RVA Mag wanted to find out how local venues are surviving during the ongoing pandemic. In the second of a multi-part series of articles, we learn how The Broadberry Entertainment Group is keeping music alive in Richmond: from socially-distanced concerts to the mental health of musicians.
2020 has perhaps been the most difficult year in modern history for concert venues and the live music industry as a whole. The impact of the pandemic on independently-owned businesses is felt far and wide, and Richmond is no exception.
One of Richmond’s most popular live music companies, Broadberry Entertainment Group, is having a rough go of it right now, but they are finding ways to keep live music going. The entertainment business has always required those in the industry to seek creative solutions on a regular basis. COVID-19 has proven itself to be one of the greatest challenges the Broadberry Entertainment Group, its venues, and its staff have faced together.
Lucas Fritz is one of the main talent buyers and promoters for Broadberry Entertainment Group, which operates several venues including The Camel, The Broadberry, Richmond Music Hall at Capital Ale House, and several other breweries and venues throughout Virginia. He sat down with RVA Magazine to offer the organization’s perspective on the times, and share what it’s like to operate an entertainment company during this unprecedented situation.
In spite of the fact that The Broadberry’s venues are some of the keystone live music rooms in Richmond, and are critical to the local music scene, they are unfortunately no exception to the impact of the pandemic. All of their venues have virtually shut down as a result of the quarantine. However, Fritz says that they are staying hopeful, even during these difficult times.
“Every venue and entity is different in finding its own way,” Fritz said. The Camel, an employee-owned club and one of Richmond’s favorite live music spots for locals and touring bands alike, is fortunately also a popular restaurant and bar. Therefore, Fritz and his colleagues there have been focusing most heavily on the food these days.
“The Camel has been open as a takeout and delivery restaurant this whole time,” Fritz said. “As Virginia moves into various phases and allows limited capacity inside, we’ve been able to re-do our seating to have very limited capacity, and socially-distant concerts inside the venue.”
The Camel was one of the first places in Richmond to host live music indoors since March 15. The shows are held on the stage, like usual, and the crowd is safely socially distanced from the stage throughout the room. Attendees are sat at tables, and kept in separate groups scattered across the dance floor. The shows are intimate, and probably feel like private concerts for the select few who get tickets. Tickets are sold by the table, and serve as a reservation.
“Your ticket isn’t just for you. You buy a ticket for a table that seats a certain number of people,” Fritz said. “You go in, sit down at your table, and that’s where you have to be the entire time, unless you’re using the restroom.” It may feel a tad rigid and stuffy being glued to the seat, wearing a mask as is required by Virginia law. But it’s the best we can ask for at this time — and it’s certainly better than no music at all.
“With the need to maintain social distances throughout the venue and wear masks, it offers the concert-goer a different experience,” Fritz said.
It is live music, just not quite the way it was before. Shows at The Camel are typically intimate and energetic, with close proximity to the band, only the minor lift of the venue’s short stage standing between performers and fans. Those nights are filled with energy, and can even get a bit rowdy, the way a rock show should be: sweaty, loud, contagiously inspirational. We will have to relive those nights in our heads for a bit longer before we can return to screaming the words of our favorite song with strangers in tight spaces.
For now, The Camel’s staff are going above and beyond to ensure that every safety protocol is being followed, protecting each person in attendance from exposure to the virus.
“We are keeping safety on the forefront,” Fritz said. “Sanitizing mic stands, cables, and microphones after every show to make sure we protect the artists, our staff, and all of the concertgoers.” Some bands are eager to perform, but others are still cautious — just as some fans can’t wait to see live music again, while others are still wary and cautious of crowds. Everyone is different, and opinions vary greatly from person to person.
“Not everyone feels comfortable, and we definitely respect everyone’s level of comfort as it comes to easing restrictions,” Fritz said. Even if normal indoor concerts were allowed again tomorrow, he knows that it may be a while before people would feel comfortable attending them.
Fritz and his team are making the best out of a difficult situation, and they are fighting to do what they’ve always done: putting on high quality shows in a comfortable and professional environment.
“I think generally, it’s been successful,” Fritz said. “It’s a different experience than a normal show at The Camel. People are used to going in, getting right up by the stage, ordering drinks at the bar, hanging out with their friends on the patio. [But] it’s great that now there are some outlets for bands.”
Musicians are the other half of this equation. Bands and local artists have been unable to play proper concerts for more than four months now. Many of those artists are full-time musicians, relying on shows to make a living. They have been virtually out of work since the pandemic took full effect. Worse still is the emotional and mental toll that not performing has on so many artists. “In these tough times, mental health is a huge concern for everyone,” Fritz said.
Music is an art, and art is rarely “just a job.” Performing is a ritual of vulnerability, a thrill of confidence and empowerment, and a place for freedom of expression. For the maladapted musician, performing might be the only way to stay sane. It is an act of release that has the potential to expel fear, sadness, anger, joy, and pain. The state of an artist’s mental health may be contingent upon their ability to get on stage.
As we live through this music drought, this staple of culture has been mostly removed from society. The effects are showing. People miss live music. For many, it’s a necessary part of life. But thanks to local venues, it hasn’t disappeared entirely.
In addition to the socially-distant shows at The Camel, Broadberry Entertainment Group has created other opportunities for bands to keep playing. “The Broadberry has been completely closed, because there isn’t a good way to operate while still maintaining appropriate social distances inside,” Fritz said. “We have been doing live-streamed concerts from the venue, in which there’s two to four production techs, the band, and no audience — nothing else. We’re using the full stage, production, PA, lights, and pushing that out through YouTube, Twitter, and various Facebook pages.”
Any form of performing is better than nothing, and many bands have had a varying degree of success with live streams. “It’s offering opportunities for our staff, musicians, and keeping the venue’s branding on the forefront,” Fritz said. Live streams don’t bring in much revenue for the venue, but they can pay the production teams, and hopefully send artists home with virtual cash as well.
“Live streams at The Broadberry are not, in any way, replacing the revenue of in-person concerts,” Fritz said. “We’re still down 99.5 percent of revenue compared to 2019.” Whether that percentage is hyperbolic or genuinely representative is uncertain, but Fritz maintained a positive attitude and sense of humor as he spoke.
It is clear that Fritz and The Broadberry’s team have been working very hard to keep things going at the highest capacity they can. They strive to provide opportunities for artists, in whatever way possible, to flatten the curve and keep musicians’ mental health from failing during pandemic shutdowns.
“Allowing bands, techs, myself, and various creative outlets to perform is an important part of keeping everyone mentally healthy,” Fritz said. “It’s not a big money maker, but it keeps the creative juices flowing with the artists in town.”
Top Photo via The Broadberry Entertainment Group