How to Get Through the Pandemic as a Venue Owner: Here’s the Case of The Fire and Their International Initiative

We’re sharing the story of an opera singer who runs a Rock club, a story that started when a pool table graciously gave way to a stage. If that’s not reason enough to keep scrolling, we can tell you that The Fire Philadelphia has hosted famous acts such as John Legend and My Chemical Romance during its two-decade-long history. With music venues having closed their doors for now, we can take a look at how to gather eight bands for an international livestream fest, and get some good advice.
Survive the Pandemic as a Venue Owner: The Case of The Fire
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Urska Jaksa

The music industry includes many individuals – some of them we don’t get to cheer on the stage, but that doesn’t mean they've been spared the massive blow of the coronavirus. Venue owners and event organizers bring music to the people. We talked to one who’s actually also a musician – though she organizes mainly Rock and alternative concerts, her own stage used to be in an opera house. She told us her tale, which has led to an international streaming initiative involving eight bands and one solo artist, and which will take place on 18 April.

The life of a venue owner is filled with challenges, but few that can compare to the situation today. Karen Lauria Saillant, who runs "Philly's grass-roots rock club" The Fire, would agree:

“Truthfully, this pandemic is totally unlike any other experience we've faced in the 21 years of our venue operating here in Philadelphia and the operation of our bar since 1988. If anything, it does compare in intensity and dealing with the challenges of the unknown to February of 1999, when my husband went into a coma, leaving me to run our bar– a business about which I knew nothing, as I was an opera singer and vocal coach. I can honestly say that that was a truly provocative time. I had to work behind the bar, with customers patiently pointing out the various bottles of alcohol, haul cases of beer up from the basement and work until late hours in a neighbourhood which, at the time, was not especially safe, especially for a female bartender/manager. After he left the hospital, I was responsible for my husbands' 24-hour care in a vegetative coma in our home. Fortunately, I had two sons, one 16 and one 19, who both did all they could to care for my husband, and eventually I found others to help at our bar. It was in that period that I, with great trepidation, took one of the pool tables out of our pool room and put in a tiny stage just large enough for one person, where some of my singing students, who were not opera singers, could sing. That was the beginning of a long history of great musicians developing their talents in that room, where the stage grew big enough to accommodate 12 or 15, where the other pool table was sent trucking and where, eventually, now well-known names in the music industry performed.”

Excuse us for the name-dropping extravaganza, but we’re talking acts like Maroon 5John LegendMy Chemical Romance, Jason Mraz, and Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead.

“As much as we wish our venue were alive and rocking, we have also accepted the fact that the closure is in the best interest of all and that it is up to us to have alternative ways to keep the music playing throughout our city and our world.”

Life behind closed doors

“We decided to close our bar and music venue, even before the mayor of our city ordered us to close, based totally upon our concern for the health, safety and well-being of our staff, customers, music event attendees and musicians. As of now, we have been closed for many weeks, and our re-opening looks far off. As much as we wish our venue were alive and rocking, we have also accepted the fact that the closure is in the best interest of all and that it is up to us to have alternative ways to keep the music playing throughout our city and our world. 

For the past weeks, my sons and I have been spending our days speaking to bands across the world, investigating various technologies for bringing bands together through advance livestream and pre-recording modalities, and rescheduling shows that we hope will be able to occur by the end of the summer. Working toward bringing the world together through virtual means has been keeping us very busy. Additionally, I’ve been sharing information on breathing, which is my specialty, as it is so important that during this very, very frightening time, people do not hold their breath– which is a natural reflex to being afraid.”

As far as the biggest issues during the lockdown and ways to tackle them are concerned, Karen says: “Paying bills with no income is a definite challenge. I wish only that we had a great solution for this dilemma, as most everyone is facing it right now. But the biggest problem is really time. Rather than having a lot of time to do all we want to do, once we got into the mentality of the shutdown, we started spending day and night reaching out into worldwide networks to plan livestreaming events, and plans for those events are starting to explode.”

“My sons and I have been spending our days speaking to bands across the world, investigating various technologies for bringing bands together through advance livestream and pre-recording modalities, and rescheduling shows that we hope will be able to occur by the end of the summer.”

Putting together an international Stay at Home Festival

For DJs and solo artists, managing basic livestreams isn’t that technically demanding (Viberate ambassador and Techno star UMEK shares his experience here). For bands, on the other hand, there are a couple more challenges to be tackled. But in a time when practicing via Skype and Zoom isn’t all that surprising, livestreaming from multiple homes is something we’re kind of getting used to as well, thanks to people quickly adopting the technology.

During the lockdown, Karen sought out international bands to join the initiative and the result is the Stay at Home Fest, with Rock bands from eight different countries and a solo singer from Macedonia: “We have spent every day for weeks listening to bands from all over the world, looking for the bands we felt were the very, very best. Two were originally scheduled to play at The Fire in March and April– one from Japan and the other from Italy. While having to cancel their shows, I was heartbroken and really felt we had to find another way for them to collaborate with us. Thus began the search for bands from other countries, and after weeks of determined struggle, we found all of the great bands of the world.”

“We have spent every day for weeks listening to bands all over the world, looking for the bands we felt were the very, very best.” Here’s the final selection.

And the lineup? Thundermother (Sweden), Eufemia (Mexico), Hope The Flowers (Thailand), General Rest in Peace (Morocco), Piqued Jacks (Italy), The Ronains (Scotland), Pinky Doodle Poodle (Japan), Dirty Soap (United States), and Darko Todorovski (Macedonia) will all take to the virtual stage, livestreaming from around the world.

That’s not Karen's only multicultural endeavor: “Seventeen years ago, I started creating a new Italian opera annually, in the gorgeous Umbrian hillside town of Citta' della Pieve, Italy. The project began after the death of my husband, when I felt I had to return to Italy for healing, as that was where I had had my operatic singing career. It just so happened that the town where my former Italian teacher brought me had just finished a multi-million-euro reconstruction of their opera house, which had had a disastrous explosion 40 years earlier. I walked onto that stage and was inspired to say that I was going to bring opera singers from all over the world to create new Italian operas there. Through the years, the project has developed into a very specific mission of having each opera singer who participated and each instrumentalist who participated come from a different culture – resulting in last year's opera having 25 cultures represented in one opera, and in over 75 cultures having been represented in these 16 total world-premiere operas.”

Karen embracing The Ronains, a Scottish band, at The Fire (pre-corona). The next gig will involve a little more social distance – we’re talking thousands of miles.

Now, what can you do in this situation?

Karen has gathered her experience in a series of practical tips for other venue owners and event organizers, from boosting morale and helping with the financial situation, to setting and achieving goals.

  1. Start a Facebook group chat with all of your employees. Stay in communication with them and share every bit of information that you can find to help them.
  2. Be there to talk on the phone with your employees when they need to have a conversation. Be vigilant and share information on ways employees can get financial support through unemployment and various other funding initiatives offered by your national government, as well as your city.
  3. Start an emergency fund for your employees on www.gofundme.com.
  4. Stay positive. It is really important, so take good care of yourself.
  5. Explore every possible online modality for communication and performing. Utilize and share these modalities with everyone you know who needs help or who is feeling isolated.
  6. Help solo performers find other solo performers, and perhaps even help them to start a band, practicing on Zoom or Google Hangouts.
  7. Design a special limited edition T-shirt related to making it through the coronavirus pandemic. Sell it through your website and Facebook, and give all proceeds to your employees who aren’t working. 
  8. Share information on maintaining a healthy immune system with your employees.
  9. Make a list of 10 reasonable goals which you would like to see accomplished by the end of the pandemic. Put the most important goals at the top of list. Work each day toward fulfilling one of those goals, so that when you do open up again, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that despite all of the difficulties, you were actually able to use the new-foundtime to accomplish positive results for your venue and your employees.
  10. Expand your contacts with neighbouring businesses, thinking of ways to help them, as well as to help yourself. We are focusing on one neighbourhood business a week, sharing information about them on our Facebook and explaining why we value their activity in our neighbourhood and why we feel others should also.
  11. Encourage your employees and bands you know to reach out and share their music with the elderly or help the elderly with food delivery and accomplishing any chores with which they need help, as long as they are able to social distance and be masked while helping.
  12. Read articles online about bands and take time to do research in order to connect with the best local bands – especially those you might not have previously had time to learn about. One simple way to discover new bands is Viberate.com, where you can filter them by country, genre and subgenre, and even listen to previews of their tracks.
  13. Develop new relationships with bands in genres which you have not previously explored, or renew relationships with bands you might not have been in touch with for a while.
  14. Spend money only on the things which are necessary. Some venues are having improvements made, but we believe, because of the unknown characteristics of this time, this should only be done if you have money that you feel you can spare during this emergency. It’s a good time for repairs, but not foolish improvements that you might later regret due to the expenditure of funds which you could ultimately need. When we’re informed that numbers are heading into a downward spiral, you could then begin to put money into repairs. Every venue's financial situation and priorities will be different.

 

Artists are joining initiatives to save the summer by urging people to help slow down and stop the spread of coronavirus, but when exactly the industry will be able to recover remains unknown: “The fact that all of the music industry in Philadelphia is presently silent, and it looks as though it might remain so for another few months, could be very frightening. Philadelphia has an enormously rich and vibrant music scene – one of the finest in all of the US.” 

Karen wraps it up on a positive note: “I totally believe that we’ll pull through this, coming together in ways we never dreamed possible, and that when we look back on this period, we will see what great benefits came to those of us who were willing to take this precious time to develop our relationships, both locally, nationally and internationally.” 

 

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If you’re a band, putting yourself on the map, where you can be discovered by the people in the industry, is a starting point. That’s why we've developed a simple feature that enables filtering artists in our vast database by country, genre, and subgenre. That’s how even small local bands can come into the spotlight and be noticed by venue owners, event organizers, and other professionals. Check it out and sign-up, it’s actually free.

 

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Urska Jaksa

Urska Jaksa

Managing Editor at Viberate
Storyteller with a nerd eye for music data. Believes in the healing power of group singing, while her ultimate cure are live shows.