Live music-starved fans finally have something to look forward to as Bay Area clubs start opening this weekend.
The Chapel in San Francisco kicks things off with Lebo & Friends playing Friday and Saturday followed by the Dan Horne Band on Sunday.
Fred Barnes, The Chapel’s general manager and cofounder of the Independent Venue Alliance, which represents 40 independent local clubs, says the pandemic’s restrictions have been tough on the area’s music and nightlife scene.
“We’re trying to help clubs from going out of business with a lifeline to help them stay open,” he said.
A $1.5 million fund from San Francisco City Hall will help clubs trying to reopen, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass organization has pitched in with a generous grant, Barnes said.
“One of the best things to come out of the pandemic is everybody helping each other,” he said.
But even with the recent loosening of restrictions, small venues can’t make enough money to reopen at 25% capacity, Barnes said, and the pandemic has left many clubs in debt.
“It will take time to figure things out,” Barnes said. “There isn’t a lot of money to be made at the best of times; it’s a labor of love. It’ll take a long time before people can get back to making it even. A lot of people were already struggling before this.”
Although the Chapel can hold several hundred people, fewer than 50 people will be allowed at this weekend’s outdoor stage shows due to COVID restrictions.
Under The City’s pandemic guidelines, no vocals are allowed, only instrumental performances, he noted, forcing the club to come up with creative solutions.
So when Kelley Stoltz appeared at The Chapel recently, he performed from an apartment three floors above, with his image projected on an 80-foot screen to the audience.
“He was about 100 feet away from the audience in a room being filmed like the Wizard of Oz,” Barnes said. “That kind of creativity is a great thing, but it cost us a fortune. We lost money, but we did it to keep the flame of live music burning.”
While it’s difficult to make money under the restrictions, Barnes said, “The response has been overwhelming to be able to go to these shows.”
The idea of bands performing from remote locations may have inspired other clubs to try it.
“We’re trying to do more along the lines of what we did with Kelley Stoltz,” Barnes said. “Being able to sing in this bizarre up-in-the balcony situation, other artists saw that, and a lot of people definitely noticed it. People from the entertainment community are keeping a close eye on things.”
The priority is maintaining public health, he said. “Obviously, everybody really wants to make sure it’s safe for the audience and staff,” Barnes said. Temperature checks will be done and extra staff will be on hand to maintain distancing. This weekend’s events will be seated dinners, an added safety precaution, he noted.
It was a big struggle to get a permit for The Chapel’s first show last summer, the Red Room Orchestra, Barnes said, which was done without vocals.
Barnes will soon start fundraising for the reopening effort, and he hopes big tech firms and matching donations from fans will help.
Meanwhile, other clubs have limited upcoming gigs scheduled, including Rickshaw Stop, which lists two April shows on its website and The Independent, which has one in June.
Yet during a recent successful fundraising effort, the gay club Oasis raised $250,000, allowing it to continue operations.
As part of the Save our Stages campaign on Saturday, March 13, local venues that have been shuttered during the pandemic will put messages on their marquees, such as “One Year Dark” and “No Shows Since 3/13/20,” in recognition of one year being closed.
Announcing the campaign, Bay Area promoter Another Planet Entertainment said that saving independent music and performing arts stages across the country not only rescues the ecosystems of arts, music and culture, but also secures hundreds of local jobs per venue.
The live event and entertainment industry contributes over $877 billion to the U.S. economy, second only to retail. For every $1 spent on a ticket at a small music venue, a total of $12 is spent in the local economy on related services, according to Another Planet Entertainment.
Major promoter Live Nation recently issued a statement about upcoming performances, saying, “It’s encouraging to be closer to reconnecting artists and fans at concerts. While events will require regular capacity to really function, we are grateful for the ongoing partnership of many of California’s elected officials, including Gov. Newsom, and are looking forward to working together on a plan to get to shows with regular capacity as soon as we can.”
IF YOU GO
Where: 777 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 5:45 and 8:15 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 7:20 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Tables for 2, 4 and 6 from $260 to $780
Friday: Lebo & Friends featuring Jay Lane, Reed Mathis, Adam MacDougall (late show sold out)
Saturday: Ezra Lipp, Reed Mathis, Adam MacDougall
Sunday: Dan Horne Band