Under normal circumstances, I’d be writing my usual previews of Irvine-area concerts for the coming month. It’s usually a challenge to pick just seven or eight live music events from literally dozens of diverse choices in Irvine and surrounding cities. But the prohibition on gatherings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all that.

Scouring the web today revealed only postponed or canceled concerts, and shuttered venues. It began in early March with individual shows being rescheduled due to concerns about coronavirus. Then, as the implications of the pandemic became horribly clearer, entire tours got pulled. Soon venues were closing their doors, at first for just weeks, and then indefinitely. A shudder went through SoCal’s concert industry.

Writing at the expected peak of America’s COVID-19 outbreak, it’s clear that there will be long-term, industry-wide ramifications from venues being closed for extended periods. Some smaller facilities may simply not make it; others may struggle to recover for months. Because even after lockdowns are lifted, music fans may be uneasy about assembling in large numbers.

We spoke to Irvine-area music venues about how they’re weathering these unprecedented circumstances, and to poll their predictions for both their own businesses and across the wider SoCal music scene.

Soka University of America Performing Arts Center (Courtesy Soka Performing Arts Center)

What is your operational status, and when/how do you expect this to change?

Renee Bodie, general manager, Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo: We have postponed all remaining shows in our current season. We are working with artists and artist agencies to reschedule all postponed shows into our ’20-’21 season.

Eric Keilman, talent buyer at The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa: Playing the waiting game like a lot of people are. It’s hard to say when we are opening back up. We are pushing for May but want to make sure it’s safe for everyone before starting shows again.

Gabriela Luna, marketing director at The Coach House Concert Hall in San Juan Capistrano: It is difficult to predict when our venue will be fully operational again. … We receive changes to our schedule almost daily as many of our booked artists have decided to postpone their tours until later this year or until 2021. 

Casey Reitz, president of Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa: We are working every day to reschedule as many shows and artists as possible as soon as possible. We are of the mind and tradition that the show must go on, and so it will at Segerstrom Center as soon as possible.

Vanessa Kromer, vice president of communications, Nederlander Concerts: City National Grove of Anaheim is working on virtual event programming, and we encourage fans to follow our social media platforms to stay informed and engaged. We look forward to presenting live entertainment in the future, and are committed to providing a safe space for fans to enjoy their favorite artists!

Coach House (Bob Steshetz)

How has this unique situation impacted your business? What have you been doing to mitigate these effects?

Keilman: We’ve taken a huge hit. It takes a lot of work from a small, amazing team to run an independent music venue/bar/restaurant. The longer we are closed, the more of a chance we might not open.

Luna: We are currently brainstorming ways to maintain engagement within our community and we encourage people to support artists in any way they can. 

Bodie: Our season ends early in May for the summer, so while we did have to postpone shows scheduled between March and May, that number is far less than many venues. … We are presenting lightly September through December, and scheduling the majority of events for the remainder of our season starting in January 2021.

What are your predictions for live music in the Irvine area and beyond? How might the “scene” be different after the pandemic?

Bodie: Live music will return — it will always return. … [But] I believe it may take some time for people to feel safe again, and for live audience numbers to return to “normal” levels.

Tim Dunn, senior director, public relations at Segerstrom Center for the Arts: It’s likely that people will be cautious. … People may return to our free outdoor events on the Argyros Plaza first. And possibly people will continue with safe practices, such as wearing masks.

Luna: When government officials allow for regular operations, there may be different approaches on concert culture. For example, many people might be eager to connect with the concert scene and others may be more hesitant in order to protect their health. 

Keilman: Good music comes from tough life situations. I am hoping to hear some great music and collaborations come out of this from the local community. 

Segerstrom Center Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale

Do you believe that some venues may have to close down altogether, if the lockdown continues much longer?

Keilman: There is no question some venues will close down. We are pushing to be open but the longer this pandemic keeps us closed, the closer we will be to shutting down.

Luna: Smaller venues may be more susceptible to permanently closing if this continues for a few more months.

Do you foresee a huge rush of interest from concertgoers, in the short term at least, once venues re-open?

Luna: I can see younger adults eagerly looking for events to attend after quarantine so I believe that their enthusiasm to reconnect will help heal the damage done to the entertainment scene. Older music lovers may remain a bit more cautious with large crowds in order to protect their health.

Keilman: Everyone’s stir crazy right now, so people will want to get out when it’s safe. … A small boom right out of the gate will help, but it’s going to take a longer, consistent flow for venues to open and stay open.

Bodie: I am not sure I see a boom or huge rush in the short term. Our audience is an older demographic, and many may still be reticent to return to “business as usual” until they feel safe. Once that occurs, I believe we will see a measured climb back to normal. … I would say it will likely take about a year and a half to see “normal” again.

 What would your advice be to readers looking to satiate their cravings for live music while self-isolating?

Luna: Follow your favorite musicians on social media, as many artists have been virtually performing for their fans. As a music fiend, my favorite way to stay connected to music during quarantine is by searching for new music to listen by “crate-digging” on YouTube.

Bodie: Streaming, streaming, streaming! Take advantage of all the artists streaming incredible shows. Either for free or for a fraction of what it would cost normally to see these artists.

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