Brooklyn Bowl Nashville Opens With Audience-less Jason Isbell And Amanda Shires Streaming Show
Al Pereira / Getty Images – Opening Act
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires will perform the first gig at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville on May 15 – a livestreamed performed in an audienceless room.
Two months after its originally scheduled opening, Brooklyn Bowl Nashville will finally host its first show on May 15, when husband-wife alt-country power couple Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires take its stage. There just won’t be an audience.
“Given the difficult situation we’re all in, this is probably about as good of a first show as I can think of for Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville,” says Brooklyn Bowl co-founder Peter Shapiro, whose new 1,200-capacity venue in Music City’s Germantown neighborhood follows Brooklyn and Las Vegas locations.
When Shapiro unveiled the club in December, its initial spring slate included Angel Olsen, Toots and the Maytals, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and more, and was set to kick off with a grand opening Bowlive bonanza featuring Soulive and George Porter Jr. on March 14.
Like so much in live entertainment this spring, the concert didn’t come to pass. Just days removed from the tornado that devastated parts of Nashville – including Germantown, where the Bowl’s neighboring building sustained damage – scores of businesses shuttered to stem the spread of coronavirus, including the city’s myriad venues.
“That happened, and then we got back up, and then this happened,” Shapiro says. “But we’re going to get back up again.”
Nashville initiated Phase One of its reopening on May 11, and Isbell and Shires’ gig, which will be livestreamed from a mostly empty Brooklyn Bowl Nashville, realizes a possibility the live industry has mulled for the uncertain months ahead: As cities gradually reopen, some venues may be able to host and stream audienceless live shows.
“The living rooms are nice, but I think people are ready to see performances from venues again,” Shapiro says. “It would be best to have a crowd there. However, at this point, I’ll take just doing it from a stage, with full concert sound.”
Shapiro’s driving to Nashville from New York – “I can’t let the first show happen without being there,” he says – with Jonathan Healey, an associate at his Dayglo Ventures who has helped livestream hundreds of shows from Brooklyn Bowl and the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. Once there, they’ll test the room’s equipment and open doors to skeleton production and video teams. The show will stream via Fans.com, which has hosted streams of archival content from Shapiro’s venues during the crisis and aims to up the interactivity of remote viewing. Though free, fans are encouraged to donate to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Prior to the pandemic, Isbell manager Traci Thomas had discussed a proper underplay surrounding Isbell’s new album, Reunions, due May 15, with Brooklyn Bowl Nashville. When Nashville announced Phase One, the conversation resumed.
“Originally we were going to do full band,” Thomas says, “but we didn’t feel like we could social distance properly onstage. That’s why we decided just to do the acoustic show with just Jason and Amanda. We want to be safe and lead by example.”
There’s “a little apprehension,” she says, given that Isbell and Shires have been strictly following stay-at-home orders – and that “Jason’s been on the road for 20 years, and this is the longest he’s been off.” But it was important to Isbell that he get fans Reunions on time, and he and Thomas had to meet the challenge of marketing an album during a pandemic.
“I don’t think anybody gets the same feeling from a livestream, whether it be the artist or the audience, but it’s what we can offer right now,” she says. “This is just another one of those weird bumps in the road that we all have to be creative and figure out how we’re going to do things a little differently until we can go back to doing it the quote-unquote normal way.”
More venues than ever now have permanent video rigs capable of high-quality livestreaming, and Shapiro’s among those who see audienceless gigs as a possible stop-gap for the transitional period between total closure and resuming business as usual.
“We’re going to find out how this goes,” Shapiro says. “We haven’t done this before. No one has really!”