Just over a week ago, a co-worker joked amidst growing concerns around the spread of COVID 19 — aka coronavirus — if all shows are cancelled, what will you write about?
That joke isn't funny anymore.
Friday, March 6, is a day that many will remember forever. As an abundance of caution, Austin mayor, Steve Adler, shut down South By Southwest, one of the largest music and multimedia gatherings in the country —despite not having a confirmed case of the virus in the city. It left many in the city to wonder, would our biggest music event of the year, RodeoHouston, be next?
Buoyed by Bayou City grit and determination, RodeoHouston soldiered on. Event organizers released a statement that since it didn’t draw nearly as many international guests, that RodeoHouston would continue while working hand-in-hand with local city health officials in addition to instituting widespread sanitation measures throughout the rodeo grounds.
Then, it happened. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo made the announcement on Wednesday, March 11, at a noon press conference making an emergency health declaration, effectively shutting down RodeoHouston for the first time in 87 years. To add to the sober moment, Turner noted that someone that tested positive for the virus had attended cook-off the previous Friday.
As CultureMap reported, the projected economic reach of RodeoHouston was around $391 million in 2019. It was inevitable the other cowboy boot would drop on the rest of the Houston live music scene. Other venues started to close down operations across the local entertainment industry with concert cancellations falling like autumn leaves in a brisk wind.
That didn’t stop The Continental Club from hosting one last party. Local DJ Disko Cowboy performed at the aptly named Doomsday Disco, which, in hindsight, might not have been the best idea ahead of the self-quarantine measures encouraged by governmental agencies only days later.
Unfortunately, what the RodeoHouston closure could not do, the U.S., Texas, and Houston governments did. To put it bluntly, every venue is effectively shut down. With President Trump asking people to limit gatherings to 10 people to slow the spread of COVID-19, there simply is no wiggle room for event spaces to do legitimate business.
But art finds a way in the darkest days. Artists need an outlet to create and perform, and many local acts swiftly stepped up to the plate to replace lost income or simply show solidarity with all those effected by the financial and cultural fallout in Houston.
Indie surf rock and aquatic-themed Swimwear Department announced a “quarantine livestream” concert on March 14 evening via YouTube, in what seems now like a prescient move. World renowned bands are now following suit. Coldplay and John Legend performed via social media channels on March 16 and March 17.
Keith Urban, who was supposed to take the stage at NRG Stadium on March 16, instead livestreamed a performance featuring his wife, Nicole Kidman, on Instagram, a small condolence to fans who had purchased tickets to the Houston show.
Local synth pop duo Space Kiddettes, who have always had a strong online presence, announced they would perform online throughout the week in various ways, including their LiveStream events on Mondays, featuring music, chats with fans, and jams with invited virtual guests. Thursdays will feature a hybrid musical workout called Blood, Sweat, and Tears to promote physical and mental health. As a forecast of what’s likely to come, their cancelled March 26 Abundantly Queer live show at Pearl Bar will be streamed virtually with viewers asked to donate via Venmo with proceeds going directly to Pearl staff. Check out their Instagram and Facebook feeds for more.
Closures be damned, Irish rock act Blaggards planned to virtually celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in self-quarantine style from their Facebook channel at 4 pm. They requested viewers donate to the Houston Food Bank.
Even as bands adapt to the new reality, the biggest question right now is how will the Houston music scene recover from this unprecedented shuttering? Not only are venues losing thousands in revenue, but staff and vendors are out of work with no end to the mass closure in sight. Local musicians are out of paid gigs at their usual Houston spots and touring acts postponed any travel until later this year at the earliest.
It's not a debate that music will live on in some incarnation and concerts in Houston will return. The unknown answer is when will that be and how the local landscape will look when it does.