Minnesota musicians and venues scramble to keep working during pandemic

By 830 WCCO

The pandemic is clobbering independent live music venues with many relying on any kind of aid they can get, and working towards getting help from Senator Amy Klobuchar's $10 billion "Save Our Stages" bill passed in Congress. Others are getting creative and devising new solutions to get music-lovers in the door and keep them safe.  

At Earth Rider Brewery overlooking the Duluth superior Harbor, the pandemics early days were brutal.

"Well, March and April were really a little scary. We lost 60% of our revenue overnight," said Earth Rider owner Tim Nelson.

RELATED: 100,000 Restaurants Have Closed Since the Start of Pandemic in March: Survey.Now Nelson smiles from a deck as he watches Erik Koskinen on the stage below performing before a sold out, yet socially distanced outdoor crowd at last weekend's Earth Rider Festival. Despite having to shut down his taproom, Nelson says they were able to pivot quickly. 
"We have a big green space between our brewery and our tap room where we were able to put all of our retail sales out into the yard," Nelsons says. "And then with that, we built a small stage and put a roof on it. We've been doing events every night and been real socially distanced. And it's been fun. People are so appreciative actually to be able to get together in their, their bubbles and be together."

Earth Rider Fest 2020 is here! Pre-Fest tailgate party 11am-5pm. Beer, food, vendors, bands, raffle for a pair of tickets to the sold-out Fest. Please bring blankets, chairs & rain gear. We ask that you wear a mask when moving around and leave your pets homeProst! #holdfast pic.twitter.com/6IxPdjpar9

— Earth Rider Brewery (@EarthRiderBeer) September 12, 2020

Nelson also hopes to contine doing the same type of events once the pandemic is over.

"We'll be doing more of the same. This has really worked out. It kind of forced us to evolve really quickly. This has been a long term vision and we had summer figured. The fall, we were going to put up a really big tent out here and that'll get us into November and then we gotta figure out winter. So I'm not sure what winter will bring, but, so far so good." 

The musicians, too many, are losing a big chunk of their livelihoods and needing to find other jobs. Others slowly returning to socially distanced gigs at small outdoor venues, whether that's a parking lot with tents and a temporary stage, a small patio behind a bar, or a restaurant. 

Singer-songwriter Luke LeBlanc is no stranger to the emotional rollercoaster facing musicians these days.  

"It's easy to call yourself a musician if you're playing shows and getting out there every week," LeBlanc tells WCCO's Laura Oakes. "But there is a stretch, when things understandably closed, you know, from like March to June, where it's just like something felt off and I didn't really realize what was off.  Because you're locked inside and whatnot. But then I went and played a show and all of a sudden I started feeling better and it wasn't like a big show or anything, playing music for the ambience at a brewery. And it just makes you feel a little better.  It can be a certain occupation or have that as your title, but unless you're actually doing it, it's like, is that really your occupation? So it's helped. It's helped to keep a sense of purpose."

It's a purpose LeBlanc says is largely fostered by the dedicated small venues he's been fortunate to play this year.

"I mean, they bust their butt normal times, you know, to keep these things going. But now during these challenging times, where on top of, you know, customer service and getting music in and booking and providing food and drinks, they're sanitizing and they're rearranging their seating. And it's just a lot of stress on top of it. So I give all these venues and their owners and their workers just a lot of credit."