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Event Designer Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: ‘I Feel 1,000% Better Knowing That I’m Working’

Though Austin event designer Bobby Garza counts himself lucky to have part-time contract work, he is struggling to make ends meet.

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.


You’ve been working with the Long Center in Austin on programming for a few weeks now. How is that going?

I like the team I’m working with and there’s good energy. We’re coming to the point where we’re going to need to start doing some stuff, which is super-exciting and, on the other hand, I’m still not really leaving the house unless I absolutely have to. But I feel 1,000% better knowing that I’m working and I’m getting paid for it. And it has some level of value.

What ideas have you helped the team come up with?

The Long Center has these studio sessions in a couple of spaces — one is a traditional hall, which is a 2,300-capacity, theatre-style room, and they also have a black box [where] you can fit 200 people in pre-plague times. They’ve been doing these things that are now available online called the Rollins Sessions, and it’s an effort to get something virtual off the ground and develop a confidence they didn’t really have before. They purchased cameras and brought some people on to help them with editing and thinking about it. The stuff I’ve been working on with the programming team right now is, “OK, you stood this thing up, it has a particular aesthetic and it has a particular format, is that right moving forward? Are there quality improvements that can be made?”

What are the challenges of doing this in a pandemic?

You can’t really slam bands together on a stage and film them virtually in the same way that you might have before. If we allow bands to utilize dressing rooms, and we provide them with hospitality, then every time we film something, we would necessarily have to have a cleaning crew on standby to go sanitize all the surfaces. We’re finding out that it won’t be as efficient or as quick as I had hoped for. It’s going to slow things down from a content-generation standpoint a lot, but it’s the smart thing to do.

Does all this work make you even more lonely for concerts?

My mom’s birthday is today, and we did some stuff for her on Sunday. We drove down to New Braunfels and surprised her with this mariachi group. She loves that type of music. She lives on the corner, and our whole family drove by and honked and waved and said well wishes while she was sitting by herself underneath this 10×10 tent. Even just seeing those four performers perform live was so incredibly powerful, and I kind of got teary about it. Part of it was, “it’s my mom’s birthday and I can’t hug her.” And the other part of it was live music, people playing, people singing, right near you. That idea really hit home for me. I hadn’t seen live music since the Before Times. Even that little example, it really hit me hard.

How are you doing, money-wise? Are you making it work?

I don’t have a choice, right? But it’s not comfortable. I’m thankful I have the opportunity to work and get paid for it, even if it’s part-time right now. A lot of my friends and people I know in this industry don’t have that benefit. On the other hand, you come to live within whatever budget you have, and sometimes that’s really great and comfortable, which is where I felt like I was before, where, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t struggling all the time. And you get your knees taken out from under you and you have to figure out how you’re going to fundamentally adjust your life. And we’re still living in that. Even though it’s been five solid months of trying to be incredibly frugal, there are things that don’t change. My son’s going to turn 14 at the end of the month and I need to get him a gift and figure out how to do that. The new dark cloud hanging over my head is what to do about health insurance for myself.

That’s rough. But it feels like we should end on a more hopeful note. What do you think?

Bringing it back to the ukulele, then! My sister did this really amazing thing — my mom’s family, every time we used to get together, we would play instruments and sing. My uncle and aunt have these beautiful voices and my grandmother used to sing. My sister figured out how to get a few of my aunts and uncles to download Zoom, and we had this Zoom karaoke thing last Saturday. I gave my son and me a deadline: “We’re going to learn two songs and play them for the family.” We sang and played “Hey Jude” and Ritchie Valens‘ “We Belong Together.” First performance under our belts.