Only a month ago, Columbia, Missouri was a lively college town bustling with students and nightlife. Within a matter of weeks, the arrival of COVID-19 has caused Columbia’s busy streets to turn into a ghost town. With students returning home and businesses closing their doors, the college town no longer looks like the sanctuary it was last month.
Due to the pandemic, the music scene in Columbia has been turned completely upside down as locally-owned venues are being forced to close, house shows have become a hazard and bands can no longer play together.
The disappearance of live music may not be as impactful for bands with massive audiences or stadium-sized venues, but local bands and businesses are struggling to keep funds and to grow their audience.
Prior to the pandemic, local “future soul” band loose loose had booked some of their most exciting shows yet. The band normally plays within Missouri, but had the opportunity to book a show in Chicago, a city they had never played in before.
Justin Harris, keyboard player for loose loose, was looking forward to playing the show in his hometown of Chicago until the pandemic hit.
“My family had never seen me perform,” Harris said. “It was gonna be a really good time, and everything just started happening a week or two before that. And then it just fell through.”
Loose loose is comprised of seven members, making it difficult for them to practice together under current restrictions. However, social distancing isn’t stopping them from recording their third EP, which was in the works before the pandemic hit.
As each band member has a certain part to contribute to the EP, the band has resorted to recording in small groups to respect social isolation practices. The group has decided to limit the number of band members in a room to three or four at a time, keeping a healthy distance apart from each other. Band members will record their parts of the song in these small groups until everyone has recorded their parts, then edit the individually recorded pieces together to complete the song.
“It is extremely difficult, especially in the creative sense, when we've been so used to being in the same room and having these ideas,” Harris said. “We just really kind of feed off of each other when it comes to the music we make, so having to make this transition and not just having everybody together, it's been a learning curve.”
Harris said some members of loose loose have had to start giving online music lessons and finding other ways of making money while the band is currently a much smaller source of income. Normally, about half the money made from shows would go into a fund for band-related issues, but Harris said that had to change.
“We've been relying on the fund a little bit just to be able to have some type of relief,” Harris said. “Everybody's jobs have been messed up. It is being felt, this lack of a steady income.”
Local venues are also being hit hard by the crisis. Eastside Tavern, a local dive bar that hosts karaoke nights as well as concerts, has been forced to temporarily close. Founder and owner Sal Nuccio has been running Eastside Tavern for 22 years, and says that prior to COVID-19, the bar was starting to book more live music than ever.
“April was gonna be a big month for Eastside [Tavern],” Nuccio said. “We had four or five different shows booked for April that had potential, and we had to cancel them. Business wise, it's gonna hurt me … On top of the regular losses, the live music losses were heavy this month too.”
Eastside Tavern prides itself on booking touring bands from other states as well as local college bands, making its audience a diverse one. Because the bar is what Nuccio describes as “straight-up nightlife,” he says there are almost no opportunities for them to earn money during the current lockdown.
While live music and shows may be gone for a while, it’s still possible to support bands and venues in Columbia during the pandemic.
Ruby Lane, a local blues band, hosted its first Facebook Live concert on April 7. The group wants to continue to do livestreams to give their audience a taste of live music.
“Adjusting to things isn't terrible, but it would have definitely been more fun with a crowd,” bassist Dylan Riggs said.
Ruby Lane also hosts silent auctions on Instagram, where fans can Venmo the band to enter a drawing for a prize. Riggs hopes to open an online store soon so that the band can sell T-shirts and merchandise to earn money while it can’t perform.
With Eastside Tavern empty, Nuccio started a Facebook fundraiser to help keep the bar afloat while he can’t make a regular income. He says any little bit counts and will help him stay open. He also applied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan to help him stay in business during the shutdown.
While a loose loose livestream concert is in the works, Harris says what helps the band most is just having people listening to its music.
“Streaming the music on whatever musical platform they may have, reposting videos that we put out of our performances so we can still reach a new audience,” Harris said. “That would be just incredibly helpful.”
Edited by Sophie Stephens | firstname.lastname@example.org