LANSING, Mich. — The social limitations that have come with COVID-19 have been challenging for local business owners, but the live entertainment industry was hit especially hard.
“So, we had our last show on March 12 I believe it was…12 or 15…I remember that night, folks were showing up and they were wearing gloves, which was kind of like, “Okay, this is getting real...” said Dylan Rogers, co-owner of The Robin Theatre in Lansing's REO Town neighborhood.
Some venues, like the Loft in downtown Lansing, closed their doors for good.
The Loft "closed up shop pretty quickly," said Scott Bell, a promoter for Mac’s Bar who also worked with The Loft. "But they didn't own the real estate, they didn't own the space. So it was just a revenue deal and they, there's no way they were going to survive to now,"
The Save our Stages Act, passed as part of an economic stimulus bill last month, is offering some hope, establishing a $10 billion grant program for independent concert venues.
But, up to now, venues have had to work especially hard to stay alive. Mac’s Bar in downtown Lansing took to selling unique merchandise.
“I knew our staff was going to be on their own for a little bit in between—before stimulus money started showing up for unemployment started showing up—you know, independent contractors do not have it easy in this economy. And so I started to, you know, just printing T-shirts and enamel pins, stickers with the golden dumpster on it,” Bell said.
What is the golden dumpster, you may ask?
“Some mischievous artists a couple years ago spray-painted our dumpster gold because that's, that's our aura right?" Bell said, smiling. "That's what we strive to be. Sometimes things are a dumpster. But it's okay to shine every once in a while, right?”
Bell also lobbied lawmakers to get the Save Our Stages bill passed.
“So through the National Independent Venue Association, we all banded together, we all know each other. We had zoom calls, meetings, with our state Sen. [Curtis] Hertel, we had meetings with Sen. Gary Peters, we had meetings with Sen. [Debbie] Stabenow, with their staff, and yeah, and they were very receptive. They charged in to get the bill added and we're very thankful at the state level, there's a Save Our Stages Act.”
Local band Vincie D., veteran performers at Mac’s Bar and The Loft, says that these small venues have been critical in their growth as musicians.
“I mean if if it wasn't for that first Mac’s show and we wouldn't have brought our A game to that show to promoting to doing all of that, I can 100 percent say that we would not be where we are right now,” said Ian Puzdrowski, lead singer of Vincie D.
“And they're like, super valuable as venues, because, you know, if you get rid of those small ones that kind of thrive on local music, anyways, all you have left are the, you know, 500-to-1000-person venues, where it's like, we can't sell that out right now. So like, where do we go other than house shows, you know?” said Cam Varner, the band's drummer.
Bell says that he doesn’t know when Mac’s and venues like it will be able to host events again, that only the scientists and time will tell.