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. (See the full series here.)
What were those days in March like for you?
We were in the middle of canceling an event, which is pretty gnarly. We were supposed to be in Napa [California] right at that time. As stuff was closing, we were trying to wrap up books and untangle all of the tentacles that comes from canceling an event, and that’s definitely a struggle.
What was day-to-day life like for you during that period?
It’s hard — we had chefs and musicians we had to let know. We had sponsors that had already made financial commitments. You never like to deliver bad news. I told people I worked with that we should be in the business of delivering good news in good times, but this is not one of those opportunities. At all.
How long is the furlough?
It’s supposed to be for three months, but if I’m being honest, I don’t think anybody knows when or where we’re going to be able to get back to normal.
How are you getting by on a personal level?
It’s causing a little bit of an existential crisis: What are we going to do as an industry as a whole? How does this ever look normal again, given what we’re going through? But I’m lucky enough to get my first unemployment check about three weeks after I applied, which was a pretty nerve-wracking experience. I don’t what I would do if I didn’t have what I have, which is about 50% of my salary. So we’re getting through it.
I hate having to keep asking this question, but how does the business survive this?
I don’t think we know that yet. That’s probably the one source of great anxiety for me, as a producer and a project manager around live events — I don’t have any line of sight to what the new normal is going to be like or when. Festivals and venues plan to break even for a certain percentage of occupancy. Sometimes that’s 85%. But in Texas right now, places are only allowing 25% occupancy. How do you renegotiate the entire economic structure of what you do?
Is there any silver lining? You’re getting to spend more time with your family?
Yes. I love being around my children and getting to help them with learning, even though there are times I feel like I am a poor teacher, a marginal cafeteria worker and a terrible janitor.
Before I did all this music production stuff and music events, I worked for the city and did music policy for the chief of staff of a city council member. I’ve been working with a new organization called Music Cities Together that’s working on a plan, called Reopen Every Venue Safely, or REVS. I helped work on a survey for affected music workers asking them how they’re doing and whether they’ve lost their jobs.
How old are your kids?
My oldest son, Gael, is 13, and he’s in seventh grade, and my younger son is Mauro, and he’s 9, in fourth grade.
Those are intense ages for parents right now!
For sure! But in a previous life I was a recording and touring musician, so we have filled our house with as many instruments as we can, from my oldest son’s tuba to an electric bass, an acoustic guitar, some ukuleles, keyboards and audio work stations.
You’re pivoting towards superstar rock band.
Could be, man! You never know.