North Bay music venues brace for return as California learns to live with virus
To get by, Simpson secured Shuttered Venue funds but also declined to say how much. She is looking forward to a new year, one that landed Ann Wilson of hit rock band Heart to perform on May 5. About two weeks later, jazzy rock singer Boz Scaggs will provide an update.
Luther Burbank Center, Santa Rosa: Center Stage
In neighboring Sonoma County, the Luther Burbank Center has also tapped into welcoming wineries by bringing its entertainment to Healdsburg’s Rodney Strong Winery for its outdoor summer concert series. The lineup is expected to be announced this spring.
Center spokeswoman Anita Wiglesworth described the pandemic’s rebound in the entertainment world as “ups and downs”, referring to economic shortcomings as well as the societal psyche.
Luther Burbank earned $3.6 million in Shuttered Venue funding, but even that doesn’t make up for the substantial loss of two years of missing shows.
“Many did not survive,” she said.
Wiglesworth thinks the road back may involve patience, as “10-30% (of the public) still don’t feel comfortable” going out.
But despite the setbacks, Luther Burbank anticipates a great need for many to get out and participate in the arts.
“The arts are an important component of our (collective) mental health,” she said. “Being live and being part of the performance is a powerful outlet as a form of human expression,” she explained.
Surviving venues and outlets have learned to pivot in a big way, insiders claim.
“Hey, we turned our parking lot into a movie theater,” she laughed about last summer’s movie nights at the center.
Wine Country Guitarist: Outdoor Intimacy in Sonoma County
Bay Area musician Morris LeGrande, nicknamed the guitarist of Wine Country, told the Business Journal there’s no reason music lovers can’t enjoy an intimate nightclub environment outdoors. .
LeGrande and her booking agent Michael Azcon discovered the joy of entertaining at vineyards like their concerts at Russian River Vineyards in Forestville.
“What we’ve found is that it can be just as intimate on the outside as it is on the inside,” LeGrande said. His business has lost up to 80% of its revenue due to the shutdowns, but he is looking forward to the silver lining that will come out of the pandemic.
“We hope for a much better summer,” he said.
And Azcon noted that the private gatherings he books for LeGrande are likely to be in demand because they offer more of an “intimate affair” in which party planners can select a selective guest list.
He calls it another pivot coming out of the world of COVID-19.
When Life Gives You Lemons, Serve Sonoma County Tomatoes
After holding no shows in 2020 and just one last year, Petaluma-based Second Octave Promotions return with their SOMO concerts on the big stage near Sally Tomatoes in Rohnert Park starting with a carryover from artist Steve Marley for play June 3. The reggae performer, who was canceled amid virus social distancing restrictions last summer, will be tracked by OAR scheduled for July 20.
Smaller concerts at the nearby Redwood Grove Stage will feature local bands in front of a maximum capacity of 300 people instead of 3,000.
“It will be a boom for local promoters,” said Second Octave co-founder Steve Senk. “The worst is behind us and people can’t wait to get out.”
Senk’s optimism heading into the summer is a far cry from closures, warrants and a revenue loss of at least 90% for the local promoter who derives most of his income from merchandise sales and concessions at concerts. He also received funding from Shuttered Venue but declined to provide the amount.
“It’s a difficult job. I thought we would be a victim of COVID,” he said.
But Senk expects to return with a vengeance, as large-scale artists schedule national tours. Senk plans to schedule between 10 and 15 major shows in partnership with Los Angeles promoter Nederlander this year.
Bryce Dow Williamson, who works for Second Octave and promotes small SOMO concerts, called the return of live performances a “marathon”, opposed to a series of sprints to put nightclub concert entertainment back on the front of the scene. The Redwood Grove Stage will feature Sol Horizon on September 9.
Sonoma State: Through the back door
A design element of the building has played into the hands of Sonoma State University as it works to bring attendance back to the Green Music Center.
The back wall of the hall, completed in September 2012, opens to widen the attendance of the big names by 1,400 seats inside to accommodate a total of 4,500 spectators.
“I think the outdoor capability is helpful for us,” spokesman Andy Shepherd said.