My band and I are on the road as of yesterday for a month, heading down the coast to Austin for SXSW and then up to Boise to Treefort and home.
Our Portland show was super light and the streets pretty bare. Looks like SXSW is still going but we’ve all got a bit of that panic talk in the van about "what if we’ve taken a month to do this tour and it all falls apart and becomes a zombie apocalypse"? So far nothing has cancelled. But we could be playing to a lot of empty rooms. Obviously, the hope is this virus doesn’t spread for the sake of humanity, but yep, it would be a major bummer to throw all this time and money into the wind. So plan B is if it all goes down, we’ll quarantine ourselves in the desert and make a new record or something.
Kurt B Reighley (DJ El Toro): I was supposed to DJ in Seattle on Sunday night, but cancelled my trip Saturday morning. (I'm in an at-risk group, and have to exercise extreme caution when it comes to pulmonary ailments.)
Guy Keltner (Acid Tongue): The recent panic over the COVID virus has been extremely rough on Freakout Records as a label, and is hitting my band Acid Tongue especially hard. Our run with Detroit Cobras at the end of the month has been cancelled due to the band's fears of the virus and travel, and we just had a couple other events related to our LP release cancel in the Seattle area. Our gigs this month were meant to help us substantially in recouping the costs of our sophomore LP, and now it appears we'll be suffering for some time as we pivot and try to figure out how and when we will be able to tour behind and promote this new record. Who could have guessed a Friday the 13 release would be so cursed?
I really wish the local government understood how much every single word they speak publicly is currently affecting the climate around town and in the greater region. People are scared and are having a tough time fully grasping the gravity of this situation beyond the virus' immediate physical consequences.
Ian Cunningham (Acid Tongue, Space Agency Group): It's definitely been a stressful past few days with the health crisis... I'm supposed to be travelling nonstop for the next four weeks—a week in Seattle with the Acid Tongue release show; then straight to Austin for SXSW with Space Agency; then to go pick up my son in Wyoming for two weeks of spring-break visitation in Seattle, again, with my family. That also all adds up to 10 total flights...
We just had to cancel one of our album promotional events planned in Seattle, next week, and my mom is actually one of the managers at EvergreenHealth and is concerned that the city could require us to cancel the album release show, next Friday.
SXSW hasn't made any official statements, but a lot of bigger tech sponsors are starting to pull out and I saw there's a petition circulating in the Austin community to have the event postponed (and Ultra Festival was just cancelled in Florida, so I'm sure that doesn't help).
We have a lot of international artists on Space Agency—like Dumbo Gets Mad (Italy), the Underground Youth (UK), and Lorelle Meets the Obsolete (Mexico)—so we're definitely concerned about how this could affect their full North American tour turnout (and if more shows/festivals will get cancelled, as well).
My first flight to Seattle is this Saturday morning, so I only have 24 hours to make a decision if it's even worth still traveling up for the album (and then whether I should go to Austin from there), or if I'm better off staying home for these next couple of weeks. What a mess.
Scuzz Nun: I've been planning a release show for months. It's occurring at the end of March 26. As I have been cross-promoting the VHS and audio cassette release event at local shows, noise performances, and film events for the past several weeks, I wonder if I should continue to do so or reschedule. The intimate venue, Gallery 1412, I've chosen will almost certainly guarantee that my audience members will be less than six feet away from one another and be in a confined space for about three hours. I wonder whether this is a health risk, given the time of the outbreak and how it is spreading.
Right now, I'm working remotely from home for my day job, looking to the industry and the state to indicate when it's safe enough to return to community functions or whether it's safe to keep the event on.
I've already invested time and money promoting, and the release is something I've been working on for years. It would be heartbreaking for me to experience a major dip in attendance for an already, probably lightly attended non-commercial music event. But I would also hate to put followers of mine or my musical colleagues who I'll be sharing the stage at a health risk for contracting COVID-19. So far I have no plans to reschedule or cancel. I'm just hoping testing kits become more available and hopes for containment result in Seattle getting some sort of handle on this all.
I know that if I keep the event on, I'll be providing hand sanitizer and do checks-in with event RSVPers before the event to make sure they have the most accurate information to determine whether they want to take the risk. It's such a crazy thing to happen to the world, let alone Seattle. I work downtown and this coronavirus outbreak juxtaposed with the somewhat recent mass shooting (which happened a block away from my office), makes me wonder whether Seattle will ever catch a break. It's hard to make the right decision especially for us artists who love to go out and support one another and keep the music community thriving.
We've been concerned that we may be en route to Austin and have the festival shut down when we're already far from home—truly messing with our excitement and plans. We've decided that we'll travel regardless, release the song, and if SXSW shuts down, we'll just head to the Moab and to the Grand Canyon, to shoot a new music video and use our time creatively. We're fortunate to work for ourselves and we've already scheduled this time away, so we'll make the absolute most of it.
Dean Whitmore (Unnatural Helpers, Hex Enduction Records & Books): Interestingly, I arrived in London February 29. Gabi [Page-Fort, Whitmore's partner] intended to join me prior to going to the London book fair, but it was cancelled and she wasn’t able to come. Consequently, I’ve been grazing around record shopping more than I’d initially planned on even.
Coronavirus is obviously a big conversation point, but I’ve seen fewer masks on the south coast and Bristol/Cardiff than I saw in Seattle pre-outbreak. Almost none. Things are definitely picking up and I’m heading to London and then Manchester, so likely concern in these population centers will increase.
David Chandler (DJ Brokenwindow): I work for the main county government [in Portland] as my day job, so I am very attuned to the official word from CDC and OHA (Oregon Health Authority) about COVID and best practices and worry-levels. I have been very careful with washing hands in relation to touching doorknobs, bus interiors, etc. at work. So right now, this translates to heightened awareness about what I touch throughout the day. The last time I felt this way was when around my nephews when they were infants and susceptible to the common flu.
I was thinking about this behavior this morning while packing the last bits of vinyl in my crate for [a gig]. When I DJ in public, it's up to me to worry about the preservation of the condition of my vinyl and record covers. I need to change records quickly, but also I don't want to put them away with big smudges on them, or even dampness from having handled a frosty glass. As I get older, I feel a broader appreciation for the people that owned the records before me and took care of them. I owe some increasing care and delicacy to that unscratched 12" that I've owned for 20 years and that someone else may have handled carefully for 20 years before that. It's a crying shame to one day casually scratch a record after having spun it in fresh minty shape for decades!
So that adds up to washing my hands much more religiously during my DJ gigs, just like I've been compelled to do around the COVID recommendations at work. While I want to see how long I can keep these poor records going (and pass them on someday), it's probably doing me good to incidentally cut down the germs I expose myself to. Sometimes we worry about taking care of our obsessions with music and art, but ignore our health. Well, at least I have an evolving immune system, whereas my vinyl record collection depends on my bedside manner.
Evan McPherson (Spyn Reset): I received this email today regarding my March 26 gigs4u guitar performance at Amazon:
"The following position has been removed from your calendar: For public safety concerns, Amazon has canceled the music temporarily until the current virus situation is under control.”
I’m currently traveling solo and will be playing Mobile, Alabama next week, so nothing affecting the South yet, but crossing my fingers this won’t affect the Marshall Law Band and Spyn Reset tour from Denver up the West Coast to Seattle April 20-May 5.
Rob Angus: I just cancelled the performance on Saturday of HIDDEN ROOM [at Taoist Studies Institute] because some of the performers and crew were not comfortable being in a public event. I'm disappointed, but we may not have had much of an audience for the same reason.
Adam Wakeling (Crocodile general partner): At this point we are not planning on canceling any events. We are following all of the procedures recommended by the King County Health Dept. and also following all of the alerts and recommendations of the federal, state, and local agencies concerning the COVID-19 virus.
I have alerted all of our employees of the recommended hygiene practices as far as staying home if you are sick, hand washing procedures, coughing and sneezing procedures, cleaning microphones and other shared equipment, using sanitizer etc. We will also have hand sanitizer available for customer use upon entering the building as long as we can keep up with the demand. It’s not easy to restock quite yet. Other than that, at this point we are business as usual until there are official recommendations for events and public assembly situations put in place.