Capturing the spirit of our new Lemonade Park concerts

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DJ in late July. // Photo by Jim Nimmo.

As America continues it’s messy grand re-opening, a lot of attention has been paid to bringing back sports, churches and school.

What hasn’t received a lot of attention is where re-opening has left music venues and the artists that play them. #SAVEOURSTAGES has become the rallying cry of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). It is estimated that if independent music venues are forced to remain dark for all of 2020 (which seems likely), those venues will lose nearly 9 billion dollars and almost 90% will be forced to close.

Unlike restaurants, To-Go service is not an option for concert halls. These venues also provide economic benefits for the surrounding community. For every $1 spent at your local roadhouse, $12 gets spent in the businesses that surround that venue. That’s over 110 billion dollars of economic impact to the national economy. For the average working musician, these music venues provide nearly 75% of their income and closures will have a lot of ramifications for how you hear music in the future.

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Lemonade Park is a new venue in the West Bottoms opened out of necessity from restrictions on seating inside brick and mortar establishments. The brainchild of the owners of Voltaire and RecordBar. It is an outdoor space with limited seating, a flatbed truck stage, and plenty of hand sanitizer. Masks and social distancing are mandatory. The philosophy behind this spot: when life hands you lemons, make Lemonade Stage. 

I recently spoke with three of the bands who have played Lemonade Park and asked them about life as a musician during a pandemic. Jeremiah Gonzales of Redder Moon, Kian Byrne of Yum, and Josh Allan of Various Blonde all had a lot of thoughts about the future and how to make lemonade of it.

Four months of quarantine left a lot of time for trying to imagine how life as a musician goes forward.

As Gonzales says: “You have time to reflect and to decide where to point that reflection.”

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Josh Allan concurred, “Music that has a larger voice about important things is well-received now.”

Both Byrne and Gonzales participated in the Midwest Music Foundation’s COVID Relief video, When We All Come Together, a local fundraiser to support KC musicians who could no longer play gigs for money.

Remarkably, all of these musicians were relatively upbeat about the experience. While the rest of us were busy watching literally everything on Netflix several times over and crying over how badly we needed a haircut, they were doing what musicians do: making music.

Two weeks into quarantine, Kian Byrne had face time meetings with all three of the bands he plays in. Telling them that since it would be a while before they could see each other again in person, he was going to write more music. “As a writer,” Byrne says, “I’ve been practicing quarantining all my life. I got a synthesizer, started working on loops and writing by myself. Now I have shows I want to do with a band.”

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Jeremiah Gonzales spent the last night before quarantine started, playing at RecordBar. They were live taping the show so the first two weeks of the lockdown were spent editing sound and video for the band. He used that time “as a crutch” to get used to the idea that this was long term. Finishing the project became a way to keep the hope up.

After that, he spent three weeks writing a new record and then revisited a lot of dormant music projects. As he put it: “Do you roll-over or do you take this art you have been blessed with and do something with it?” 

Lockdown brought lifestyle changes to Josh Allan. He stopped drinking, worked out more, and like all the others, started writing music. He is currently working on lyrics for the music he wrote for a yet unnamed album. He’s in no hurry, he’s watching the news which is inspiring the lyrics.

The common thread with all of these musicians is the drive to create content. Touring simply doesn’t seem viable in the foreseeable future. Byrne pointed out, “ Gigs aren’t happening and people aren’t going to them. People are buying cameras and lights and doing videos. Creating content is now key. You have to release new music. You won’t tour from it but if you create a reason to buy a record, you make money.”

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All of the musicians in this article were looking for new ways to monetize their product. Live Streaming performances started as an emotional outlet and quickly became a replacement for gigs. While the money paid through Venmo and other cash apps was really good, it remains to be seen if live streams will continue to be viable. Allan pointed out that while you can tour to a different venue every day for as long as you can keep up, an internet live stream reaches everybody across the country all at once. It’s great for expanding an audience base but you can’t keep doing the same set every time you live stream as you do on tour.

Other revenue options include merchandise sales of shirts, hats, CD’s and all the other things you buy at a concert. Crowdfunded platforms like Patreon are becoming a monetary lifeline for performers. Patreon is sort of like an Only Fans website for musicians without the naked pictures. Fans sign up to pledge a monthly fee to access new material from any artist they follow. Some musicians like Byrne look for hardcore music fans to bring back vinyl records while Gonzales is looking at cassettes and CD’s for the same reason. They give a retro feel that seems appropriate during a pandemic. The hope is if you aren’t listening to music in a bar setting, you save a lot of money that you can spend on your favorite artist’s behalf.  

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So while the NIVA actively lobbies Congress for funding specifically designed to save venues from closing during the pandemic, musicians are scrambling for new ways to monetize their music. As Josh Allen put it, “We will find ways.  It’s like prohibition, it’s about finding a way to do it”.

If you want to help, make sure you connect with your favorite artists via social media and see how they are adapting to our new normal. Watch their live streams and remember when they ask for tips that you didn’t pay top dollar for the beer in your hand. Give generously and also go to www.saveourstages.com to ask your legislators to provide needed funding to save our stages.

Categories: Music