- Josh Scheuerman
- S&S’ Will Sartain and Lance Saunders during happier days.
If you've stumbled into this music section looking for reprieve from the endless sprawl of pandemic news, I'm sorry to say: We've got more. But there's no ignoring the impact of COVID-19 on the local music scene, and those who support it. If you had tickets for any show in March or April, it's likely you've come across a notice that it's been canceled or rescheduled (with an automatic refund or transfer to the later date, for most every venue), as indeed most shows have been. Artists and bands across the nation are cancelling tours, and venues—including our own—are being left empty. This week, three members of the booking community offered their direct takes on this stark and unique situation.
Salt Lake City is home not only to local bookers, but to national ones, like Live Nation, which has hubs in most major cities these days and here in SLC, books most commonly at The Depot. A Live Nation talent buyer who's been in the industry four years, Sydney De La Cruz, helps fill venues with shows that can fit up to 4,000 people. Planned shows at The Depot affected by venue closures included such seasoned acts as The Young Dubliners, Grace Potter and Silverstein. The main struggle, De La Cruz says, has been to re-book these types of shows.
"Given the current climate, all of the cancellations have definitely put a little weight on my workload, and have added a few extra hours of work on top of my usual workday," she says. "Luckily, the music industry is resilient and we're happy that we have an opportunity to reschedule rather than cancel. Artists are anxious to get back out on the road and fans are anxious to see them. We are doing our best to make that possible."
But, with spring easily one of the busiest times of year for touring artists to get back out on the road, there is the issue of availability. "In addition, there is a lot of added pressure with all of the agents coming after the same date," De La Cruz explains. "We have had an increase of confirmations and expect an over-saturated fall season. We see most of our shows moving to late July through January 2021."
While juggling that many acts may be hard, at the end of the day, as De La Cruz notes, "safety is the No. 1 priority for a large company like this. We had a company-wide meeting to discuss the necessary steps that will be put into action to ensure the safety of our employees, fans and artists." This means "almost all" (probably be "all" by the time this gets to press) March shows and a handful of April dates. But she drives the point of it all home: "We don't think it's necessary to put people in a position where they have to choose their health over entertainment."
"It's definitely scary," Faye Barnhurst, local show booker at Urban Lounge and Kilby Court, sayst. "But we're trying to stay positive and do our best to support one another. This is a hit that none of us saw coming and will definitely impact a lot of independent venues and musicians."
In communicating with local bands about the shows they were to open for, she's found them all to be understanding of the need for safety. Sartain & Saunders initially canceled all shows at their venues (Urban Lounge, Metro Music Hall, Kilby Court, Rye, The Complex, In the Venue) until the end of March, then extended those cancellations to May 11. "Most artists and venues have come to mutual agreements that it is best to listen to the advice of our leaders and help decrease the spread of the disease so as to not overwhelm our hospitals," Venue Media Manager Nic Smith says of the extended date. Once the dust settles, Smith hopes the local scene is reenergized. "At my most optimistic, I hope that the return to normalcy will inspire people to not take live music for granted, and there will be a resurgence of concert-goers once we are all feeling safe again," he says. "We're hoping to have a strong end to 2020 and get everyone back on their feet." While the venues themselves scramble to figure out when they can safely start hosting again, there are bands out there suddenly left without the income of shows, be they local or not. When asked how fans can support the artists whose shows have been canceled, Smith, Barnhurst and De La Cruz alike offer similar advice: Support in any way you can. Barnhurst offers, "If [you] are able [to], buy merchandise or donate to bands, especially from those that were on tour or about to be on tour." If you're not in the financial position to buy music or merch—many average folks are understandably also now financially marooned—sending simple words of encouragement and love to artists on social media isn't worth nothing. As Smith puts it, "These are very difficult times, and even the smallest gesture of support goes a long way."