The Media School

COVID-19 creates new booking challenges for Bloomington musicians and venues

December 3rd, 2020 by
Photograph by Samuel Boland

Alex Goldblatt is a guitarist who frequently gigged in Bloomington. He said the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to gig primarily in Indianapolis due to a higher quantity of safe opportunities.

Alex Goldblatt sat at a desk in his bedroom absent of any wall decorations. A jacket rested on his chair and a mostly empty clothes rack sat behind him. His simple living space contrasted the complexities of his guitar playing.   

Goldblatt, a 22-year-old from Evansville, wants to be a professional musician. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he was gigging three to five nights a week. Then it changed. 

“The hardline is that Bloomington gigs are pretty much dead,” he said. “I basically never gig here.” 

Due to challenges created by COVID19, Bloomington musicians like Goldblatt are struggling to find work, while theatres like the Buskirk Chumley are getting creative to make ends meet. 

Goldblatt, with many other musicians, had to travel to Indianapolis to keep playing in a safe environment. He said there is more demand there because there are more venues, more events and a higher probability that some of these establishments will be taking the pandemic seriously. 

Goldblatt’s Bloomington band played at the Bluebird twice a month, but he now refuses to play the venue because of its lackluster safety precautions. He preferred to keep the band’s identity anonymous as to not hurt their chances of gigging in the future. 

“[Our band] played the Bluebird in July and then our lead singer got COVID,” he said. “And we found out that everybody at the Bluebird had COVID, the entire staff.”  

Goldblatt said playing at the Bluebird jeopardizes his health. He the crowd’s screaming and a lack of masking makes it an unsafe environment. 

Goldblatt said he is fortunate to be able to travel to play gigs. Not everyone in the industry, like Will Staler, is that lucky.  

Photograph by Samuel Boland

Buskirk Chumley Theatre Technical Director David DeSante said the theatre hosted its first indoor show on Oct. 30 since the pandemic hit. He hopes the theatre does more, but says finding musical acts willing to play that can bring in revenue has been difficult.

Staler is a 39-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, and works as a stagehand as a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union. He used to gig five to six days a week. That has dropped off, and Staler has struggled to find work.  

“It wasn’t even a gig a week until about the last month,” he said. “It’s been, for about the last month, two months it’s been about a gig a week, maybe two or three.” 

Staler said he is thankful for what work he has had, but it hasn’t been enough to get by. 

“Unemployment has been keeping a roof over my head and food on my table,” he said. I just knew that the industry was really not going to be the same for a very long time and I still feel that.” 

Buskirk Chumley Technical Director David DeSante said the Buskirk Chumley’s summer was full of cancellations. Much like Goldblatt and Staler, the theatre struggled to find events. 

“In a pre-pandemic, we were doing 250 events a year, which is a very full calendar for a theatre this size,” he said. “Our busiest months, which were canceled this year, usually are April and November where we have something in here every single day.”  

“We need to get back into the swing. We’re trying to fill up the calendar, but it’s just really hard to book anything because nobody wants to risk exposing themselves to a potential hazard.” -David DeSante, Technical Director, Buskirk Chumley

With no events, DeSante found himself with free time to give to the theatre. He replaced lightbulbs, repainted and did a deep clean. The next step is to get the theatre back in use.  

“We need to get back into the swing,” he said. “We’re trying to fill up the calendar, but it’s just really hard to book anything because nobody wants to risk exposing themselves to a potential hazard.” 

To combat the potential hazards presented by COVID-19, the Buskirk is getting creative to stay relevant. On Oct. 30, it held its first concert with a live audience since the state went into lockdown in March  

“Houndmouth was the first one where we truly had an audience for an outside renter or a touring act,” DeSante said. 

DeSante hopes the Buskirk’s safety precautions could lead to more acts playing in the future.  

“Our audience was limited to 50 people, a fraction of what our capacity is, but what we are allowed by health guidelines to have in the theatre,” he said. The biggest changes are, as you can see by my face, you got to wear a mask.” 

As a musician, Goldblatt thinks the Buskirk’s plan could work 

“Stuff that is practical and safe, there is a demand for it,” he said.