The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on so many people and businesses over the past year, the same rings true for Durango’s local musicians who had to adapt to a world where live shows were either canceled or strictly limited.
“We’ve had a wild ride this last year,” said Brandon Shafer, who plays banjo and fiddle in Six Dollar String Band. “It’s been pretty crazy.”
At the onset of the pandemic last March, venues closed, shows were canceled and large gatherings in general were discouraged in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
It wasn’t until the summer months when musicians could find shows here and there, mostly at outdoor spaces, such as 11th Street Station, Durango Craft Spirits and small events at Buckley Park.
“It was weird going into the summer not knowing what things were going to be like,” said Lacey Black, a solo act who plays piano. “There were a ton of unknowns.”
Music, for Black, is a full-time job, working restaurants, bars and weddings around the area. In a normal year, Black said she plays up to 250 gigs. In 2020, however, she was able to pull off 150 shows.
Black was fortunate, though, because she has her music career set up as a business, so she was able to qualify for financial relief and grants. Still, such is the life of a musician; she said she is used to financial ups and downs.
“You have this knowledge that when the bottom drops out, there isn’t a safety net,” she said.
Shafer with Six Dollar String Band said he and his band members decided in winter 2020 to commit to music full time.
“Obviously, it all went pretty haywire around that time,” he said. “We all had to make do in different ways. The Durango lifestyle is to have two or three different sources of income anyway.”
Shafer said the iAM MUSIC Institute created a fund for local musicians to help financially. Calls to the institute were not returned for this story.
Still, the band was able to make do over the summer playing weddings and outdoor shows, sometimes in wild weather. It was different than a normal year, Shafer said, but at least they were playing music and people were enjoying it.
“It’s an honor to be included in someone’s wedding,” he said. “It’s a very special thing.”
Lisa Blue, who leads the Lisa Blue Trio, said her band usually plays 20 gigs a year. In 2020, that number fell to just four shows. She and her band members have full-time jobs, but she said the pandemic did take a toll on musicians who rely on shows year-round.
“Those people were just completely devastated,” she said. “Their entire year was canceled. It’s been tough on a lot of the local musicians.”
Still, Blue said it’s likely the Durango music scene will change as a result of the pandemic, with musicians moving away, calling it quits or finding new jobs.
She also added the scene lost Andy Janowsky with The High Rollers to COVID-19 in February, as well as singer-songwriter Greg Ryder, who died in a car crash in 2019.
“The entire face of music is changing in Durango right now,” Blue said. “It will shake up the music scene.”
Still, as with so many things in life, pandemics included, there were silver linings.
Musician Pete Giuliani said he was able to weather the pandemic by relying on his main source of income, music lessons, which mostly shifted to online classes with students.
As far as gigging, however, Giuliani said he was actually ready for a bit of a break.
“The idea I didn’t have to go out and perform for a period of time was something I appreciated, personally,” he said.
During the pandemic, Giuliani said he was able to focus more on practicing, which was an “unexpected blessing.” And he was able to embrace the nights at home as a sort of refresh to his music career.
“I was definitely happy to spend nights at home,” he said.
Local musicians, however, are ready to get back on stage, and with vaccinations rolling out, and weather becoming warmer, it appears that time may be arriving sooner rather than later.
Musician Jeff Nelson has already been making the rounds, playing live at 11th Street Station this week. For him, the pandemic took away his main social activity – playing shows.
“That was a big impact on me, I missed my friends getting together and jamming,” he said. “Music is like sleep to me, I don’t get enough.”
One thing Nelson has noticed since he started playing in front of an audience is how appreciative and excited people are to hear live music.
“People seem excited,” he said. “I was tired at the end of the night, but happy.”
Indeed, more shows appear to be on the horizon. The Animas City Theatre, for instance, will start offering shows with limited crowd capacity starting April 23.
Owner Michele Redding said shows will be limited to 50 people, with tickets sold in groups for tables of four.
“We’re just opening slowly and seeing how things go with that structure,” she said. “We’ve missed it so much, and I know all of our patrons have, too. Hopefully, this summer we’ll have bigger touring acts.”
Charles Leslie, director of the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, said he hopes to be able to offer the free summer series in Buckley Park this August and September, if health restrictions allow.
Music in the Mountains is also hosting some concerts in July at the Concert Hall, under COVID-19 health restrictions, Leslie said.
“In terms of Concert Hall bookings, we hope to be able to host audiences in September,” he said.
“I miss the interaction,” Black said of live shows. “It’s much more about the connection to people, and that’s what I’ve been missing the most. I don’t get that any other way, except for performing.”
Giuliani, too, said he’s now ready to hit the stage.
“One thing I realized is how much people appreciate live music, and how much it’s a part of the thread of our lives,” he said. “I’ve missed it. I’m ready.”