Local musicians, live music venue are easing back into live performances

Olivia Murray, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
·9 min read

Apr. 11—MORGANTOWN — Local musicians and a historical Morgantown live music venue are still exercising caution regarding live music events despite Gov. Jim Justice's recent decision to once again allow them to be held in West Virginia.

During a March 24 press briefing, Justice announced that he would be signing Executive Order 9-21, which allowed all types of live music performances to resume effective at midnight on March 25.

Andrew Tuck, singer /songwriter and guitarist for The Greens, said that the restrictions on live music events in the state resulted in emotional and financial consequences for him.

From an emotional standpoint, Tuck — who has been playing live music around the state for about 20 years — said he lost a sense of community with those who enjoyed his music and came to watch him perform live. Creating and performing music is a part of his identity, just as being a husband, father and employee are.

"I found myself sitting in my little basement room here kind of banging my head off a wall on a Friday night because I didn't have the shows that we were used to. You get used to a certain type of lifestyle, and if that part that's a good, a positive thing gets taken away, you have a hole. There's a hole that isn't being filled, " he said.

He said the loss of live performances was equally as devastating financially.

Tuck said that as he and his bandmates started to grow older, they noticed even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that their live appearances were becoming increasingly infrequent compared to their previous 100 estimated performances a year.

"Just take $500 for the band, just on average, $500 [per show 3/8 and multiply that by 100 [shows a year 3/8...that's a huge amount of money, " he said.

The Greens worked hard to book performances at festivals and other high-profile appearances for the past year that were ultimately all canceled.

Tuck and the other members of The Greens all live in different areas, and Tuck said he has not seen his bandmates since October. While he isn't sure what the other band members have been up to in terms of music, Tuck has passed time by writing songs and playing the guitar alone.

He said he also started playing music on Facebook livestreams once or twice a month on average.

"That would keep me just in shape, so to speak, for performing, and also it was a way to stay connected to my friends, " Tuck said.

He said that occasionally friends he hasn't seen in decades would check out his livestreams and speak to each other in the comments while Tuck played guitar.

"I'd be sitting there strumming my guitar and singing my songs and I would see all these really funny, soulful comments from my friends that wouldn't normally be able to do that, " Tuck said.

Additionally, Tuck recently visited a studio and laid down about 15 acoustic guitar tracks. He said he is waiting to be able to go into the studio with his bandmates to review those tracks and make a new record.

"Things are happening, just not as we would like them, " Tuck said.

He said Justice's signing of Executive Order 9-21 was like a burst of sunlight or a rainbow shooting across the sky. The first thing he did was reach out to local music venues in Morgantown to start booking shows again.

Tuck played his first show back in Fayetteville two weekends ago and his first show in Morgantown in over a year just last weekend.

"It was great. It was kind of a strange feeling to be so comfortable doing something, and then not be able to do that, and then be able to do it again. It made me feel great and like I was working again, " he said.

Tuck said that moving forward, he and his bandmates will be putting their feet in the water to see what is able to be done, as many venues are still unsure of how to proceed regarding live music events.

"In general, I think that I see a very positive progression in terms of culture and art coming back to our state, " he said.

Another area musician, guitarist and manager Chris Shuttlesworth of Haggard Wulf, said that while the members of Haggard Wulf did not face financial adversity as a result of the prohibition of live music events, they did face some emotional consequences.

"Getting back in the groove of not playing was not fun, " Shuttlesworth said.

He said the band started seeing a decrease in shows prior to the placement of formal restrictions on live music in the state, and that Haggard Wulf's live performance decline was a slow process rather than a sudden change.

"The fun aspect of it, that took its toll. I really enjoyed going out and having a good time and playing music, so even not being able to do it once a month really sucked compared to the way we used to, " he said.

Without live gigs as an option, Haggard Wulf performed for a few prerecorded video streams hosted by local venues. Shuttlesworth said that playing music without a live audience was "weird, " and the lack of audience made it difficult for the musicians to "get into " the performances.

Shuttlesworth said that he was mostly indifferent to the news that live music events would once again be permitted in the state due to lingering safety concerns.

"There's just been a lot of misinformation out there, I think, and a lot of fear in COVID that's kept me from even being willing to do that. You get in that mindset of, 'Is it really safe ?' All out of the blue, they're like 'Yeah, okay, let's do this, '" Shuttlesworth said.

He said that Haggard Wulf does have a couple of live outdoor shows lined up over the summer, but it will likely take some time for the band to get back into the club and bar live music scene.

Shuttlesworth said that one of his personal concerns during the time in which live music events weren't possible was that local live music venue 123 Pleasant Street would have to close because that would have been a "huge hit " to the local music scene.

Fortunately for Shuttlesworth, 123 Pleasant Street has been one of the downtown Morgantown businesses to survive the pandemic, though management at the venue is also taking a cautious approach to bringing live music back.

123 Pleasant Street General Manager Don Duppee said the restrictions on live music events was a hard hit to the business.

"It pretty much eliminated our business, " Duppee said.

He said that after the first shutdown, the venue was able to reopen briefly in June of last year, but was shut down again until October. Despite being able to reopen, what the venue has been able to do since does not accurately reflect what 123 Pleasant Street typically is as a business.

"What we're doing right now is simply being a very small, intimate bar. We're obviously not doing music or anything like that. We're not letting very many people in there. We're trying to be as careful as possible and I think right now we're serving a very small segment of our community that comes down there, has come down there for years, " he said.

Duppee said that management is actively working on a plan to bring live music back to 123 Pleasant Street, the venue is still limited as to what it can do by persisting social distancing requirements.

He said the main stage room at 123 Pleasant Street is large but narrow and usually has a capacity of almost 300 people. But since COVID-19 health guidelines deem that people must remain socially distanced during live music events, Duppee said he's not sure how many people the venue will be able to put in the room.

"I don't think it's very many. I will be surprised if it's more than fifty, " Duppee said.

He said that 123 Pleasant Street is waiting for their staff to become fully vaccinated for COVID-19, which would make management more comfortable with the idea of trying to incorporate live music again by sometime in early May.

"That's going to be a pretty small affair by our normal, what would be normal for us, " he said.

Duppee said that he has been involved in the local music community since the 1980s and is in contact with many others in the scene. He said the people he has spoken to about the possibility of bringing live music back to Morgantown are excited about the opportunity to do something, but they understand the current state of the pandemic.

"We will get there, but it doesn't necessitate rushing it at this point. I want to be able to do it right under the guidelines that the state has put out, as vague as those sometimes can be, but that's where we're at right now, " he said.

L.J. Giuliani, owner of 123 Pleasant Street, confirmed that the venue is considering the ways that it can reopen under the vagueness of the parameters established by the state.

He said the venue wants to come up with a plan that will ensure the venue staff and performing musicians feel comfortable.

"The idea is to make sure that all of our employees that are working down there, that they've been vaccinated so that you've got at least another layer of insurance that the people are going to be safe at the shows. Then at that point in time, you rest on numbers, " Giuliani said.

He said that when live music returns, they will not look like they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with changes including limited audiences, less bands on a bill.

"I do fully expect us moving into May to at least at that point in time start having some programming with live music. How that looks, we're still working on ...but it's going to be a reduced audience and the length of shows will probably be a little bit shortened and more defined than in the past, " Giuliani said.

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