With COVID-19 restrictions easing up, local community members are able to experience something they haven’t in several months — live music. North Carolina has begun hosting concerts across dozens of venues like Cat’s Cradle, Haw River Ballroom, Local 506 and Lincoln Theatre.
COVID-19 was responsible for a devastating blow to the live music industry — many independent venues were forced to close after PPP loans were exhausted. More than $500 billion was given out in PPP loans to small businesses, but they required locations to spend 75 percent on payroll to qualify for forgiveness. However, for many of the businesses and venues that were closed, most employees were laid off or furloughed, with no payroll to cover.
Music venues operate on thin margins, making the PPP loan less useful for those businesses.
Arts and entertainment were constantly forced to take a backseat during the pandemic, though they were the things many people looked forward to when stuck inside their homes.
But with the return to “normalcy,” venue owners in Carrboro and Chapel Hill are making decisions to reopen their businesses safely — such as requiring masks and mandating proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
The Cave is a small bar on Franklin Street that is known to host local bands and is as a fixture of Chapel Hill’s music scene. Stephen Mooneyhan, who bartends and books talent for the venue, said it was forced to close in March 2020 – the venue was an underground, not-well ventilated room.
They remained closed until May of 2021 and waited for employees to get vaccinated.
“We didn’t have any outdoor seating, so we couldn’t open when a lot of other bars did,” Mooneyhan said. "We were the first bar I know of in town that required proof of vaccination to come in, not for a show or anything.”
The Cave started a GoFundMe to support the loss of revenue during that time period — but many employees were forced to go on unemployment.
“When we reopened, it was a lot busier than it had been before,” Mooneyhan says. “It seemed like people were just ready to get back and go to bars.”
Rob Walsh, a co-owner and production manager of the Local 506, echoed that sentiment. In early 2021, they were able to reopen only as a bar and used outdoor seating.
“The way the front of the club is, is that we have doors that open to the street,” he says. “We had a couple shows where folks would set up in the front room, and the audience would be outside. We were able to have live music in the past months, and people started coming back.”
Walsh notes that they applied for a PPP loan, but they had to still lay off people. And when they reopened, some of the staff came back, and some didn’t.
“But for the folks that were laid off, their job was still there for them," Walsh said.
Local 506 is known for hosting several touring bands in their 250-capacity venue, but had issues with international bands not being able to get into the country or touring bands canceling shows when group members tested positive for COVID-19.
Walsh notes that while ticket sales do seem to be down, she appreciates people sticking around and supporting the business, especially given the number of bars that have closed down.
And that’s exactly what the community can do for music venues during this time.
If you have a chance, simply go out and support local venues — whether it’s going to a show or joining a membership to support the staff. Live events, especially local ones, are exciting experiences, especially after a year that has been spent primarily indoors.
“You can tell when you’re in a room of people enjoying the same thing, you’ve kind of missed out on that,” Mooneyhan said. “After a year of sitting and listening on Spotify, records or however, it’s easy to forget the excitement of live music.”
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