Have guitar, can’t travel: Local musicians ponder the future of concerts, earning a living

Stock image of a man playing the guitar, location and date not specified | Photo by William Iven courtesy of Pixabay, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As Southern Utah and other parts of the country begin to loosen health mandates surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the industries that has been slow, and will likely remain slow to return, is live entertainment, particularly music concerts.

Faced with diminished audiences and venue options, many local musicians have turned to the virtual arena as well as other creative ways to continue to share their talents and their profession with whoever tunes in. But while their reach can be fairly decent, the money isn’t always coming in.

This is particularly true for professional musicians who essentially make their living from one gig to the next.

St. George area guitarist Lisle Crowley said that every gig he had scheduled between March and October has been and remains canceled.

“Losing my summer gigs is going to hit me very hard,” Crowley said.

Crowley is well-known in the Southern Utah community and typically can be seen playing with the Tuacahn orchestra for their summer Broadway in the Desert shows, playing with his band The Lawn Darts or as part of the Rebel Jazz Band.

Image from Virtual Open Mic Live Facebook Page, location and date not specified | Image courtesy of Steven Stay, St. George News

Crowley also teaches guitar and said he feels fortunate that he is able to continue to teach – even if it is often through Skype – and offer other learning tools that he has developed to help make ends meet.

“I’m better off than a lot of musicians because I always keep a pretty busy student roster,” Crowley said. “Usually, I back off my lessons in the summer when Tuacahn is going, but this summer I’m planning on aggressively marketing my lessons and hopefully making up some of the income I’m losing.”

Crowley is the sole provider for his household and, he said he has had to be very creative with the ways he is able to continue to provide for his family.

“I am also planning on pushing the material I get royalties for. I do online lesson plans on musiclessons.com, and I’m planning on loading more content onto that and pushing that,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll fill a demand.”

But he can’t play for free, Crowley said, a struggle many artists are facing as they have turned to online platforms to share their music.

Southern Utah musician Steven Stay has been organizing virtual open mic concerts since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Something he said he started as a way to help him continue to share his music.

Stay said he had some extra time on his hands and playing music gives him relief from pain that is associated with different health issues, so he dove into figuring out how to share his music live and then gave others the chance to join through the open mic nights.

If I can share what I’ve learned, I can help them be able to expand their reach and stay busy during the shutdown,” Stay said.

But, Stay said, while interest from both participants and viewers was high in the beginning, participation seems to be waning, particularly for younger musicians who need to make more money.

There haven’t been a lot of money transactions,” Stay said. “Us old guys who don’t have to worry about money and are in the higher-risk categories have enjoyed getting together this way.”

Stay added that he feels musicians are weary and more stressed about the unknown future.

Center for the Arts at Kayenta, Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Center for the Arts at Kayenta, St. George News

Artists have been encouraged to share their Venmo or Paypal information for listeners who want to give tips, but Crowley indicated that audiences might not be willing to pay just yet. Though Crowley did add that he held a mini-concert, which was fairly successful.

“My mini-concert was very successful in raising money, much more than my expectations. I would like to express my gratitude to all those who were so generous with the ‘virtual tips.’ In these times, they really made a difference to my family,” Crowley said.

Both Crowley and Stay said they planned to focus some of their efforts on educating people that art and music have value and helping other artists adapt to changing times.

At the Center for the Arts at Kayenta, producer Chris Whiteside has been organizing and hosting Kayenta Live music concerts, which are streamed on Facebook from the center’s indoor theater on Saturday nights.

More than just music, the concerts feature Whiteside interviewing musicians about life as well as the power and necessity of the arts

Something Whiteside, who believes the arts are fuel for human consciousness, said he feels is a calling.

Even if we can’t reopen in the coming months, we’re going to keep doing this, because, frankly, it’s a calling,” he said.

For bigger venues like the Center for the Arts at Kayenta, what the future looks like in terms of concerts, theater and other offerings is still up in the air, though they do intend to modify their theater to accommodate for social distancing and offer some shows, Whiteside said.

It is all about adaptation.

Stay said that as things move forward in the COVID-19 world, those who will survive and ultimately thrive will be the ones who can adapt and pivot.

“Hanging on to how we think, or wanting it to be like it was, will be our demise,” Stay said. “As artists, learning how to give our fans a great experience virtually is our new currency.”

For Crowley, he just hopes it will be enough.

“Music, art has value, and the artists deserve to be paid or we will lose that art in our community,” he said.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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