Live music still rocking the ’Boat
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As a musician and owner of Schmiggity’s Live Music & Dance Bar, live music plays an important role in Pat Waters’ life.
“It has very little to do with finances for me,” Waters said. “I know there’s a lot of starving musicians out there right now that really have no income, because they’re relying on the music. But for me, it’s just about missing the playing and listening to music.”
But when Steamboat Springs, the state and the nation were shut down last March due to COVID-19, it had a huge impact on Waters and his downtown business, which just reopened Oct. 9 when Routt County health orders finally allowed live music.
The order allowed Waters to bring back performers on Wednesdays, karaoke on Thursdays and bands or deejays on the weekends.
“The fact that we’re allowed to open, albeit very limited, is definitely helpful,” Waters said. “But you know, even with this, I don’t know how long we’ll be able to survive.”
Waters said Schmiggity’s is following the protocols implemented by Routt County and state health officials, which means reducing the crowd size from roughly 175 people on a good pre-COVID-19 night to between 34 and 42 depending on the type of artist these days. It also means increasing cleaning procedures and keeping logs of customers who visit the venue.
Waters said he can seat groups of four people at five high-top tables, seat an additional four people at the bar and 10 people, who are all from the same group, in a special VIP section. When the band on stage has vocalists, the tables are set back 25 feet from the stage, and when it’s an electronic band without singers, the venue can add two more tables and eight additional people
“Nobody wants to get sick or prolong this whole thing,” Waters said. “I think everybody’s on board with that, but there’s a lot of people that were previously relying on music income, and they can’t do that right now.”
Because of the restrictions, Waters has had to find new ways to generate money to pay the bands and increase revenue. He is offering two seatings at 8 and 10 p.m. He is also hoping that customers will visit schmiggitys.com and make reservations.
Despite the challenges, Waters is making the best of it.
“This thing not lasting for a ridiculous amount of time — that would help obviously,” Waters said. “… and, you know, people being willing to pay just a little bit of money for live music. Live music has always been a tough sell in Steamboat, but if we can start selling these tables, these reservations, that would help. That’s the only way we can make it make sense.”
The feeling is shared at other downtown music venues.
“It’s just been tough for everyone nationwide,” said Ed Andreoni, owner of The Press. “It’s been a challenge for musicians who were involved with the music industry and all the way down to technicians, guitar technicians, drum technicians, all that kind of stuff. In places like Austin, Texas, they’re still shut down, and Nashville is slowly but surely starting to open back up.”
Andreoni, who helped organize a three-day outdoor concert series over Labor Day, has had to make a lot of changes at The Press, which is limited to just 34 people at a time.
“We just made changes to make sure that everybody is socially distanced, and there’s no dancing and things like that to make it as safe as possible and get live music back into the local scene,” Andreoni said.
He said he has done his best to keep things free, but at this time, he said that’s not just possible.
“Since I started three years ago, the local music community has been very, very good to me,” Andreoni said. “I can’t thank those guys enough for what they’ve done, and you can’t ask somebody to perform for free.”
Just down the street at the Old Town Pub, Sean Regan said his capacity has been reduced from about 213 people to 45. He plans to offer seven seating pods of four people and one pod of eight people that will range from $150 to $500 per pod depending on the act.
“Nothing’s really happening the way that we want it to be happening, but we are trying to break a little bit back into the music scene,” Regan said. “I’ve always wished that I never had a restaurant and that I only had a music venue. Then COVID happened, and I’ve never been so happy to have a restaurant to fall back on and that we’ve been able to flourish in different ways because of COVID.”
He said there have been positives and negatives, and that the days when people used to scoff at a $5 cover charge to see a live music show, in his opinion, should be changing.
“Nothing is like it was pre-COVID, and I hope a year from now, we can say that we are living a life that’s pretty similar to what we lived pre-COVID,” Regan said.
“It’s just impossible to do it like we did eight months ago,” Regan explained. “I love the music. It’s a passion of mine. I want to be able to support my friends who are the artists that have been coming around and playing with us for so long at the club, and I want to give the customers a good, safe environment to go to, and I think that we’re working on a really good platform to be able to make all that stuff happen successfully on a regular basis.”
Regan is hoping to offer live music two to four times a month and he said he may bring bands in during the week catering more to locals than out-of-town visitors.
“Music is a necessity of soul but a luxury of life,” Regan said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to balance the difference of what that is.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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