Nearly a decade after coming together, the members of Denver's Magic Beans were finally making it.
The four-piece, including guitarist and singer Scott Hachey, keyboardist and singer Casey Russell, bassist and singer Chris Duffy and drummer Cody Wales, had gone from being a Boulder college band playing small bars and house parties back in 2010 to a staple of the Denver jam scene that earned a coveted Red Rocks date in 2019.
While its members still had day jobs and side hustles, the band was touring the world, riding high off its album Off Leash, hitting bigger and bigger venues and racking up tens of thousands of online listeners. And the annual Beanstalk Music & Mountains Festival was building an enviable community of fans and fellow musicians.
Given all that, 2020 looked like it would be a big year. The recipe for continued success was simple: Crush live shows.
“I would say that most bands these days and even independent artists are live artists. That’s the only place to make money,” says Hachey. “Even bands that are crushing their records, like Tame Impala, they come and crush the show. If you can’t crush the show and have a touring force in the modern music scene, you’re not going to make any money and have any success.”
But then came the pandemic, and the only way the musicians knew how the band could make money was obliterated.
“It swept the rug out from the momentum we’ve built,” says Hachey. Still, the bandmates tried to stay optimistic and focused on a brighter future they thought would certainly come soon. “I was like, ‘Oh, we’ll be back by fall. We can just hunker down.’ Now I’m like, ‘It might be next fall till we’re doing what we’re doing again,'” he admits.
Over the past seven months, as the music industry slammed the brakes, the members of Magic Beans have become more innovative. Fortunate to have a fan base, in June they turned the eighth iteration of their Beanstalk Festival into one of the first drive-in concerts in the country, hosting bands like SunSquabi, Dynohunter and Homemade Spaceship.
"It was something different,” says Hachey. “It’s something I’ll never forget in my entire life. The stage was right under the screen, and they projected onto the screen. It was a blast.”
Over the summer, the musicians played a few more outdoor concerts, with mixed results. And in early fall, they celebrated their first ten years together at a three-night stand of socially distanced shows at the Boulder Theater. While they were nervous to play inside, they say the shows felt safe and audiences cheered heartily, despite the wildly reduced capacity that left the space feeling empty and rules that kept fans in their seats.
While socially distanced shows aren’t exactly ideal, the bandmates say they're still a joy to play.
“One thing this has shone light on is just how important live music is to so many people as an outlet and a source for social gathering,” says Chris Duffy. “We’ve seen the looks in some of our friends' eyes when we've played shows. You can just see they've been waiting for it; a part of them has been put on hold, and they’re so happy to be there.”
“Shows are the heartbeat of our social scene in Denver,” adds Hachey. “When people go out, you go out to see music. It’s almost a passive thing. You go to the bar and there’s a band there. [Since COVID-19 hit], it’s lacking. It’s ripped out part of the soul of the community.”
The Magic Beans shows have helped repair some of that, but much of what's great about concerts — the hugging, sweating, dancing and squeezing in for a better view — can’t occur during a pandemic. "We’re still not there yet,” notes Hachey.
In addition to playing live when they can, the members of Magic Beans have also performed a handful of streaming concerts. The latest is a rebooted effort from the Arise Music Festival, which will host two concerts a month as well as band interviews.
“They’re going to try to bring not only the music, but also the interviews and meet-and-greets,” says Hachey, who has worked as a consultant with Arise organizers. “They’re hoping to bring more of the festival experience to the Internet, which is hopefully how they stand out.”
As quarantine continues and the bandmates lay down tracks for their next album, they're still hoping to build on the momentum with which they came into this doomed year.
“We’re just trying to stay relevant and still putting out content and being on people’s radar,” says Wales. “If you’re not making content and your band hasn’t practiced and played at all in quarantine, how are you going to hop out on the other side? We just keep chugging away at it.”
Catch Magic Beans at Arise at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 5. Tickets, $5, are available at the Arise website.
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