Coronavirus Cancels Concert Culture

It’s gonna be a lot quieter around here for a while. With the panic over COVID-19 spreading quicker than the virus itself, one has to wonder whether any music venues, or public businesses of any sort, will remain open by the end of this week. While there are still holdouts, the current trend suggests not.

It may all be an overreaction, but the momentum is what it is – the pressure is on to “do the right thing.” What started with the cancellation of large-scale festivals such as South by Southwest and Coachella has now become an avalanche reaching small and mid-sized rock club levels nationwide. Locally, of course, some of this was expedited on Sunday by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms banning gatherings of more than 250 people in the city.

In Atlanta and Athens, on March 16 The EARL and The Masquerade announced they’d be shutting down – the former “until further notice,” the latter at least through March 31 indefinitely   both indefinitely (see update #11 below). The Center Stage complex, including The Loft and Vinyl, has gone dark until who knows when. Michael Dorf sent out a press release the afternoon of March 16 announcing that all City Winery locations would be closing down until further notice. The Vista Room has cancelled or rescheduled all shows for at least the next two weeks. Venkman’s is closed “for the time being.” Last Friday, Zero Mile Presents was one of the first local concert businesses to announce suspension of operations, shutting down all of its shows and venues beginning today through March 31; this includes Terminal West, Variety Playhouse and the Georgia Theatre. All remaining March shows at the Tabernacle and Buckhead Theatre have been postponed or cancelled, save for Oh Wonder’s March 30 Buckhead Theatre show which remains on sale (though wouldn’t the mayor’s crowd ban apply to that?) Additionally, many of the Tabernacle’s April shows, including Morgan Wallen, Moneybagg Yo and Dark Star Orchestra, have been postponed or cancelled by the artists, whose entire tours are grinding to a halt. Rend Collective’s March 27 show at The Roxy is still on sale, as are most April shows… as of now (see update #9 below).

Other local venues including 529, Aisle 5, Smith’s Olde Bar and Eddie’s Attic are currently staying open, albeit with ongoing cancellations of selected shows (see updates #2 and #6  below). Athens’ 40 Watt Club, The Foundry and Caledonia Lounge have both had postponements affect their upcoming concert schedule, but have a few shows still on the books for the next couple of weeks (see update #3 below). The Highlander has bands still booked for March 20 and 28, as well as a 28th Anniversary shindig set for April 11th (see update #8 below). Blues joints like Northside Tavern, Blind Willie’s (see update below) and Fat Matt’s are thus far keeping their regular schedules. Per CDC recommendations, the Red Light Café is limiting its occupancy to no more than 50 people per show at least through the end of April. (see update #7 and #11 below)

Of course, larger music events throughout Georgia – even those more than a month away – have been 86ed, including the Savannah Music Festival (which was scheduled to take place March 26-April 11, with headliners including Jason Isbell, Wynton Marsalis and St. Paul & the Broken Bones) and the Sweetwater 420 Fest (set for April 24-26 at Centennial Olympic Park, with acts including Trey Anastasio, Dr. Dog and Tank & the Bangas, among many others). The Amplify Decatur Music Festival, which Indigo Girls were to have headlined on the downtown Decatur square April 25th, has been postponed due to the City of Decatur suspending all March and April events with attendance greater than 250. On Sunday, March 15 we were given the news that the Inman Park Festival & Tour of Homes, scheduled to take place April 24-26, will be postponed or cancelled. And the annual roots ‘n’ blues festival Chicken Raid, making its debut this year at Waller’s Coffee Shop, has been moved from March 21-22 to late summer or early fall; Waller’s remains open, although its Tuesday open mic nights have been discontinued for the time being. (see update #10 below)

Now, looking at the dates of all of these festival cancellations, it brings us to the precipice of Shaky Knees, which is scheduled for May 1-3 at Central Park in Midtown. (see update #5 below). So far, there’s been no dire announcement regarding that or the country/roots counterpart Shaky Boots, which is returning this year – May 8-9 at the same park – after a few years’ absence. (see update #12 below) Keep your fingers crossed that we’ll be past all this bullshit by then and can get outside with all our friends for some fun in the sun. But with some artists starting to cancel or postpone entire spring tours, even if the Shakys do take place it’s likely the lineups could be altered between now and then. (see update #5 below).

I’m not going to advise one way or another as to whether you should or shouldn’t keep going out to small shows in the midst of the current hysteria. If you do, certainly double-check that a show will in fact be taking place before heading out (and wash yer hands, don’t cough, don’t sneeze, don’t breathe, etc.) And keep checking all of these venues’ websites and social media pages for ongoing info on closures and re-openings – the situation, as they say, is fluid. I certainly encourage you to “patron” them heavily once things are back up and rolling. These folks are going to need it.

Oh yeah – in the middle of this insanity, having finally obtained a liquor license from the City of Atlanta the new owners of the Star Community Bar were hoping to re-open that venue’s doors in the coming days or weeks. Of all the rotten timing…

UPDATE #1: In an utterly nonsensical move, Athens-Clarke County Mayor and the city commission have imposed proposed, but did not pass, an “emergency” 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in that city, making it “unlawful for any person to travel, loiter, wander or stroll in or upon the public streets, highways, roads, lanes, parks or other public grounds, public places, public buildings, places of amusement, eating places, vacant lots or any other place during said declared emergency” between those hours. So… it’s fine to spread the virus around during the day, but not at night? This is monumentally stupid. If this eventually passes, it effectively closes every music venue in Athens, along with a lot of other businesses.

UPDATE #2: 529 in East Atlanta Village has cancelled or postponed all concerts through March 28, at which time they “will reassess the situation.”

UPDATE #3: Over in Athens, the 40 Watt announced on the morning of March 17 that they would be suspending all shows indefinitely. The next show that, as of today, hasn’t been cancelled or postponed at the Caledonia Lounge is an April 2 benefit for the Red & Black newspaper. The Foundry’s next show is March 27 with Reverend Horton Heat, who is taking a lot of heat right now for refusing to cancel his tour. “Any gigs that are cancelled will be because the promoters cancelled,” he posted on his Facebook page. “I encourage everyone who lives in a jurisdiction where local governments are restricting rock and roll to push back. Write emails and call your local government agencies to remind them that we have the right to assembly.” As of now, the show is still scheduled. UPDATE #3.5: The Foundry announced at 7 p.m. March 17 that they are closed until further notice; this presumably cancels the good Rev’s concert, if not also ones scheduled for early April.

UPDATE #4: Over at the Drunken Unicorn, the next show that hasn’t been cancelled as of now is Saturday, April 4, with headliner Human Resources.

UPDATE #5: Promoter Tim Sweetwood announced on the morning of March 18 that Shaky Knees has been rescheduled for Oct. 16-18 at the same location, Central Park. The three main stage headliners – The Black Keys, The Strokes and Smashing Pumpkins – have confirmed to play the new dates, according to Sweetwood, although much of the full lineup will likely change. Tickets already sold will be honored on the new weekend. No announcement yet concerning the country/Americana sister fest Shaky Boots.

UPDATE #6: As of March 18, all shows at Smith’s Olde Bar have been cancelled through the end of March. All shows at Eddie’s Attic have been postponed through at least March 26 (indefinitely). All shows at Aisle 5 have been cancelled or postponed through April 10.

UPDATE #7: Blind Willie’s in Virginia-Highland has reduced their days of operation to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Musicians will still play those nights.

UPDATE #8: As of March 17, the Highlander is suspending all events until further notice.

UPDATE #9: All events at the Roxy have been postponed or cancelled through the end of April. All events at the Buckhead Theatre have been postponed or cancelled until April 22. All events at the Tabernacle have been postponed or cancelled through April 20. Andrew Bird’s April 21 show is still on sale as of March 19.

UPDATE #10: Waller’s in Decatur is only serving to-go coffee and sandwiches, and live-streaming pay-what-you-can performances.

UPDATE #11: On March 19, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order closing all bars indefinitely beginning at midnight, and restricting all restaurants to take-out service only. So, that’s that. It’s worth noting that everything, locally, that took place in this writeup happened in the span of one week.

UPDATE #12: Shaky Boots has been cancelled completely, won’t be taking place this year.