The evolution of concert programming during a wave of COVID (Left side courtesy of Croy and the Boys)
Last Sunday Austin booker Trish connelly tweeted a concise statistic evaluating his upcoming week: “When you book 20 groups over the course of Free week and arrives on January 2, there are seven left. “
Seen daily on social networks, groups have been dropped like flies on the posters of local concerts in recent weeks. Several New Years Eve celebrations featured queues cut in half – and others, like a marquee billing with Spoon, John Doe folk trio, and Gentle spirit, outright canceled. The city’s return to Stage 4 COVID-19 risk guidelines, announced on December 29, has also led to the rollout of stricter safety guidelines at a few music centers.
At the time of going to press, a handful of shows had both been canceled from Red River Cultural Quarterthe free week and Las Vegas Hotel‘ editing. The annual agglomeration of free-entry concerts continues this weekend at Mohawk, Stubb, Empire, Cheer Up Charlies, Hotel Vegas, and beyond. Connelly, who has booked several shows at the Vegas hotel, said the bands raised exposure to COVID-19 or concerns about performing on the indoor stage of the venue.
“This week between Christmas and New Years Eve, a lot of bands said, ‘Hey, I’m so sorry – I’m sick myself, the drummer is sick, or my roommate got COVID, so I have to wait for take a test, ”says Connelly. “Very last minute, so many of these shows are breaking down. The bands are worried, which I absolutely don’t blame them for.”
“The mark of success when you’re a club musician is that a lot of people are crammed into tight spaces, and that’s exactly what you’re not supposed to do in a pandemic. ” – Sweet Gary Newcomb
Connelly herself is cautious about the impact of her multiple sclerosis treatment on her immune system. While she expects a slow January, she says groups are receptive to more distant spring bookings.
“It reminds me a lot of that peak we had from mid-July to August,” Connelly said. “It was tough, but it didn’t last forever. People were thrilled to play shows when it calmed down, so I hope it will be like that.”
One of the canceled concerts at the Vegas hotel was recurring underground punk Nite de Swass, intended to host the third performance ever performed by a new act Fuck money. Drummer Alton jenkins, a.k.a alton_usa, discussed the concerns with members of the headlining group Representation of guilt.
“I didn’t make the final call, but we deliberated for a while,” Jenkins said. “If my friends are sick and my friends are the ones going to my shows, I think that was the best thing to do. It just seemed hard to justify packing up that little room right now.”
Ashley bradley, which reserves at the ballroom (formerly known as Spider House), says she’s working on moving upcoming shows to a newly renovated outdoor stage. She decided to cut the New Years Eve show due to several cases among the performers.
“The very last drop was that my sound guy tested positive – I thought all signs pointed to the cancellation,” she added.
The return of the city to Step 4 also brought back stricter security guidelines at some major sites. For the programming of the free week at the Mohawk, the site applied the security policies defined by the promoters of the show Resonate present requiring proof of a negative PCR test obtained within 72 hours or of a complete vaccination. Close to the Empire Control Room & Garage, the venue has implemented similar policies for all shows throughout January for the “foreseeable future,” also recommending masks.
“We are reintroducing all precautions at all salons with the Omicron variant,” says Empire Managing Partner Stephen sternschein. “[Previously,] we left it up to promoters and groups to decide what they were comfortable with. But now we don’t, because we felt like in stage 4 everyone has to follow these rules. “
Like many in the Austin music industry, prolific multi-instrumentalist Gary Newcomb watched COVID-19 cases pick up among gigging colleagues in late December. A few days before Christmas, he started to feel feverish and then tested positive. The pedal steel player and guitarist ended up in the hospital for a day of chest x-rays when his fever did not want to go down.
Sweet Gary Newcomb, who has since recovered, in hospital with COVID-19 on December 21 (Courtesy of Sweet Gary Newcomb)
“The weeks before I got it, everyone was so busy – I played like 12 gigs in a row,” recalls the Little Cap’n Travis member, known as Sweet Gary. “I play full time. By the time Omicron was showing up, a lot of my coworkers and I were in. I remember having had a lot of conversations of ‘Yes, I know it’s a risk, but we can’t. not not to play. ‘
“Then when I caught the virus – it was the sickest I have ever been. It was horrible.”
Newcomb’s wife Jenny parrot, a longtime songwriting standard in Austin, is also recovering from a difficult battle with the virus – further cause for concern as they are currently pregnant. The two musicians are completely vaccinated. The couple canceled a tour scheduled for January to promote Parrott’s November album The fire that I saw.
“A lot of clubs were like, ‘Call me when you’re better,'” says Parrott, who hopes to soon take over the presidency every Friday at 5 p.m. at Hole in the wall. “I hope so. I love touring so much. It keeps me excited about life, but it’s just not the safest thing right now.”
Pending a negative test, Newcomb is also considering joining the Blake Whitmire Band, Tuesdays at White horse, as good as Tender things Mugwort Thursdays and Leo Rondeau Fridays at The tip of Sam’s town. The busy sideman adds that he could “use more stuff on Saturdays.”
“It’s complicated,” Newcomb says. “The mark of success when you’re a club musician is that a lot of people are crammed into tight spaces, and that’s exactly what you’re not supposed to do in a pandemic. You want people to come, but you’re feeling a little weird about that. “