Helping Local Musicians Survive Venue Closures

It seemed to start with the South by Southwest festival held in Austin in March. First the big tech companies pulled out, and soon it was clear the whole thing wasn’t going to happen this year. If you thought maybe big festivals would be spared, this is when you realized they wouldn’t be. That exit was followed by the cancellation of the Glastonbury Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival; Southern California’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was postponed until October. Even the Rolling Stones indefinitely postponed their tour of North America. Right now, it looks like San Francisco’s Outside Lands and Chicago’s Lollapalooza and its Blues Festival are still on.

The final blow came this week when California Gov. Gavin Newsom directed the closure of all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs in the state. That was followed by many Bay Area counties issuing shelter-in-place directives that meant nobody was going anywhere. The City of Chicago has canceled events of 50 or more through May 15 and the Governor of Illinois, J. B. Pritzker, ordered all bars and restaurants to close for dining in through March (this was prompted, in part, by the swarms of revelers who went to bars on St. Patrick’s Day despite calls for social distancing).

The Rolling Stones are probably going to be able to weather this storm financially, but what about your local gigging and touring musicians who depend on live shows and merchandise sales for income? And what about the venues and the promoters who make the shows happen? Here is a look at the problem and what you can do to help.

A New Reality

Myles Boisen is an Oakland-based recording studio co-owner who has worked with the likes of Tom Waits and Fred Frith, a mastering engineer and a gigging musician who literally performed one of the last shows in the state. His band, the Miniwatt String Trio, upheld its ongoing Sunday evening commitment and played Cato’s Ale House in Oakland on the night the California ban was announced. “I got some flack from people for doing that,” he says. “We had promised the gig, so I felt good about being there.”

Like so many others, Boisen depends on gigs and studio work to make a living. “This crisis will be life threatening for musicians, even if they stay healthy,” he says. “Their income is being devastated.”

Crying Time
Crying Time playing a recent gig. Photo by Aaron Rubin.

Boisen, who also plays in a local band called Crying Time, recommends buying CDs and merchandise from the bands directly at this time using sites like CD Baby or San Francisco’s Bandcamp (on Friday March 20, Bandcamp will give 100 percent of the purchase price directly to the artist). “Buy some extra CDs and give them away, spread it around,” he says. “It’s a good time to be a fan.”

He also recommends pre-booking a band for a future house party date or asking your favorites about online lessons that can be done over Skype of Facetime, or even pre-booking studio time. “Don’t be shy about contacting someone for lessons that you look up to, even if you are a beginner,” Boisen says. He adds that many fans don’t know that the artist receives very little of the money generated on streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify. “Send them a tip for the music you’ve already listened to,” he urges.

KC Turner

Bay Area concert promoter and musician KC Turner, well-known for booking intimate house shows and the Sunday Concert Cookout at the HopMonk Tavern in Novato, is having a tough week. “I’m unraveling the last six months of work,” he says about having to cancel or postpone many already-booked shows. “I’m working endlessly to reschedule instead of cancel so these dates don’t disappear completely.”

Turner says to hold on to your tickets for a rescheduled date and if you can’t make it, refunds will be offered. He’s already moved the punk band Agent Orange from May 1 to August 21. Turner is optimistic that the popular summer cookout series will be able to happen as scheduled starting in June — it often features acts like Joe Doe of X or Tim Flannery, the former S.F. Giants third base coach turned musician.

Like Boisen, Turner also recommends tuning into live band feeds and using the virtual tip jar there, supporting artists on Patreon, booking a future house show or sending funds to your favorites over Venmo. He also says buying concert tickets in advance for shows that are still on can really lift spirits. “It helps with our self-esteem, our will power to know that there is still an appetite for live music,” Turner says. “Once we get through this people are going to be hungry to eat out and see live music again. It is going to feel like a victory.”

Here are a few online sites where you can help local musicians, workers and venues:

The Safety Net Fund

A nonprofit site helping Bay Area musicians

Block Club Chicago

A Facebook page created by a Chicago journalist that features artists who are livestreaming concerts from their homes

Equal Sound Corona Relief

A fund providing direct financial assistance to musicians who have lost work as a result of Corona-related event cancellations

Stage It

Purchase one-of-a-kind online shows from your favorite artists

Help the Bands You Love

A list of bands who have had tour or show cancellations and links to support them

USBG National Charity Foundation

A bartender emergency assistance program

Save Our Faces

Buy gift cards good at Bay Area restaurants

Dining at a Distance

Restaurants in the Chicago area that are open for take-out, curbside pick-up or delivery

Chicago Hospitality United

Support Chicago hospitality workers

This article originally appeared on

Dan Jewett HeadshotDaniel Jewett has been a Bay Area journalist for more than two decades, getting his start as editor of his hometown newspaper, the Foster City Progress. Jewett went on to serve as Associate Editor for Oakland and Alameda magazines before crossing the bridge to serve as Marin Magazine and Spaces’ Managing Editor. Jewett still calls Oakland home, where he writes and plays music with his wife in My Little Hum and hangs out with his chickens, bees and cats, Holly and Maple.


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