Houston's suffering live music scene received an injection of good news this week when the popular White Oak Music Hall announced its first shows in three months.
It's welcome news, as things are bleak for music venues across the country. National and internationally known acts are canceling or suspending tours until 2021 out of an abundance of caution around the coronavirus. According to a recent article in Pitchfork.com, the absence of crowds in music-driven spaces led to over 2,000 live music venues and promoters to form the National Independent Venues Association, an advocacy group that has been lobbying Congress the past few months in an effort to get relief as the music industry struggles to deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
That makes White Oak's return a reason to celebrate with doors opening this Saturday, June 20, with DeadEye, the Grateful Dead tribute band from Austin. The venue also just announced Spill the Tease on Saturday, June 27, a burlesque show in support of Pride Month with performers, Cyn City, The Abby Cadabra, Emma Vaudeville, Daisy L'Amour, Cara Chérie, and Eddie Divas. The event will include a raffle to support the Hatch Youth Services which helps at-risk LGBTQ+ youth.
Like other recently opened venues, White Oak will take extra precautions for the safety of patrons and staff. All shows will take place in the venue's large indoor hall and will be seated performances. The usual capacity of 1,500 will be reduced to no more than 25 percent with certain shows set up with tables for groups of four, socially distanced 6 feet apart.
"Behind the scenes, we were really just working on what it looks like when we reopen, what it looks like when things loosen up in terms of restrictions," Mike Mauer, marketing director for White Oak Music Hall, tells CultureMap. "We just rolled out our new safety guidelines for how we're going to do shows as well as we announced the burlesque show on the 27th. We're trying to be very careful and very intentional and make sure as we scale up and start to get busier, that all of our policies are locked tight and will keep everyone safe to enjoy the show."
Personal protection equipment will be required for all staff, they will go through temperature checks before clocking in, and anyone that may have come into contact with someone symptomatic will be required to be tested before they return to work.
All guests will be encouraged to wear masks unless they are sitting with their group, sanitization stations will be set-up, and bathrooms reconfigured for more space. All purchases will be card only and an app will allow patrons to buy drinks from servers at their seats.
And while staff at White Oak tells CultureMap that the newly announced shows aren't out of desperation, three months without paying patrons and bar sales has been a struggle.
"It's definitely been pretty challenging," Mauer says. "Similar to other venues, we were definitely effected. It's been a challenge for the entire music industry in general but for us, we've been lucky that we've had a lot of support in the community."
To help out-of-work staff, the venue set up a GoFundMe account that offered contributors various items for donating at different levels, including posters, limited edition shirts, gift certificates for future shows, and a behind-the-scenes architectural tour of the venue. It's raised nearly $70,000 so far, a clear indication of White Oak's diehard fan base.
While only a few shows are on the calendar, White Oak is uniquely situated to do more with its space, and staff are currently discussing how to utilize the spacious lawn stage for larger acts while maintaining social distancing. Organizers are working with artists to sort out details around booking lawn shows later this summer while keeping it safe for all involved.
"We're really looking at how to utilize that right now," Mauer says. "Thankfully, the virus is much more difficult to spread in an outdoor setting and since White Oak is one of the only venues in Houston with a layout like that, we're really focused on how to use that space to have more outdoor concerts, and have more people enjoy a show but still make it a safe experience for them. We're moving in the right direction and we'll probably be able to make an announcement sooner rather than later."
Upcoming performances will stick to local and regional acts with Nite with Camera Cult and Moonlight Hotel on June 25, William Clark Green with Chris Colston on July 10, NateWantsToBattle on July 13, Cash and Maverick on July 18, and Brandy Clark on July 29. Tickets are available at whitoakmusichall.com.
Regardless of safety measures and reduced capacities, there's no doubt many music fans will be willing to overlook any inconveniences to get back to one of the best spaces in the city to see concerts and performances.