'Hello Cleveland!' — Live music venues still struggling to survive, but the future looks bright

Posted at 11:04 AM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 11:04:53-04

CLEVELAND — Professionals in the music industry are working to save stages across the country and right here in Northeast Ohio at a time when hundreds are turning down their lights for good.

The Beachland Ballroom has been able to survive the pandemic and return to in-person shows. But with COVID-19 still ravaging the live music industry, concerts now look different, but the sound of live music is still the same.

“Our ballroom used to hold 500 people; it basically holds 16 four-people-at-a-time tables, which equals 64 people,” Beachland Ballroom General Manager Todd Gauman said. "You’re catching a real intimate kind of show that is really kind of unique that you wouldn’t have gotten pre-COVID.”

The club is doing all it can to stay open, including massive staff reductions, online fundraisers and now back to socially-distanced in-person shows.

“By miracles were able to procure a donor or an online merch sale that brought us money in," Gauman said.

It's money to keep their doors open at a time when many can’t. COVID hit the live music industry so hard, Congress set aside $16 billion in relief for independent venues like the Beachland Ballroom.

The National Independent Venue Association also estimates 90% of independent venues across the country are at risk of bankruptcy, which includes an estimated $30 billion in losses for the live music industry during the pandemic.

Northeast Ohio’s David Spiro manages artists like John Fogerty and Paul Rodgers from Bad Company. He’s had to cancel millions of dollars in tour dates.

“Between the artists I have, I personally canceled probably 9 to 10 million dollars' worth of dates.” David Spiro said. "And that’s just one little guy.”

Spiro says even with vaccination numbers rising and outdoor concert season approaching, don’t expect some of your favorite classic rockers to rush back out stage.

“After sitting what will be 18-20 months, and not being on stage, they need to be in shape.” David Spiro said. "And I’m talking stage shape, and it’s not something you can do when you’re just at home.”

Up-and-coming local band Tropidelic is taking a different approach. The band has been on the road touring the last couple of months, mostly in states with eased COVID restrictions, gaining exposure and a much-needed cash flow to survive until things get back to normal.

“We sold out six of ten shows at places we only played once. I think people are just super hungry right now for entertainment,” Tropidelic singer Matthew Roads said.“We’ve been doing what we can, and it hasn’t come easy. It’s come with hesitations and reservations and concerns. But yes, we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing as safely as possible.”

While the immediate future of live concerts is in question, the outlook for the future looks promising.

“I think you’re going to find 2022-2023 are going to be amazing years for live music experiences,” Todd Gauman said.

Staffing stage crews, though, may also be a problem. Industry insiders believe many crew members who decided to seek other lines of work during the pandemic may not return to the live music industry.