When concerns about coronavirus began to close businesses and force us inside, one of the first things to go was live music. And while restrictions on businesses have started to ease up, most live music is still a no-go.
Standalone music venues and most bars aren't allowed to open quite yet, but restaurants that regularly book live music for entertaining their customers have started filling up their books again. It's usually small set-ups with solo performers and an acoustic guitar, 6 feet away from patrons; it's not a rock club, but it's a start.
The Spokane Valley saloon Stormin' Norman's has hosted weekly live music and karaoke since opening in 2018. The business was closed for three months, and it resumed a couple weeks ago with live music on Wednesday nights, with solo artists who are separated from the audience.
"We've had a crazy response," says Stormin' Norman's owner Carrie Thomson. "Musicians have checked in with me to see if we have any dates open, because that's a big part of their income that they're missing, and they're happy to be out, too."
In a normal year, Stormin' Norman's would be fencing off its parking lot for outdoor summer concerts with full bands. That hasn't happened yet, though Thomson hopes to resume that soon, spacing out tables and keeping things at half capacity. For now, the music will continue on a smaller scale.
"It's the way we want the bar to be. It's part of who we are," Thomson says. "It's important for me to get musicians back to work, because I know they're struggling. It's nice to see everyone being together and being social again, and they can do that with music in the background."
A recent survey from the National Independent Venue Association showed that 90 percent of indie clubs and venues have said they're in danger of closing permanently without dedicated federal aid, while a report courtesy of Americans for the Arts that 62 percent of artists are currently unemployed.
Daniel Mills, a local booker who also performs regular solo shows under the moniker Son of Brad, had a calendar full of gigs before coronavirus lockdowns took effect. He says that most of the artists he's talked to have struggled with the lack of gigs and are itching to get back to performing.
"They have been hit hard as far as losing work," Mills tells the Inlander via email. "For the musicians who have no day job, it's been very difficult, and many of them have had to find new jobs. I have also seen half a dozen performers who perhaps feel more financially secure literally give away dozens of gigs to performers who are in greater need."
Mills has recently started booking weekly shows at Osprey, the relatively new restaurant attached to Spokane's Ruby River Hotel. Throughout the week, the restaurant will host live music on its riverside patio; the business is still at half capacity, and the staff wears masks. But during his first gig since shutdowns were lifted, Mills says his audience hardly felt limited.
"Last night the crowd was very enthusiastic with cheers, singing along and an overall party feel," Mills says. "The people present seemed to be dying to resume their social activities and entertainment."
And hopefully that enthusiasm continues: For a lot of local businesses, Mills says, it's imperative that their customers be able to enjoy live music again at a safe distance.
"The relationship between restaurants/clubs and musicians is symbiotic," Mills writes. "For the venues who have chosen to build their ambiance or atmosphere around live music, music is not replaceable. ... The more the public gets out there and supports these venues, the faster our local music scene will begin to thrive." ♦