When the concert business shut down last 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. In early April, his life changed even more dramatically: Forefront furloughed 30 percent 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 former Forefront creative team leader who used to be general manager of festival producer Transmission Events, every other week to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. As of early January, he is now vice president of programs and community outreach at the Long Center, a performing-arts facility in Austin, which, among other things is working on dispersing emergency SAVES grants worth tens of thousands of dollars to struggling local concert venues. (Read the latest installment here and see the full series here.
Any update on the Long Center dispersing the city grants to struggling venues?
It’s kind of the same. We had actually scheduled today to be the first part of our rollout for Phase 2, which is an enhanced grant that gives people a lot more money over the course of several months. We’re in the midst of Snowpocalypse over here. Most people don’t have power or are just getting power back after not having it for 36 hours in some cases.
Did you lose power as well?
No. I have been incredibly fortunate, but every other family member that I’ve spoken to has lost power and has been trying to tough it out. I don’t think our infrastructure is made for single-digit weather at all. I don’t even remember the last time Texas was in single digits. I woke up this morning and it was 7 degrees.
Do you even have, like, coats for that?
[Laughs.] Well, luckily, I’ve been skiing before. Everybody’s done a little bit of travel to be able to bundle up a little. But most folks are staying inside. The funniest part is, Texas, anytime there’s ice or snow or anything on the ground, the roads are terrible. We don’t have any stock of sand or ice or salt or anything like that to make the roads safe. It gets a little treacherous.
What’s next? Locusts?
We joked at the end of the last year about the White Walkers. It’s definitely bonkers. I don’t know if we can handle that much more.
How much will the weather delay the work you’re doing to get venues their money?
A little bit. I’m loathe to say 48 hours is going to make a difference, but I’m also cognizant that every day matters. It’s frustrating, but at the same time, we certainly don’t want to have a webinar that gives people all the information they’re going to need to be able to apply and have nobody be able to tune into it. Some stuff’s going to slide a day or two, or into next week, and that just means we have to hurry on the back end and get people ready to roll.
So next week, venues can start getting money?
No, next week is when people can start applying. There’s a whole series of things we have to do. The way the program is designed at the city, people have to answer a series of questions and it becomes part of a scoring matrix. But we can’t use the fund until the universe of applicants has applied. We’re not trying to present any barriers to venues that are already struggling and are just exhausted. We want to think about “what documentation is going to be right? What’s the quickest way we can score and make that determination?” It’s a large process.
Where do the other Long Center pandemic initiatives stand, like the socially distant live concerts we’ve discussed?
Long Live Music — we’ve been talking about trying to get the second series done this year. Obviously, that’s dependent on the public-health environment. We hope to have an announcement for that stuff in a couple of weeks. The ironic thing about this terrible weather is nobody’s been able to go out and do anything for a while. There’s less chance of having bad interactions or going backwards in terms of public health. I guess if you want anybody in Texas to stay put, just send them a blizzard.
Were you able to retrieve all the band gear you had to pick up when the local music-storage space shut down a few weeks ago?
I did! We went and got it last weekend, right before it was crazy-ridiculous.
Are your kids excited about it?
They’re actually about to walk in right now from their mom’s house. They were with their mom and without power and without a way to get over here for 24, 36 hours.
Now they’ll have a new project.
Yeah, man, acoustic guitars and keyboards and a whole drumkit and a PA. We’ve got some stuff to keep us busy in the garage if we bundle up and want to get industrious about it.
You were just saying something, but you cut out. I heard “if,” then “suck.”
[Laughs.] That’s one of the bad parts about today. All of our services seem to suck a little bit worse.