Arts

Madison arts scene faces halt amid COVID-19

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We’re currently experiencing massive delays on just about every kind of America’s favorite pastimes. Whether it be sports, broadway shows, festivals or just the delicacy of hanging out with family and friends, things are on a halt all across the board. 

For Madison, this means that beloved venues like the Majestic, the Overture, and the Sylvee have closed their doors, delayed their shows and are tasked with waiting this out like the rest of us. The arts have a place all over the world, but, for us Madisonians, the places that decorate State Street and illuminate our city hold value and memories, we can all agree that, selfishly, we ache for the opportunities to stand in a crowd again, looking up at an artist that we might know or don’t and just enjoy the music. 

Matt Gerding is the president of FPC Live, the promotion company that books venues like the Majestic, the Sylvee, the Orpheum Theater and High Noon Saloon. Gerding shared insight on what COVID-19 meant to the arts scene in Madison and how they’re handling the freeze in events.  

When asked about major concerns, he shares that everyone involved was trying to make decisions in the best interest of “the fans, as well as our staff.” Here, he brings up a good point about how many operating parts go into a show. Not only are venues responsible for their staff, but also the hundreds of people that gather there each night for a show. I’ve been to enough shows at the Sylvee to recognize it’s popularity and with growing health concerns, the hesitation to put all those people in one place early-on makes sense. 

Many students at UW, as well as local people in the area, often spend weekends going to shows. I asked Gerding about the hesitation regarding cancellations and how venues are handling the situation. 

“We are trying not to cancel shows, but rather reschedule them to a time when things are safer for everyone,” Gerding said. “It was clear that the shows in the near future needed to get rescheduled or cancelled. Beyond that, we are going at this week by week as we have more information.” 

Some of the most highly anticipated shows in Madison included Dillion Francis, Grouplove, Waxahatchee and even Cher was set to come to Madison in early April. These decisions are not made lightly and I think Gerding illustrated that in his emphasis on how rescheduling events is important. 

We also see the concern about income all across social media. What do people do when they are just unable to go to their job? People that work at music venues in Madison are put in a tough spot as the future is full of uncertainty and with closed doors, there’s no generating revenue. 

Gerding shares that the biggest impact has been the halt in shows, he tells me that with the decision to close, “there aren’t places for bands to play, and we aren’t generating any revenue.” He also tells me that this “situation has put their staff in a tough position without having any work.” 

With a volatile situation that depends on new information everyday, Gerding offers a glimpse of hope to me about what this means for venues in Madison. 

“It has allowed us to spend some time tackling longer term projects and having a lot of conversation about how to get better and more efficient as a company, so that would be the positive silver lining out of all of this,” Gerding said. 

What comes next for music in general is a question and concern of those that work in the business and those that support it. Optimism seems to be the best policy as we all sit around and wait for an ounce of good news. 

“I very much expect that we will come roaring back, though it may be a bit of a slow trickle out of the gate,” he said. “Our Fall calendar is going to be really stacked, so we hope Madison is ready to come out and celebrate live music with us once this all passes.” 

Gerding shares that watching national and local artists do live streams has been a fun opportunity amid the pandemic. He also shares with me that FPC Live is launching a series with the Isthmus called “Social Distraction.” It plans on giving “local artists a platform to showcase their art and hopefully raise some money for themselves during this time.” 

It’s every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4pm CST and can be accessed on all of their venue Facebook pages. So, check it out people. Nothing says Madison like love and support for our local musicians. 

In a time of such uncertainty, it’s easy to feel the loss of everyday simple pleasures. But, it’s important to remind yourself that there is an ending to this, you will find yourself bopping your head to music in the Majestic again. When that is might be undecided, but your appreciation for live and/or local music will outlive this period of time. 

I want to end with a quote I found strong and important to share. Gerding said it best: 
“Loving and supporting art and nightlife is part of the fabric of what makes this city great, and it would take a lot more than this to stop that.” 

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