The local music industry battles one year into COVID-19 with positivity

By Emma Jerry

//Ashley Niven, singer and songwriter, sits in the practice space for her band French Cuffs on April 27 in Lakewood. Photo by Karson Hallaway | karsonhallaway@gmail.com

Vocalist Ashley Niven was gearing up for a busy summer of commercial jobs and the usual impromptu sit-ins. 

I was getting ready to play the second gig ever with my new project French Cuffs,” Niven said. “Needless to say that second show never happened, and we haven’t played our music in public since that first show.”

In recent years Denver has become a hot spot for local talent and national acts alike, with industry bigwigs like AEG and LiveNation securing Denver’s inclusion into the touring circuit and a slew of sold-out concerts, big and small, happening weekly. 

Then stay-at-home orders went into effect. The premier and unimaginably expensive Mission Ballroom was forced to go dark at just seven months old and the world-renowned Red Rocks had to skip their entire concert season, but no one bore the brunt more than the local musicians.

In the last year, Niven has had to pivot her attitude towards musicianship and has been writing, recording and creating videos, working towards self-expression “however the circumstances will allow.” Her band is currently halfway through the recording process for their first album and has lyric videos for all five of their songs on Spotify.

“I like to think that even though this has probably been the hardest year of my life, I still rose to the occasion in my own messy way,” Niven said. “I think the positive thing I got out of all this is finally figuring out how to look at a project from a more fundamental place—what it takes to sustain a band with a successful footprint.”

Solo artists are just one asset of the local music community. Diana Azab is the co-owner of and marketing director for Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, one of many independent music venues that have been hit hard by COVID-19 regulations. 

Shut down in May, re-opened in August, and closed again in November, Cervantes’ is currently up and running at 80% capacity. With no way to pay staff during two shutdowns, Azab reached out to the local community to help take care of her team.

“We ran a GoFundMe campaign back in March/April and were able to generate over $30,000 that was split amongst self-employed gig workers,” Azab said. “It was amazing to see how generous the Cervantes’ network of people was in our time of need.”

Cervantes’ has a healthy roster of acts scheduled throughout the spring. Attendees can expect table service and temperature checks. 

I don’t take it for granted that we’re able to operate in the middle of a pandemic, and we’re doing everything in our power to ensure that we’ll be able to continue to operate in this same manner until things are back to normal,” Azab said.

Although there have been numerous horror stories of small businesses shuttering their windows, Azab has no doubt that Cervantes’ will remain operating.

“We will outlast the pandemic,” Azab said, “However long it takes, however long we’re unable to operate, we’re not going anywhere. We will survive.”

Guitarist and MC Avery Jacob shares this sentiment of struggle and survival, calling the pandemic a collective trauma.

“I was faced with a few setbacks in my personal life, and the balance that I am trying to achieve was compromised,” Jacob said. “I had no clue what my next step was going to be and then—BAM—pandemic. I was stuck like everyone else trying to make sense of this universal disconnect that we all had to endure.”

Jacob sought out connectivity, reaching out to as many potential collaborators as possible as a way to “combat the disconnect.” This manifested into LOEN, a group Jacob formed with his childhood friends to spread positive energy through hip-hop. 

For Jacob, these past 12 months have been a practice in patience. 

“I’m getting myself ready for the moment that live shows return, but until then, I’m learning what I have to do to be adaptable,” he said.

One year later and there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and some local industry folks have greater insight into exactly when, where and how live music will return. 

The first week of March 2020 we were promoting shows and events around the country when national tours and event production came to a halt,” said Jon Eisenberg. He’s the owner of Blackspy Marketing, a local grassroots marketing company whose primary focuses are posters, fliers and social media. 

While he admits that much of the last year was a loss, Eisenberg is keeping the faith. He is able to see things on a larger scale and knows that the end is near. 

“Live Nation Colorado and AEG Presents Rocky Mountains will help shape the way of future concert logistics,” Eisenburg said, “And with the vaccination rollout phases, more industries will open and have larger capacities.”

Thankfully, the people, places and powers that make live music happen aren’t giving up. This past year was “an opportunity to rest and dial in strategies for the future,” Eisenberg said. “I’m thankful to have something that will come back.”




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