Keep Music Live
The waiting game
What: Keep Music Live Washington
When: 7:30 pm Thu., Mar. 18
Band Together WA will host a livestream benefit concert featuring some of Washington’s most celebrated faces and spaces in music. The event will be hosted by Sir Mix-A-Lot and Rachel Flotard and feature intimate discussions, live performances, and rare archival concert footage of performances by powerhouse artists who achieved global success.
Cost: By donation; proceeds will benefit Keep Music Live's efforts to provide COVID-19 relief grants for small, independently owned music venues across Washington state
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Craig Jewell would like nothing more than for the Wild Buffalo House of Music to once again open its doors to the public.
As part owner of the downtown Bellingham venue known for bringing a wide variety of acts both local and national to its stage, he’s been part of a crew that has spent more than a decade making creative connections and ensuring that when people show up to “the Buff,” they have a good time—whether it’s on the dance floor, cozied up next to friends at a table or sitting at the expansive bar while they listen to live music, catch the occasional comedy show or witness a no-holds-barred lip syncing competition.
But although Whatcom County recently moved into Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19-related Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery guidelines—which enables indoor entertainment establishments to allow 25 percent capacity inside their doors while following eating and drinking requirements if food or drinks are served—Jewell and his co-owners are not quite ready to reopen for business at this juncture.
In a recent newsletter addressed to “friends and lovers of live music,” Jewell outlined the myriad reasons for the decision. Their main concern, he noted, was for the safety of fans, artists and the Wild Buffalo’s staff.
“We acknowledge that there is by its nature an increased risk of exposure and transmission in the live events industry and anywhere that large groups of people are gathering,” he said. “Current regulations require a minimum of ‘20 feet of physical distancing between performers and the audience.’ This is physically impossible for many in our state. In addition, the six-foot physical distancing requirement reduces the Wild Buffalo’s capacity to around 25-35 customers.”
Those numbers don’t compute into a successful business model, he added, pointing out that most venues (including theirs) would be operating at a loss under those restrictions, while also requiring additional staff needs and operational expenses. Add in the fact that the Wild Buffalo depends on one-night-only events with crowds of patrons that are not necessarily from the same household, and the concerns are compounded.
Added restrictions such as two-hour time limits on all events and evaluations every two weeks that could very well move Whatcom County back to Phase 1 and close the doors on places that have already reopened mean it’s impractical to start booking shows again right now.
“To summarize, we have to wait this storm out and we are so excited with even the thought of joining together in song with ya’ll in the future,” Jewell said. “There is some government assistance coming to help with the mass amount of debt that has been piling up, but we don’t know how much. Some of you might say that we should pivot as a business. But we are firm on the fact that musicians need a place to play and make make money. We are here to do whatever we can to make that a reality when it is safe to do so.”
While the Wild Buffalo and other live music venues in Washington play the waiting game, patrons of the arts can also do their part to ensure they come out on the other side of the pandemic. As he has before, Jewell points to Keep Music Live, a nonprofit formed with a fiscal sponsor (The Whatcom Community Foundation) that is currently issuing grants to music venues across the state with the help of public donations. Proceeds from Elysian KML Beer and KML merch are also providing ongoing and direct relief to music venues.
Finally, Jewell notes that Wild Buffalo is continuing to invest in Personal Protective Equipment such as N95 masks, sanitization wipes, industrial foggers and more via Pacific Medical Products. When the time comes to reopen, they want to be ready, willing and able.
“Let’s get through this safer and stronger, Bellingham,” Jewell said. “Can’t wait to see you on the dance floor!”
Photo of Charles Bradley by Matt McDonald. Find out more about Keep Music Live and donate at http://www.keepmusiclivewa.com
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