RVA Mag wanted to find out how local venues are surviving during the ongoing pandemic. In the fourth of a multi-part series of articles, we hear from Fuzzy Cactus, where they are looking to food and drink sales to help them through quarantine.
The live music situation in Richmond is a microcosm of what’s happening across the country as venues grapple with the challenges and risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each venue is unique, as is their struggle to find creative, sustainable ways to keep business alive during these difficult times. There is no reference guide for businesses to turn to for wisdom and guidance, and the independently owned concert clubs and live music bars in RVA have no choice but to take things day by day. Northside-based restaurant and venue Fuzzy Cactus is no different. Co-owner Drew Schlegel sat down with us to offer an inside look at the unique experience of what it’s like to own and operate a music venue in Richmond right now.
Part of what makes Richmond such a lively and thriving live music town is the diverse array of clubs and venues in River City. Fuzzy Cactus is relatively new to the local scene, but over the past couple of years, it has quickly become a destination for musicians and fans alike. Its vintage diner vibe, no-frills bar, and classic “rock-club” style stage and dance floor are standout aspects of this spot on Brookland Park Blvd.
One of the more appealing aspects of attending a show at Fuzzy Cactus is the intimacy of the shows there, mostly created by its modest size. Unfortunately, in the age of COVID-19, intimacy is not as desirable as it once seemed — quite the contrary, in fact. Being one of the smaller music rooms in town, with a capacity of around 150 people, makes live shows practically impossible under the current state-imposed health regulations for social distancing. So music has stopped altogether at Fuzzy Cactus. Thankfully, they still have a killer kitchen and bar. So for now, they are playing it safe, staying away from being a venue for the time being, and focusing on food and drinks, to-go orders in-particular.
“Fortunately we have a kitchen that serves some really awesome food,” said Schlegel. “We have a bar program that’s doing some really awesome frozen cocktails, cocktails, and craft beer to go.”
Plus, according to Schlegel, they have a bit of a geographical advantage. “In the neighborhood we are in, there’s not much in the way of to-go food in the area.”
Schlegel says that Fuzzy Cactus’s plan right now is to keep things simple and safe. “The safer we can be now, hopefully the sooner we can get back to some kind of normalcy,” he said.
Normalcy where the music world is concerned is of particular interest to Fuzzy Cactus, where nearly all of the staff are musicians. Many of those who work there play in local bands, and even occasionally perform on the Fuzzy Cactus stage on their nights off. “We are all musicians. We’re not just bartenders, cooks and people booking a venue,” Schlegel said. “We’re all itching to get out there, play music, and be a part of the scene again.”
Schlegel knows that the live music fans of Richmond are missing the dance floor too, perhaps just as strongly as the musicians. “I’ve heard people say how they miss seeing live music. They miss dancing,” said Schlegel. “They have that same look in their eyes and tone in their voice when they talk about missing it as my friends who are musicians do. It’s hitting more than just the artists — it’s hitting the whole community.”
As many have said about this strange and isolating time, we are all in this together. There are many different facets to the live music industry, from musicians and fans to promoters, booking agents, live sound mixers, lighting techs, stage crew, and more. All of these different aspects rely on each other to come together and bring the music to us. Without the opportunity to do so, we all struggle.
This is why, even though they aren’t putting live music on their stage right now, it’s a good idea to support Fuzzy Cactus and the other venues around town like them. For that matter, buy an album from your favorite band, or get some art from an artist whose work you enjoy. Buy a bag of coffee from the local roaster down the street. If we don’t do it now, they may not be there once COVID passes and we all try to get things running again.
Before the end of our interview, Schlegel made sure to let us know the best ways the community can support Fuzzy Cactus right now. “We’re focusing on our to-go food and drinks,” he said. “That’s really what’s going to help us keep our lights on and the doors open… is people supporting us by buying products from us. We have some t-shirts and some merch available online, and I think we’re gonna do some more over the next couple weeks. That’s definitely the best way to support us right now. We could use all the support the city can offer.”
To order online, buy a gift certificate, or check out available merch from Fuzzy Cactus, head to their website.
Top Photo via Fuzzy Cactus/Facebook