Event Designer Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: 'I'm Petrified for My Friends'

Bobby Garza
Mauro Garza

Bobby Garza

With the $600 weekly federal pandemic assistance program now expired, and any new stimulus package still in limbo, Garza found some contract work but is worried for the rest of the touring industry.

When the concert business shut down in mid-March, Bobby Garza abruptly shifted from putting on live events to tearing them down -- his company, Austin-based Forefront Networks, had to cancel the California food-and-music festival Yountville Live later that month, and massive productions like December's Trail of Lights in Austin are in question, too. In early April, his life changed even more dramatically: Forefront furloughed 30% of its staff, including him.

As part of Billboard's efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Garza, a 43-year-old Forefront creative team leader who used to be GM of festival producer Transmission Events, regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the latest installment here and see the full series here.

What's the status of the contract gig you were working on?

I was able to get a part-time contract with an organization here called the Long Center, which is a venue and community-based organization dedicated to helping the arts and artists and musicians. It's a 2,500-ish-seat venue that's had to close, so they're thinking about what's next and how they pivot. So I get to think about that, which I'm incredibly excited about.

When did you start?

Oddly enough, the day that you and I got off the phone [two weeks ago], I spent the rest of the afternoon negotiating with the chief revenue officer over there, who's a friend of mine, about the particulars. I started that following Monday, so I'm just finishing up my second week. My job is to think through a whole new vertical for the organization, which centers right now around virtual programming. That can set the stage for what happens in '21, but [we're] also thinking about how to intelligently open whenever venues are able to open.

Having that paycheck must be a huge relief, especially now.

I was so fearful that Congress couldn't figure out what the heck they wanted to do, and now millions of people are losing this subsidy that's probably keeping them in their homes and keeping food on the table. It's incredibly tragic and I feel fortunate to be where I'm at. I'm petrified for my friends. I'm petrified what that's going to do for the country. Philosophical musings about whether it encourages people to come back to work or not feel irrelevant for my industry, which is 100% gone right now.

What do you think happens next to the country, now that those benefits have run out?

My experience in government doesn't give me a whole lot of hope that something's going to pass that's going to be worth it. What happens if you are furloughed, and now you're laid off, and now the unemployment assistance from the federal government doesn't come through? You've got an incredible increase in expenses and an incredible decrease in income and there's not a whole lot to do, especially if you have a family or you live with someone who's elderly and you have to self-quarantine properly. There are so many variables. I'm so incredibly frightened.

Whenever there may be a concert business again, say with a vaccine, is it going to be like flipping a switch? "Come on, everybody, let's go to Red Rocks!" What happens in that moment?

I don't think it's going to be like that. Folks are going to say "venues can open with 25% capacity," and the reality is, most venues don't budget the 25% capacity for break-even. I don't think it becomes a reality from a financially responsible standpoint until venues can hit 75 or 85% capacity. In which case, venues have a lot of thinking to do and a lot of interacting to do with their local or state governments about how stringent guidelines are going to be and what the smartest things to do are. On one hand, I get the raw emotion of [wanting to] see music right now, and I had to juxtapose that with a text I got from my mother today listing all of the people she knows that have died this week. It's absolutely terrible. There aren't many people that want to be back in the business of seeing events and being around live music than me. But we're not there yet.

Since we talked about your son's cookie-making camp two weeks ago, I can't get German snickerdoodles out of my head.

Well, you've got to come down, dude! At some point in the future I'll get my kid to tear up the kitchen again. I just got it back into place, so just give me a minute. It is really funny, though. As I was cleaning the kitchen, I opened the oven and there was one cookie that didn't quite make it out.

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