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Event Designer Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: ‘Things Have Fundamentally Changed Our World’

Since getting furloughed, event designer Bobby Garza is connecting with likeminded people looking for ways concerts can move forward -- and still practicing the ukulele.

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 general manager of festival producer Transmission Events, each week to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read last week’s installment here and see the full series here.)


What do you miss most about your job?

One of my favorite times was the night before we hit doors at the Fun Fun Fun Festival, when I was working for Transmission Events, and it was after everybody had been scrambling to get stuff done and everybody’s working super hard — and you’re done. And it’s as perfect as it’s going to get and it’s calm and it’s the night before you’re going to open doors. We used to have a half-pipe and a street course, and I would go sit up on the top of the drop-in by myself and look around and think, “What an amazing group of likeminded people that we had to work with.” I’m in the stage right now where there’s a lot of churning: “Is this Groundhog Day loop ever going to be over with?” The one thing that’s giving me hope is I have been able to connect with a lot of people who are actively trying to figure out how to get us to that point.

What are you hearing in those conversations about saving the concert business?

All these conversations about safety cause a bit of anxiety. It was the same way after Las Vegas. That was terrible, and you had to have conversations that were much deeper and more real than we ever had before. For this round, you want to get back to work, but you want to be healthy and you don’t want other people to get sick. You’re in the business of providing people with the best times in their lives and that can’t be tarnished with this virus scare. So how do you turn those things around? How do we make this stuff better? How do we make it better quicker, so we can go back to being in the middle of those moments that you can’t ever replace? The converse of that is the thought of never being able to do that.


Who are you talking to about these issues?

The guys that are at the Music Cities Together nonprofit and some friends of mine in the tech industry. They’re repurposing to figure out how events can message, queue and move people around inside of events more safely and with more confidence. And I’ve been talking to folks who own venues or represent cultural districts.

How much hope do you feel from these reports about vaccines?

I don’t think I’m ready to feel like that’s tangible just yet. Honestly, who knows how long things are going to take? I want to focus on “what are the other things that we should already be doing?” I don’t think anyone should have any illusions that we’re going back to what used to be normal. Things have fundamentally changed our world and it would be folly to think that at some point everybody waves the all-clear flag and you go back to doing what you were doing.

How much are you focusing on finding a new job?

Some spokesperson for public health essentially said that events aren’t coming back until 2021. It’s not anything I didn’t anticipate, but that raises this existential crisis again, about what it is that I’m doing and whether I’ll be able to do it again. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to find a job in the same spaces or be able to find a couple contracts that I can work on with people looking for the what’s-next thing. But going through the traditional job-search stuff and having my soul quietly die — I don’t know that I have the stomach for that right now.


You’re still able to keep your family afloat, right?

Yeah. I am fortunate that the state and federal unemployment kept me at 50% of what I was making. You never realize how much money you’ve wasted until you don’t have the opportunity to go waste that money. I think about how I buy groceries now: What’s the most pressing thing, and how can I maximize this little bit of food to figure out how it feeds me and the boys for today?

How’s the ukulele progress?

This week my song of choice is the Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love.” I’ve been learning the chords and how to sing and play at the same time, which is painful enough. We’ll see what next week brings.

And your sons support your ukulele endeavors?

Absolutely. My oldest has picked up the ukulele too and this week he learned the Adventure Time song, which has some ukulele stuff. It’s been a nice source of conversation for us for sure.