Hotstar: Sunsquabi’s ‘Top Down’ Tour Saves The Summer

Sam Silkworth
– Sunsquabi

Sunsquabi guitarist Kevin Donohue was on his way to what would become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic the same day New York shut down all mass gatherings – and, therefore, concerts. 

“We were in the middle of a tour all over the United States when this first hit. I was about to go to New York City, I was at a hotel in Ohio and the NBA shut down, and then a couple hours after that in New York City they said no gatherings over 500 people,” he says from his home in Colorado. “We started evaluating, saying, well, that’s pretty much the whole tour.”
The day was March 11, when the National Basketball Association announced it would not be continuing its regular season, President Trump announced that travel from Europe to the U.S. was suspended, and even famed Hollywood actor Tom Hanks announced he’d contracted the coronavirus – a day it became clear to many that the coronavirus would have a major impact in the U.S.
“It was scary, to be honest with you. Watching the news go down,” Donohue said, as the band was on tour with The Floozies and unsure what to do. 
Management made the call to postpone the band’s whole tour, while Sunsquabi’s other two members – Josh Fairman (bassist/synth) and Chris Anderson (drums) were actually already en route to New York and wouldn’t know what had happened until landing. 
“They made the right call, definitely,” Donohue says. “If we would have gone and finished a couple more shows, even if we could have played in NYC, we would have been putting people at risk at that point. It was the right call to make.”
However, with some time off to get the creative juices flowing, and hard work behind the scenes from management at 11E1even Group,
the Colorado three-piece, known for its jammy funk-infused live performances with EDM-style light shows, has rolled out one of the first real “tours” of summer 2020. 
The 12-date “Top Down” tour is taking place from June through late August, part of the Live From Out There series started by 11E1even’s Ben Baruch and Dave DiCianni. 
“It’s funny in this world, we’re setting up the tickets, doing the promoting, kind of doing everything ourselves,” manager Kyle Day, who got his start by acting as a booking agent for the band in its early days, says. “It’s wild.”
The 12 unique shows will stream every Thursday night, starting June 25, taking place in different locations around Colorado from venues, recording studios and inside the band’s homes, with Q&As, fan request sets, improvs and guest star performances, promising new music and visual experiences. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Can’d Aid Foundation. 
Ticketing for the tour is being handled by ticketing service Tixr, with pricing set at $50 for access to each show, with separate tiers for added merch and other VIP packages at $100 and $200. 
 “I’ve been a promoter for a small club in Phoenix and a music festival there, so I didn’t come into it completely blind, but it’s kind of pivoting,” Day adds. “That’s the name of the game right now – how do we pivot and give something to the consumer? I think we’re over-delivering. It doesn’t equal the live experience and I don’t know if it ever can, but we’re doing full production livestreaming as if people were there, with a multi-cam setup.”
Donohue, armed with time and energy to focus on different aspects of the show, sees the tour as an opportunity to get creative and work on things the band normally might not think about.
“On a technical level we’re doing more with video and lights than we’ve ever done,” he says, adding they can ramp up the lasers and visual effects in post-production editing. “It’s that kind of stuff, using different effects for each video so it’s going to stand out. It’s been really fun creating something atypical of what a typical tour would have in production, and keeping the bar super high as we’re asking fans to support us for $5 per show, it better be something beyond what they can see for free.”
While the shows surely won’t make up for a whole summer of touring, the economic impact is still important, Day says. 
“We’re basically looking to sell 1,000 tickets of this thing, then we can save our summer, which is really not that much. We’ve sold 4,000 in Colorado,” adds Day, as the band has co-headlined Red Rocks and sold out the Denver Fillmore on its own. “We have  a crew, sound people, light people, a tour manager, management, an agent – it’s a whole crew and it’s a little family. It was cool to call them and say we’re doing this as a team and we’re going to deliver this. It’s important to do it ourselves. We wouldn’t do a regular show [without them all] so we wouldn’t do it now.”
Donohue echoes that sentiment.
“The hugest thing for us in producing all of this is that we want to be able to take care of our crew as well, especially without the live shows happening right now,” the guitarist, who also handles keys and production said. “I try not to think about the entire aspect of making money as an artist because I think you can get very distracted thinking about it too much as a business instead of making something that really means something, that you’re 
really trying to put out there. But, obviously, without anything coming in – it was so heartbreaking watching all of our biggest gigs one by one going bye-bye, it’s been a scary time. But things are starting to look up and people have been so supportive and we’re so grateful for that.”
While there are different models to consider when putting together a post-COVID-19 tour, such as Marc Rebillet’s full in-person Drive-In tour, to teaming with venues for livestreams to a hybrid model like Sunsquabi’s, the important thing is to innovate, stay busy and engage with the fans, who are still very hungry for music and some sort of live experience.
“It’s really exciting and cool to have something to look forward to every week and connect with our fans,” Donohue says, adding that every other week’s performance will be a new live show, streamed with eight different cameras and heightened visual effects. “It’s really top-notch content, and I think that we’re so on the grind all the time touring  that we don’t think about producing this kind of video content. 
“We’re actually thinking about doing one outside in the mountains somewhere during sunset. Instead of the light show, nature is the background – something you never normally would do, new ways to create stuff. Anything is on table.”
“It’s just trying to normalize everyday life,” Day adds. “The guys are used to being on the road every week of the summer, playing festivals and doing shows and routing around festivals. This way we have a show every Thursday night. It’s great for my band’s morale and hopefully the consumer as well, and to just offer something more. We have 12 shows, a full summer  worth of content, from Zoom hangouts and shows to two Q&As with the band, and just trying to be really active and stay in the limelight. Normalcy for them is playing music in front of an audience, and we’re going to do that one way or another. ”
“Even when it comes back, we’re going to see more of the livestream and what we did in the meantime, when we got creative, we can still do this in a fully functioning touring world,” Day says. “We added outlets and skills and ways to reach fans. For any band, say they’re not booked that heavily 
in August and want to play shows, they can get together and put up a couple shows.”
Donohue adds that it’s important to stay connected with other artists and support the crew and promoters and venues that helped artists get to this point, too.
“[The pandemic] is something everyone is dealing with collectively and you just have to stay smart and healthy and look out for your neighbors and stuff,” he says, adding that some friends and neighbors have tested positive with the virus. 
“We’re seeing a lot of that happen, people reaching out and helping each other. Despite such a horrible thing happening, there’s still a lot of community. It’s been heartbreaking seeing so many major gigs canceled one week after the next, and it’s going to be a very long tough summer for a lot of people.”