For local bands, the show must go on
Music is typically the passion of those who regularly perform it publicly, but it is also these performers’ business.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying safety regulations created great uncertainty and tremendous difficulties for businesses in the area, in addition to home-grown bands that simply visit the area for performances in places like North Street Press Club.
“Musicians all over the world have been hit really hard with all this,” Beau Hendrich said.
Beau is the husband part of the husband-wife musical duo called Blair’s West. Beau and Blair Hendrich started playing in Farmville in July. They will be here at least once a month through the end of the year, including Thursday, Sept. 17, at the Press Club.
“Around the end of March is when things got a little screwy,” Danny Kensy, a Rad Records Nashville artist, said. “Gigs were canceling left and right, venues didn’t know what to do and musicians were freaking out.”
Kensy has performed in Farmville roughly 30 times in the past five years.
Pete Turpin, frontman of The Pete Turpin Band, said the pandemic has been rough on all musicians as far as booking available shows and venues that can and will have music.
“And some choose to shut down the music — kinda strange,” Turpin said. “It has made it where the bands with more members are not getting as many shows. The clubs and venues are booking more duos and trios. (They) can’t afford to pay because of the lack of seating available due to social distancing.”
Leading a band that has varied in size from five to three during the pandemic, Turpin has played in Farmville five or six times in his life.
Beau Hendrich, who lives with his wife in a subdivision in Midlothian/North Chesterfield, said he personally plays with about five or six different groups in the Richmond area.
“Between all those groups, I had my entire year booked up back in March,” he said. “Come March 14th, that changed drastically.”
He said he played a St. Patrick’s Day weekend event Saturday afternoon, March 14, and then the next day the lockdown began.
“Gigs were being canceled like crazy,” he said. “In one day, I had probably $10,000 worth of gigs canceled over the course of two to three months.”
He said a large portion of his and his wife’s income was gone with all of the gigs being canceled, and Blair was denied unemployment three times. The Hendrichs were fortunate, though, that Beau owns a pressure washing business as well, which kept him and his family in decent shape financially.
But he noted that income is not the only thing the pandemic has impacted.
“Being a musician is who I am and makes me ‘me,’ so it was wearing on my soul,” he said. “After a couple weeks, I told my wife, Blair, that we were going to set up our sound system in our driveway and just start playing for the neighborhood.”
He said their community loved it so much that Blair’s West started playing every weekend for a few months.
“In the end, there was a lot of positivity to that because we got to know a lot of our neighborhood, and we were able to bring some joy and normalcy to so many families who were struggling through (the lockdown) as well,” he said.
In fact, the Blair’s West neighborhood concerts caught on so well that other neighborhoods, like those in Bon Air and Henrico, had the Hendrichs come play for their communities as well.
Kensy said traveling for music had been a bigger part of his life before this spring.
“I do travel a lot for music, but ever since April that has limited me some,” he said. “I do fly to Nashville and do shows, but my European shows have been canceled until 2021. I play in Italy a few times a year. Great country music crowd.”
When the lockdown came into effect this past spring, Kensy still wanted to play live somehow, so he came up with a solution.
A Mexican restaurant in Mechanicsville had been asking him to play for a while, and he said he thought this spring was the perfect opportunity to work with the restaurant and make it happen.
“So I did the first outdoor parking lot show on April 8th,” he said. “About 12 cars showed up. The next week, 40 cars, and then over 100 cars.”
He said it got so big that he extended the shows at Mexican restaurants in seven locations to six days a week.
“I was playing at least five shows a week and had a few friends do the other ones,” he said. “We also had double shows, so between three of us, there was a lot of work. And, we were all doing this for tips. We wanted to help out the restaurants, and we all made a very good amount of money.”
He said the customers came from all over. They ordered their food, picked it up and parked their cars to listen.
“I was the only one playing live shows for about two months,” he said.
Then a few other artists and venues caught on, he noted. Because it was perfectly legal to do, more and more shows started popping up.
“When June came, patio shows started opening, and that brought me more and more business,” he said. “Now, for paid shows I did have to cut my pay a little, but we are all going through this, so it wasn’t a problem for me.”
Turpin said he and his fellow band members understand what is happening, but they keep playing music because it is what they do. They have been doing it for quite a long time, from New York to West Texas, all over Virginia and Maryland and North Carolina.
“Some have sent me messages privately asking that I stay home and not do the shows, but as the saying goes, ‘The show must go on,’” he said. “So I book private parties, venues that are open with music, weekday shows to keep us going.”
Beau Hendrich said that as things were able to start opening again, Blair’s West found its schedule filling up pretty quickly.
“However, that was, and still is, at the price of limited budgets, and also mainly outdoor performances,” he said.
He noted that businesses that have live music, such as breweries, restaurants, wineries, bars, etc. are still trying to get back on their feet, while trying to operate on a somewhat normal level, but their budgets are very hindered still as capacities are diminished.
“Through the blistering heat of the summer, we primarily played outside in the scorching sun, and mostly for just tips,” he said. “I will say, though, that people were so happy to be out that they were quite generous.”
Sam Petry is a solo performer who lives in Chesterfield County. He did not play from March 11 to May 24 due to the pandemic, but he has experienced a smoother transition back to normal since the reopening began.
“As a solo performer I have not been affected since the restrictions have been loosened,” he said. “My friends who perform in bands have seen the most impact due to capacity limitations and budget restrictions.”
Petry has been performing twice a month at North Street Press Club since June.
Kensy said the past few months have been a learning experience.
“I feel like every artist, national, regional or local, is on the same playing field,” he said.
Everyone is doing the livestreaming shows, he stated. Solo shows, duo shows and three-piece band shows are working well. This is not as true for full-band shows, though.
But Kensy said he feels this is a great time for an indie artist to step up.
“Remember when the MLB had a strike years ago and had replacement players step in?” he said. “This is what the regional and local artists should do. Be a replacement player for the national guys. People want to hear music, and since 95% of national artists are not touring, it leaves an open door for ‘minor league artists’ to come in for a fraction of the cost and fill the void.”
Kensy said he has seen it first-hand. People want to hear live music.
“So for me, it has been advantageous and humbling,” he said. “Never knew how many people would dig in their pockets to help out artists and their local restaurants.”
Blair’s West has a big, lingering struggle even amid the reopening, though, with which many groups can undoubtedly relate — it has something on the books that is still up in the air, and then a guaranteed booking comes along for the same date.
“Also, having bigger events, such as weddings or corporate events, being rescheduled for later dates where we are already supposed to be booked,” Beau Hendrich said. “It’s been a big struggle, to say the least.”
Turpin said COVID-19 has made an impact on the entire country. All things have started to change, but so has society.
“It’s obvious,” he said, before noting what has not changed. “When it is all said and done, music makes us all happier. It’s what we need. That break from it all for a few hours, dinner and tunes and camaraderie is good for people, so we keep booking where and when I can.
“If it gets worse, we will have to go back to the 80s era and start having more field parties,” he said with a laugh.