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, each week to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read last week’s installment here and see the full series here.)
What’s changed for you over the past week?
I’ve given up looking for a job for a minute. It feels super-bleak and it’s soul-crushing to not get any responses on anything, just seeing the growing numbers of people who are hitting the unemployment line, like myself. It’s pretty hard not to feel down about things. So I decided to give that a break and turned my efforts to working with that nonprofit, Music Cities Together, and figure out if there’s stuff we can do to help the industry think through what’s next.
What are you thinking about what’s next?
The first part of it is a triage conversation: “Everybody’s hurting, one way or another, and how do you figure out how to provide the best and most meaningful help to folks?” If we can help articulate that for the industry, that’s a laudable thing. The next thing, which I don’t know if people have figured out yet: Is there a new normal? Do you go back to normal? Going to a live show, for me, has an incredible emotive value, but if those are changed in some really significant way, what the hell does that mean? I don’t pretend to have the answer right now, but that’s kind of where my brain has been.
What have you done in your work with Music Cities Together in the past week?
It’s a lot of rolling conversations with folks that I know in the industry: If things get back to a space when venues are able to open, and musicians are able to perform, and workers are actually able to get back to what they love to do, what are the fundamental parts that make that successful? Are you going to have to scan people for temperatures? Are people going to have to wear masks? How do you social-distance? I don’t think there are a lot of answers right now but the questions are worthwhile. And I worked with them on this survey, asking people in the industry how they’re doing financially, whether they’ve been able to get some level of assistance, what it looks like for them relative to what it was like last year. We’re starting to get some results back, so the hope is to be able to release those findings shortly.
Are you starting to think “I need to have a new career”?
I mean, I’m hard-headed. I don’t want to leave the industry. I’ve been seeing, on places like LinkedIn, a bunch of folks saying they’ve left the industry, and we will be worse for it. And I get it, because people need to eat and need jobs and stuff. My life is fundamentally changed, being part of the music industry and live events, and I would like to be part of the conversation that helps bring those things back. But there’s going to be a time when I actually need to think about changing industries if there’s nothing out there.
What have you done personally to help get through this period?
I’ve looked for new music more feverishly than I had in the past, because it’s one of those things that helped me just level-set in my brain. That’s always been my coping mechanism, just figuring out what the new thing is. It feels like there’s an interesting increased level of significance when I’m looking for new music. I’m sure my neighbors aren’t stoked that I sit on my porch and play music really loud, but it’s necessary.
Did you and your kids form a band?
[Laughs.] No, we just trade off ukuleles at this point.
There might be a lot of really good musicians coming out of this.
A hundred percent, man. If all things go right, I’m going to be an entirely mediocre ukulele player by the time this thing is over.