Locals recall their last taste of "normal" pre-shutdown, and what they're looking forward to most post-COVID

Locals recall their last taste of "normal" pre-shutdown, and what they're looking forward to most post-COVID
Alicia Hauff photo
The local band Fun Ladies, fronted by Patty Tully, plays a set at the Big Dipper during the Inlander's Volume Music Festival in 2019.

Despite the St. Paddy's parade being canceled, the Irish Drinking Team Spokane chapter was still hosting its annual pub crawl in downtown Spokane on March 14, 2020. I had big plans to join.

When that morning arrived, though, downing shots and belting drinking songs with a couple hundred strangers seemed like not a great idea, given the little I knew about COVID-19. Instead, I headed to River Park Square, where I was so freaked out by the virus-related reading on my phone that I bailed halfway through Invisible Man.

Many of us can recall that last "normal" thing we did. We asked a few folks involved in the Inland Northwest arts scene about what they remember, and what they look forward to as "normal" returns. Their answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

co-owner of Baby Bar/Neato Burrito and singer for Fun Ladies
On Saturday, the 14th of March 2020, I was asked to bartend the memorial for Kelly Fay Vaughn at Berserk. It was a sad and beautiful night. There was a lot of music, dancing, crying and sharing of memories. On March 16th a bunch of us had decided to go out as a last hurrah and then moments later knew that the idea was ridiculous and that we should all head home having no idea what was to come. Neato and the Baby closed on the 17th.

When things return to a sort of normal, I am looking forward to seeing live shows again and playing music in front of people — like for real in front of people. I hope it gets to a point when we can shake hands again. I was just really starting to enjoy shaking hands with people.

Spokane poet laureate and Spokane Symphony musician
On Sunday night, March 8, my wife, Kathi, and I divided and conquered: She went to hear The Sweeplings with a girlfriend, and I went to Spokane Comedy Club to see one of my favorite comedians, Rory Scovel, who was following Tool's tour. On 3/10, Young Kwak came over to take some photos for the upcoming Inlander Poetry Issue, which was to include my guide to upcoming live poetry venues and events. My datebook abruptly starts looking like a ghost town after 3/12, when I hit two Spokane breweries: Iron Goat for lunch, and Steel Barrel for a planning meeting for the exciting new season of Lit Crawls: beer and live poetry at neighborhood bars and pubs. Not to be.

One of the carrots that's been dangling in front of me, compelling me onward, is the thought of resuming Broken Mic, our weekly jam-packed poetry open mic that I co-host at Neato Burrito. This includes the additional lure of burritos with Thai peanut sauce and habañero salsa, washed down by a lovely Patty pour from Baby Bar, and surrounded by good friends.

Spokane author
I've kept and cherished a small ticket stub from a Lewis & Clark High School production of Shrek, which was the last big event my kids and I attended before our public lives were shuttered. My friend's son Matthew starred as Shrek, and my children still gush about how funny and wonderful he was in the starring role, and my memories of the event are both joyous and poignant, as if somehow I understood at the time that this would be a last gathering for us, which of course I didn't. What swiftly followed intensified the memory for me. Memories are infinitely strange in this way.

I can't wait to take the kids to live music events. I miss the Bartlett, which of course is no longer around, but I loved that all-ages venue. We had planned to take our son to a Flaming Lips or Deep Sea Diver concert prior to the pandemic, and now I'm eyeballing the Gorge and daydreaming about how awesome it would be to share that beautiful landscape and a concert with my family there. That said, I can't help but feel that a return to normalcy will involve its own small traumas. This has been a tumultuous time, pulling away from casual togetherness and gatherings, and I can't help but feel that there will be some awkwardness and hesitation when we begin to share spaces again. Weirdly, I both look forward to it and fear it! This dread may simply show how distressing this last year has been. We will all need to heal.

co-owner, The Big Dipper
The last big event we went to before the shutdown was Pivot at the Washington Cracker Building Feb. 6th (2020). I really love that series and thoroughly enjoy the speakers, venue, wine bar and packed house. It is a community-centric event, where locals tell deeply personal stories to what feels like a room of friends. (I'm saying this as someone who has never spoken at the event, so speakers might feel differently, but I hope not.) The event is something that just can't be the same without a live audience. The audience is absolutely and solidly there for the speakers, it's lovely.

We had our second "Live at the Big Dipper" show Feb 1. That was a packed, messy, loud, sweaty event that we worked on for weeks beforehand and would have not been worth any of it without the audience. For us, it was what we were all about in February. It was to be the start of a new angle on our live music hosting, one that we had been formulating since we opened. We hosted the show, filmed it and were working on editing for the rest of the month and beyond. We are hoping to get back to it.

What we can't wait to get back to? Live music, of course.

executive director of Emerge art space in Coeur d'Alene
The last event I attended in March 2020 was the Emerge Ceramic Showdown Throwdown and Cup Frenzy. This event was so much fun and filled with incredible energy. I have a background in ceramics, so this had been something I had been wanting to do for years. The event had 350 cups for $15 each, drink choices, DJ music and a wheel-throwing competition. It was a very packed house. The next week COVID hit, and we were all sheltering in place. It was surreal and made the event seem like a dream.

I would love to go to an outdoor concert this summer. I miss live music. I would love to be able to attend Bazaar and Terrain this year. I need art events in my life again, and these are a couple of my favorite events I always look forward to!

Spokane author and co-owner of Atticus and Boo Radley's
My last [pre-COVID] event of any kind was Brooke Matson's poetry book launch at the Civic about a year ago. It was a beautiful celebration of her book In Accelerated Silence, with music and a big crowd of poetry lovers to cheer her on.

[Looking forward] I don't really have one crowd-related activity (although we are really hoping Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds reschedule their tour because we had awesome tickets to see them in Portland this fall). I am most excited to just have people gather in any setting without worrying if they're putting themselves and other people in danger. To celebrate, dance together, have shared experiences of music, art, theater, anything, really, just seems like the most wonderful thing to me. I know I took it for granted before, but now I see it as such a luxury, such a gift.

Auntie's Bookstore events coordinator
I certainly had a great meal at Nudo in March and at least one fun night out at Berserk in February, but the moment that feels most emblematic of The Before Times is smaller and weirder. It's equally inaccessible to me now, but I think of it fondly and often — one of my last interactions with a stranger that didn't have that fearful, desperate edge.

In mid-February, I was heading into the women's bathroom at Auntie's as a woman I didn't know was coming out. Apparently, I startled her because she screamed. And then I screamed. And then she screamed louder. And then I did, too. We stood there and looked at each other for a second and then started to crack up. Standing about three feet apart, we laughed loudly, open mouths carelessly spewing airborne particles and germs and whatever else is so dangerous these days. Probably a full minute later, we stopped to catch our breath. She told me to have a nice day, and then we went our separate ways.

I miss talking to strangers. I miss low-stakes absurdity.

Locals recall their last taste of "normal" pre-shutdown, and what they're looking forward to most post-COVID
March Madness games in the Spokane Arena in 2011.

event planner and former Spokane Arena general manager
With me, fun and work seem to go hand in hand. I was putting together a little beverage soiree in conjunction with the Spokane Lilac Festival when all this wonderfulness came down like a hammer. I was at an events workshop in mid-February when the news came down from the NCAA that the men's basketball tournament was, at that time, simply postponed. That was a fiercely grim gut punch that things were about to get really bad. I made the decision to shut down operations and prepared to ride things out.

My tastes are simple: I can't wait to go to David's Pizza or No-Li Brewhouse again when either place is packed with people for a sports event. The camaraderie that comes from those happenings is so incredibly precious. I never in my lifetime thought those times would go away for anything, even when things got bad. This isolation has been disastrous for so many. Luckily, it seems that things may be looking up. My fingers are crossed!

Spokane Arts executive director
One of the last things I remember going to was SpIFF! [Spokane International Film Festival] which happened at the end of February, beginning of March, before the severity of the pandemic felt real in Spokane. I remember congratulating Chase Ogden, whose documentary film Super Frenchie was closing out the festival, and now here we are a year later and his film is about to be released in theaters and screened all over North America. At least one good thing to come out of this insane year for artists, thank goodness.

I was also taking a writing workshop at this time last year with Emma Noyes and Laura Read, and if I'm remembering right, the last session of the workshop was canceled because of the governor's shutdown order. I didn't even get to submit my essay to the book project because Spokane Arts went into hyperdrive, working to provide support and funding to artists who'd just lost months' worth of gigs overnight; there was no time to think about anything else.

The crowd-related activity I'm most looking forward to? For me, it's concerts. There is just no substitute for live music in all its forms. Indoor, outdoor, almost regardless of genre, I can't wait. Whatever the rules end up being for safety, as an audience member I'll do it happily, because at least we'll get to listen to live music at some point this year, and musicians can start to make a living again. There was a point months into the pandemic when the case counts weren't so bad, and a friend hosted a very small porch concert. Three local singers were up on the porch, with a handful of people spread out in lawn chairs, everybody wearing masks and distanced. The second, and I mean the second, those women started singing, tears were streaming down my face. After being deprived of live music and that communal experience for so long? It was life-affirming, just to sit there for an hour and hear a few folk/country songs live. I'll never forget it. ♦

Wallace Huckleberry Festival @ Wallace

Fri., Aug. 19, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sat., Aug. 20, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...