The Covid-19 lockdown has had a chilling effect on the East Bay’s music scene. Everyone has had to devise strategies to make ends meet, with musicians, venues and artists that depend on social interaction being particularly hard hit. The Express spoke with people from East Bay venues to get their take on the past, present and future of the local music business.
Lani Torres, Talent Buyer, and Summer Gerbing, Beverage Director, The Ivy Room
The Ivy Room in Albany presents an eclectic mix of hip-hop, jazz, punk, rock and karaoke. It also runs a take-out and merch shop. Torres and Gerbing said dining at socially distanced tables eased a bit of the financial burden.
“We closed last March,” Torres said. “We had to lay off staff and cancel sold-out shows. We’re an all-inclusive club and welcome the LGBTQ+ community and offer a space for everyone to feel safe and loved.”
“We hibernated a couple of months to get the to-go shop moving,” Gerbing said. We’re waiting for the SOS fund to provide relief. The community has helped a ton, through our GoFundMe page. We definitely feel the love. Once things open again, we think people will come out and provide some momentum toward normality, whatever that will be.”
Natalia Neira Retamal, Co-Executive Director, La Peña Cultural Center
“We’re a performing arts and social justice venue,” Retamal said. “We put on cultural events and have classes rooted in the musical and visual arts traditions of the Latin American and Caribbean diaspora in the Bay Area. We commission new works through grant funding and by working with artists.” As a non-profit organization, they’ve stayed viable thanks to individual and foundation donations, including a grant from the Stern Grove Festival. “We’ll apply for a Save Our Stages grant, but we may not be considered a priority, due to the fact that we have received emergency funding from other funders during the pandemic. We’ll soon be starting online classes for bilingual kids, in Spanish and English, covering music, dance and the arts.”
Hal Campos, General Manager, Yoshi’s
“Our last show was March 15, just before the pandemic,” Campos said. “We were told the closing would be two months; now it’s almost been a year. We helped the people we laid off with vacation pay, sick time and health insurance until October. Now we have to chop things down even more. We aren’t getting any help from Oakland, Alameda County or the State of California. They should have come up with some kind of loan plan long before this. We have a GoFundMe page, and opened the restaurant to try Ubereats for three weeks, but we only got five orders. A lot of food went to waste.
“As soon as people feel safe, we’ll reopen and continue to do our thing. We’re working with our bank and hoping the Save Our Stages grants will help, but the forms and rules for the grant aren’t available yet. The owners invested their whole lives into this business. It breaks my heart to see such an uncertain future, after all the time and money they put into Yoshi’s in the last 50 years.”
David M. Mayeri, President of the Board of Directors, The UC Theatre and Precinct Captain for NIVA (the National Independent Venue Association)
“NIVA is all-volunteer, with precinct captains across the country,” Mayeri said. “Thanks to generous funding from companies like Lyte Tickets and See Tickets, “NIVA hired lobbyists. We reached out to Congressional representatives and senators to support the Restart Act. It evolved into the Save Our Stages Act and now, the Shuttered Venues Operator Grants (SVO).
“Every ticket has a primary and secondary economic impact, helping restart arts and culture, and restoring jobs for staff, artists, vendors and generating revenue for local businesses. This resonated with Republicans and Democrats, so SVO became part of the Covid Relief Act.
“There’s also a NIVA California, advocating for support from the State. Our strategy is to have a seat at the table regarding reopening. We’re not saying when to reopen, but we want input on how we reopen. The issue will be rebuilding public trust. Meanwhile, some of us need funding to stay alive. Small State and City relief grants have been helping shut-down venues, but more support is needed for music and performing arts venues to survive, re-open and thrive again.”
The Ivy Room: