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Event Designer Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: ‘The Goalposts Are Getting Moved Every Other Day’

As coronavirus cases surge, Austin event designer Bobby Garza calls out artists playing non-socially distant live shows: "Our industry's going to come back slower because people can't decide to be…

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 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 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. (Read the latest installment here and see the full series here.)


Since we last spoke, country singer Chase Rice was one of a few artists who gave a non-socially distant concert. What do you think of this mentality, that people have said, “Screw the virus, I’m playing a show”?

I think there’s stupid people everywhere. And I don’t say that with any exaggeration or hyperbole. While I love our industry, just like any other place there’s people that have different political leanings, different feelings, about what’s going on in the world. And I pity them because I think they’re stupid. Our industry’s going to come back slower because people can’t decide to be responsible for even just a little bit. We’re on, what, day 75,000 of quarantine? The only way we get out of it is if we’re diligent and smart, not if we push the boundaries. This isn’t like jumping off an [expletive] high dive, where you’re going be fine if you hit the water right, you know?

Is there any way to do a concert safely and responsibly at this point?

I don’t think we know the answer to that yet. It’s smart to do what some folks I know have been doing and what I’ve tried to do: Read as much as we can on what actually is the right thinking at the right time. But the goalposts [are] getting moved every other day. I just read some article yesterday and I was like, “Oh, the coronavirus in Europe is a different strain from the one from China.” What are you going to do? The most encouraging thing I read recently, which is worthy of some more conversation with respect to live events, is that all of the Black Lives Matter protests that were happening when people were really uniting together and exercising their voice did not cause a spike in coronavirus cases. Which means people can potentially gather outside if they wear a mask and it’s not going to put other people in danger.


What’s happening with the job opportunity you mentioned in our earlier conversation?

Everything is moving along at a snail’s pace. Every industry’s hurting right now. It’s hard to continue to try to figure out where there might be work in the spaces that I love. I’m trying really, really hard to be patient, but it’s starting to feel a little impossible. But I remain hopeful and I’m trying to set myself up for the future. My sister and I started an LLC, so we’re getting into creating some branding stuff with a buddy of mine and we’ve got a website that will pop up here in a little bit. It feels silly to prepare those types of things, but also incredibly necessary at the same time. It’s better than staring at the wall.

You must be following closely whether the U.S. will extend the pandemic unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of July.

Yeah, I am stress-checking my phone just about every day. It feels like this really terrible game of chicken. I’m very aware that absent whatever federal-type interventions that were happening, my pay goes down to the extent that I’m not going to be able to make ends meet. I’m a bit scared about what the future looks like absent those things. [Beeping noise.] Ha! I just got a push notification on my phone: The public safety alert is that Texas now mandates that all residents wear masks because of COVID-19, punishable by a fine of $250.

It feels like if people lose those pandemic unemployment benefits, things get really bad. People will fight in the streets.

Oh, it totally will. When you start pushing people to the brink of economic desperation it’s going to get ugly and that that’s not something that should be a shock to anybody. This is what’s happened throughout history.


What else are you up to?

Well, I finally started playing my ukulele again, I’m kind of excited about that. Other than that my kids and I are engaged in a different type of get-through-quarantine-together, which is try to find as many virtual camps as we can to keep them engaged and learning and excited about the world. My oldest is in a Dungeons & Dragons camp, and my brother-in-law is a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan, and we have all agreed to embark on a campaign as a family.

Are you a longtime D&D player?

I am not. I was one of those kids that oddly enough liked to read the manual more than I liked to play the game. I had the books, I had the “Players’ Handbook” and the “Monster Manual” and stuff like that, growing up, but was only interested in what they could do and not really playing through some Dungeon Master’s idea of the game. Last weekend, we spent probably two hours looking through the “Monster Manual.” The names of some things are the same as in other fantasy books, like Lord of the Rings and stuff like that, and we got into a discussion about history about where those things came from.