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Event Designer Bobby Garza In Austin, In a Pandemic: Fear of 2022 Many Tours

When the concert business shut down in March 2020, 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.

I went to an actual concert at Red Rocks last night. Does that kind of outdoor, 2,500-capacity, every-other-row, socially distanced show feel safe to you?

My thoughts have changed a lot. The science is getting better. There’s not a documented case of somebody getting ill by passing movement outdoors. We were trying to negotiate that with the Long Live Music stuff we were doing: Come [to the show] in your own little pod, do what you feel, but if you’re out and interacting with other people, and you come up to a bar, you’ve got to wear a mask.

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Are we going to see more and more of these events soon?

Our public-health environment is getting better, and the vaccination rates are getting better, and it’s going to be a moving target for the next six months or so: “How comfortable are we this week? Walk-up bars might be OK, but if we do that, we’re going to stock all our bars with KN95 masks. If somebody walks up and doesn’t have a mask we’re going to say, ‘You have to put this on.'” I feel OK about outdoors in those types of responsible setups. If you’re skipping rows, that’s the same thing we’re thinking about indoors in the fall.

Is Red Rocks one of those tentpole-type venues that could influence other venues around the country? 

Yeah, I think so. The amphitheatre out at Circuit of the Americas [near Austin] is doing stuff in the near future — at the end of the month, they’re doing the opera. They’re trying it out because others have. Europe has demonstrated some smart, responsible ways to do stuff. We’re all learning from each other.

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Walk me through the next few months of what you think opening up the concert business is going to be like.

We’re already having conversations about ’22 and ’23, which is normal for a performing-arts center. My fear, to be honest, is ’22 is going to be where everyone feels fine and everybody wants to tour. The reality is there are only so many weekends in a year. You’re playing against some other band that plays to the same market, and you’re diluting the entire universe of ticket buyers. That’s what scares me right now.

When we get back to more or less normal, and there aren’t enough fans to support all the bands going back on the road, how does the industry deal with that? More package tours?

Probably. Selfishly, I worry about whether it’s going to be way expensive to book the talent you’re used to booking, whether it’s a bidding war to get the right folks in the right places. And I also worry about venues and festivals and spaces saying, “We can’t make it work.” It’s just a different hurdle to have to jump over.

How’s the family?

My oldest has started to go to high-school band camp and he got to wear a sousaphone for the first time, the result of which was him being sore for about four days — which makes me happy! And my youngest is going to be playing saxophone. So I’ve got to get a bigger car. And my youngest went back to school this week — in-person school! I can’t express to you the amount of anxiety I continue to feel with that. Luckily, the school he goes to has been really good. The teacher met with Mauro’s mom and I and showed us the room on Zoom and said, “Here’s how the desks are set up” and “Here’s what the cafeteria looks like.” They were all very welcoming.

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