Nobody in the music scene was happy about losing their jobs, income and shows when the coronavirus cancellations started. The concessions people, bartenders, security guards, sound engineers, guitar techs, light-board operators, artists and stagehands all found themselves struggling — with many out of work.
At the same time, the venue owners, who have to decide whether to pay staff during closures, cut back on salaries or lay off employees entirely, are also facing an uncertain future. Will their bars, theaters and concert halls be able to reopen once normal life resumes? And how?
When we spoke to him last week, Curt Wallach at the hi-dive was nervous about the effects of a possible closure. His staff wanted to keep working, and nobody was ready to shut down; if the hi-dive closed, he guessed that he would only be able to keep the business alive for a couple of months without outside help.
But by March 16, even before Mayor Michael Hancock ordered the closure of restaurants, bars and other venues, he and his co-owners had decided to stop holding concerts for now.
Instead, they'll be selling music lovers ticket credits to the hi-dive.
"This is a $50 ticket credit, good to be applied to any (*non-sold out, non-festival related*) event at Hi-Dive after our reopening," the venue explains on its website. "In the long run, all of this money will end up in the pockets of the artists themselves, but for now it helps us to weather the mandatory closure brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Writes Wallach: "We win. You win. Rock and roll wins." (For a full explanation of the program, go to the hi-dive website.)
Across the street at 2 South Broadway, Mutiny Information Cafe, a longtime haven for underground music, all-ages concerts and other events, is opening a takeout window (actually, it's blowing through the brick wall) where you can get some of the spot's other amenities: books, comics, podcasts, coffee and more, with an emphasis on things by local creatives.
"We are opening the window 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the quarantine, and we'll just keep it open forever," says owner Jim Norris. "We've wanted to do it forever. But now is the time."
Meanwhile, Cervantes', which is owned and operated by AEG talent buyers Scott Morrill and Adam Stroul, has launched a GoFundMe campaign called "A Little Help From Our Friends."
"As you know, all venues, restaurants & bars in Colorado are now closed through May 11 to help contain the spread of Covid-19," the venue wrote in a statement. "Our awesome and dedicated Cervantes' staff are suddenly out of work & will need money for rent, food, utilities, healthcare, etc.
"We've started a GoFundMe page to raise money on their behalf," the statement continues. "Any amount you can give will be divided among all of our staff: door staff, production, bartenders, barbacks and box office.
"In the meantime, stay safe, healthy, and support the local musicians who are doing live streams, lessons online and whatever else they can do to stay afloat," the venue concludes.
A patron of Forest Room 5 helped the bar set up a GoFundMe to support its staff through the closure.
"To be clear, we know we're not the only people in this situation, and that EVERYONE deserves health and support," explains the campaign. "We are posting this fundraiser because there is a serious need, and also in hopes that other people in Denver feel encouraged to do the same."
And here's another way to help the music scene: Bandcamp, the online music distribution site that independent artists and labels flock to, has announced it will be waiving its revenue share on Friday, March 20, so artists get all proceeds.
"To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, March 20 (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets," Bandcamp explains on its site.
Despite the challenges all around, Norris sees some hope in this catastrophic moment.
"We will all get though this," he says. "I believe common sense will prevail and the true goodness of most of humanity will rise to the top. These times only shine a light on what is truly important: family, friends, art and music, love."
Do you know about other venues and artists who have strategies for surviving these tough times? Let us know at email@example.com.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.