Leadoff: The Comeback Is Starting

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– Pucketts
Baby Steps: Baby Steps: Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant in Franklin, Tenn., re-opened on April 27 with social distancing guidelines and capacity capped at 50%. The restaurant also books live music, which may soon be on the horizon.

With every belabored iPhone, zoom and socially distanced conversation since this cursed coronavirus quarantine began, there’s been but one constant cut-to-the-chase question weighing heavily on the minds and hearts of this entire live industry and beyond: 

When is the concert business coming back?  
It’s a $12.2 billion question – the concert grosses Pollstar forecast for the remainder of 2020 based on a record-setting Q1 (which when ancillary revenues are factored in, is closer to an estimated $20 billion). Now, closing in on nearly two months of interminable quarantining, with an extremely nascent and cautious opening of businesses in a handful of U.S. states just this week underway (and many more on the way), the question is more salient than ever as best practices are slowly being developed as we start to move through this thing. 
These days, some seem to believe themselves amateur immunologists and/or politicians – two things we are decidedly not. A global pandemic is not our expertise by any means, but its impact is felt acutely by our industry. To get through this, we’re going to need all the ideas and voices we can get from across the political spectrum transcending ideology and unproven theoretical models to achieve the twin pillars at the foundation of this business: To bring artists’ performances to fans, while keeping them, our crews and colleagues safe; and to operate in a competitive free-market where innovation and best practices are rewarded, all boats are lifted and fan experiences are enhanced continually and qualitatively. This has been the industry’s modus operandi for decades through serious challenges, including massive consolidation, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, weather calamities, the financial crisis, the Route 91 Harvest festival tragedy and now this. 
Courtesy Marushka Media / Rich Fury / Getty Images
– Troubadour
The Troob: Los Angeles’ iconic Troubadour is closed now due to restrictive coronavirus measures, but its booker Amy Madrigali, who formerly worked for the Billions Corporation booking agency, is speaking daily with agents as well as working with the National Independent Venue Association to ensure the venue’s continued success.

But the devil, per usual, is in the details – more so ones that continue morphing. Just as medical experts and politicians don’t always agree with each other and their colleagues, neither do live execs. That’s why this week’s “Comeback” issue has two markedly different Town Hall Guest Posts, one from Jim Digby of the Event Safety Alliance and another by Brian Murphy from BeachFront Technologies, who though they may advocate for different methodologies, both maintain the same goal of bringing back our businesses in as expeditiously and safe a manner as possible. Pollstar welcomes a wide variety of ideas and opinions in these pages, please send your submissions to [email protected] – they’re more important than ever.

This week’s cover story, “The Comeback: How The Concert Business Is Going About It,” dives deep into how promoters, agents, venues and other live businesses in both major and small markets are planning their return, but often in different markets. A promoter like Nick Checota of Montana’s Logjam Presents, for example, faces different opening parameters in Missoula and Bozeman than Madison Entertainment’s Roger LeBlanc, a veteran festival and club talent buyer based in Nashville. The former is dependent, to some degree, on the larger and neighboring markets of Denver and Seattle, while the latter is considering having two socially-distanced shows a night to make up for smaller capacity mandates. 
Also to consider: regional opportunities as a handful of states this week began to come back, including Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, which border each other and are slowly re-opening businesses.
“We won’t be going back to music for a hot minute,” said the assistant manager at Puckett’s, a “restaurant, eatery, catering and live music” establishment, from its Franklin, Tenn., branch, which re-opened on Monday (April 27). 
She explained the restaurant, with a capacity of 118, previously had music six days a week and a Saturday night “Hitmakers Series” with local songwriters playing for a $12 cover that made for lines “down the block” and included artists such as Scott Reeves, Lee Thomas Miller and Wendell Mobley. While there are no immediate plans for the music venue to fire back up, opening the restaurant is an incredibly important first step on the road to live music’s return. 

The governor of the massive state of Texas said he will allow its stay-at-home order to lapse today (April 30). The Lone Star state, with 29 million inhabitants, has six major metropolitan areas, including two with over 7 million inhabitants and another two with nearly 2.5 million along with two more at close to a million. Regional touring can and has sustained a variety of acts in the past.  And this week’s Boxoffice Insider examines the sustainability of regional acts like The Randy Rogers Band and their “Red Dirt” scene out of Texas and Oklahoma, where this phenomenal regional act has toured extensively while picking up fans across the country. 
Clubs will likely be the first music venues to open, which prompted Pollstar to reach out to Amy Madrigali, the in-house talent buyer for Los Angeles’ iconic Troubadour. She explained she’s having daily conversations with agency partners. “We’re talking about moving things that were scheduled for the summertime and where to move them,” she said. “And there’s conversations about potentials in the fall, and there’s conversations well into next year – it’s very ongoing, and it’s very flexible.” 
Madrigali mentions the possibility of having residencies and booking more regional acts when the club does come back. And she’s not overly concerned with the glut of acts and huge amount of traffic that may accompany a comeback, especially the way fall is lining up with major festivals and so many acts wanting to get moving.  

Randy Rogers Band
– Randy Rogers Band
Red Dirters: Regional touring powerhouse Randy Rogers Band has made a name for themselves in the Texas and Oklahoma markets.
“That’s a quality problem,” she says. “We want to come back at the right time, and more than anything we want to keep the bands safe, keep our staff safe, we want to keep our patrons safe. That’s truly our message.” She mentions working with NIVA, the newly formed National Independent Venue Association, with some 1,000 members lobbying Congress to support and sustain treasures like the Troubadour and many other venues.

Sofar Sounds, a music events start-up that puts on shows in unique venues, including homes, offices and industrial spaces, for now has gone completely digital while helping artists earn on average $600 a show. But as comebacks go, they may be uniquely situated to help ramp things up with their small capacity shows (See Q’s With Sofar Sounds CEO Jim Lucchese). 
All of this belies how critically important it is to find safe and sustainable touring models.  
A new study by UTA IQ, the talent agency’s data analytics department, titled “Media and Entertainment in the Time of Coronavirus,” had many significant takeaways about the live music landscape and how people are making up for not being able to go to concerts. 
The study surveyed nearly 1,100 respondents and showed that 90% of respondents go to live shows and are seeking to fill the void. While live streaming has massively ramped up (see our live streaming issue and cover story) with myriad platforms, including zoom performances, social media live experiences, label streaming services and massive recorded TV fundraisers by major and minor stars alike, not a one can hold a candle to the energy, joy and revelation that is the experience of seeing a live performance with a crowd together losing their collective minds. Nevertheless, live streaming will doubtlessly continue to be a part of an artists’ marketing and performance arsenal. 
All that said, the “hot minute” the assistant manager of Puckett’s spoke of before live is safely back at the Franklin, Tenn., eatery could take days, months or longer, but now the process is underway.