Who was a band or artist you played on repeat in your adolescence? Were you band or genre-loyal in your teens? Did you cling to lyrics, composition, or a specific type of energy to help inspire you and get you through the insanity of high school? Chances are, many millennials are getting into their feels thinking about emo and emo-adjacent music right now. A genre known for hosting nasally voices, lyrics that utilize a person’s entire vocabulary, titles that are longer than most novels, and theatrics that harkened a bit of darkness. While Panic! at The Disco absolutely belongs in this genre, lead singer (and now solo artist) Brendon Urie’s voice didn’t quite belong in the “nasally” category, as was the case for a handful of others who dominated the genre in the aughts.
2006 brought us “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” an edgy track that immediately caught my attention, with a music video that utilized more stage makeup than a three-ring circus. In the words of Blades of Glory’s Chazz Michael Michaels, “it’s provocative.” Emo kids rejoiced as they saw themselves–their hair, at the very least–in the music videos and performances that ensued over the years from Panic. Even with the band’s evolution – from a band to a (mostly) solo act, with phenomenal cohorts, session musicians, and tour players, and as they’ve dipped their toes into different genres and sounds – their fanbase has held strong.
February of 2019 was the last time Urie made an appearance in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Aside from a less crowded atmosphere on the evening of September 13th, the crowd was no less invigorated and was loud enough to cause a visceral reaction from the entertainer multiple times. He looked shocked, he noted that he was impressed, and the pure joy on his face could be felt all the way “in the back back back back.”
Panic! at The Disco has always done its best to incorporate a wide range of tracks from various titles in every single one of their shows. While the Viva Las Vengeance tour was pretty meticulously planned – from pyrotechnics to sound effects, lighting and confetti – there is still wiggle room for a variety of songs to be interspersed depending on the date. Our stop seemed particularly magical, as the crowd sang along to the following tracks.
The tour itself – as high energy and incredible as the performance has been – has experienced some setbacks over the first few weeks. As most may know by now, two dates were postponed because of Covid, and the night after they were in Kansas City, there was a small fire incident on stage in Minnesota. And still, Brendon moves on with the energy and enthusiasm that we have come to know and love him for.
Anna Hamilton was the newcomer most hadn’t been acquainted with, winning a contest to open for Dermot Kennedy as a local act. A Kansas native and one of 12 children in her family, Anna’s music dripped with bits of nostalgia and hopeful thoughts for the future. It was also an insanely beautiful experience, her sweet-as-honey vocals accompanied only by a guitar. It was mesmerizing.
By her third song, we caught a glimpse at specificity in a track about a boy that left her for a city – “Me For Barcelona.” The song had never been played in front of a live audience before and is not currently available, but is open for preorder via her link in bio at clever Instagram handle @a.ham.sandwich. Her fourth trach was about leaving Kansas to pursue her singing career in Tennessee, something so many artists struggle with. She has clearly found a safe haven and inspirational options in her relocation, as her last track – “Self Help” – was realized so early on. Of the track, she admitted that it was about taking care of yourself before allowing others to benefit from you. “You need to be 100% before your cup overflows and they can receive it.”
Bishop Briggs emerged, energetic as ever and donning a leather jacket on a pretty balmy night in the midwest. It was shed quickly, to reveal skeleton-printed fingerless gloves and delicate tattoos dancing across both forearms. The first time this town got acquainted with Bishop, she had barely edged into the world of tattoos. Now, you find yourself mesmerized by them as she jumps across the stage with every robust, belted line.
An artist that truly allows you to feel the songs with her, Bishop has cultivated a fandom that spans generations, cultures, and ideals. Perhaps the show’s littlest attendant – a young man no older than 10 or 11 – could be found belting out lyrics and clapping in time with his family during the intense track “Hi-Lo (Hollow)”. Her set included “Someone Else,” “Darkside,” and her most recognizable hit, “River”, among others.
One of the most anticipated panel discussions available on my schedule for South by Southwest in 2021 was “We Want Live Shows Again! Concerts in a Post-COVID World.” Hosted by Adam Shore (the US General Manager/Programmer of Driift, a global live-streaming company), the conversation took place between Michelle Cable (Booking Agent & Manager/Panache Booking, Panache Management) and Tom Windish (Sr. Exec/Paradigm Talent Agency) as they addressed the future of live concerts.
Adam Shore jumped right in by asking Michelle Cable what aspects she saw being different that pre-COVID, once artists begin touring again. She is sure that a lot is going to change, “The protocols are going to be a lot more specific, not going to be as relaxed. From guest lists to ordering drinks to loading in to a venue; how we structure deals and confirm shows and how last minutes changes happen because of the precariousness of the COVID situation. I think we can expect a full overhaul of the live touring industry. We don’t know what that’s going to be yet.” In addition, Cable works with Australian artists that have started playing again. They are having to check-in when they travel from state to state. If they go to the grocery store or get a coffee, they are scanning a QR code that keeps track of COVID hotspots. Additionally, venues are paying for a COVID marshal “who acts as extra security to make sure people use their masks and follow protocols.” She sees the artists and crews are going to have to provide COVID safety plans.
Things in the United States are going to be a different situation: Tom Windish thinks the artists and crews will take on COVID protocols themselves – he doesn’t see a national protocol or even a state protocol. “There may be just some regulations or guidelines for venues in certain cities or states.” Windish also said, “It is too early to see how it will pan out. I think a big thing is we don’t know yet is how will the money, the additional costs that are incurred for any sort of COVID protocol, whether government-mandated or not, will affect the artist. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will affect the artist negatively. It will be different for every venue – it’s really too early for any venue to really know what the finances will look like. We’ve got a ways to go to figure it out.”
Shore’s next question for Cable addressed the artists’ personal lives, “How have you seen your bands take advantage of this time away from the road?” Her response indicated that it has been a fruitful time for the artists:
It’s been a different experience for most of the artists I work with. Fortunately, a majority of the artists I work with have taken this time to get really creative. Those that have been on the road for a decade have taken this time to heal and get healthy and be a little more human again. This has been a time for people to accomplish goals that are outside of touring. Some have collaborated, done more writing, producing other artists. A few artists that I have managed have started their own labels. It’s been a healing time, a time to restructure. A lot of started families during this time. People have gotten really creative with, like, their merch, like direct to consumer and fan engagement.
Shore’s next question was directed to Windish: “How do you see the agent, and the service the agent provides, being different going forward?” Windish explained:
There has been this hamster wheel for years – band makes a great song, gets interest, meets with tons of labels, signs a record deal, puts out the record, tours for like a year, and then does that again for as long as possible. How are we going to make the most on the shows, sell the most records? This time has given artists a chance to sort of step back and evaluate all the different sections of their business, all the way they communicate with their fans, gather new fans and try to make them better. There’s a lot of tools out there that most artists and their teams barely use or don’t use them very well. An example is selling merch on your website. There’s a lot more that can be done, and I’m not just talking about more products. How can you communicate with your audience the best? Also all the socials and everything.
To your question, I think a lot about services that agencies provide, or traditionally provided, versus what artists really need. Social media, for instance, is a big one. Most artists don’t have experts that are helping them with their social media strategies. Another is all this e-commerce stuff. People that help, like, look at your e-commerce or e-strategy across everything are really, really interesting. I’m talking to people that kind of go out to any creator out on the internet, podcaster, or people who have huge audiences and look under the hood of your business and see how you’re doing everything, and barely anyone’s doing it very well. Why would they? They’re experts at the thing they do. Who do you hire? There a few people that are awesome, but that’s who the biggest artists in the world are using. I don’t know that agencies will do it, but I think those are valuable additions that I think they should consider doing.
Shore’s last question addressed what happens next: “Since there seem to be so many new services, as an agent and a manager, where do you see the responsibilities lie and how do managers and agents ramp up?” Cable said:
I think what’s happening right now with live streaming where artists are doing live streaming with merch add ons, some managers are taking on this role, some agencies are taking on this role. Or creating their own platforms so there isn’t a third party that you have to pay. Some agencies have been creating streaming platforms on their own and then working directly with the artists and managers. I think that’s going to continue because artists have found that it’s a way to make money, engage with their fans more and do it well. I think the structures of hiring a social media within a booking agency or a management team, or someone who is really savvy at that has suddenly become much more real because that street marketing that we’ve been so used to, the print media is a thing of the past. Social media the sizing, the stories, the algorithms of your posting, those are all things we need to teach ourselves. The bottom line is everyone was impacted with this, especially the live entertainment industry. We were the first to shut down and we will probably be the last to open based on what we’re seeing, so we need to think about how we can all work together and of course take care of the artist and keeping them safe and happy. That’s something we need to keep brainstorming as we’re in this weird holding pattern.
I think it would great if what came out of this was artists could figure out how to make the same amount of money as they did before and have more time to focus on other things. Between song writing, and families, and doing other things, mental health is something, there has been more attention paid to it in the last few years, but not nearly enough and artists need to step back and get off the hamster wheel a lot. And I hope that this has actually been a good thing for them in that regard in a lot of ways. I know financially, it’s devastating, but I’ve talked to a lot of my clients and they do appreciate not being on the road all the time and seeing their family more often. It’s really important. If they can figure out how to do that more in the future, that would be great.
I found this conversation interesting on a lot of levels. I am very grateful that artists have been able to take this time to re-tool and rejuvenate. When you understand the hamster wheel, as Tom Windish described the musical routine, it is not sustainable for a balanced life or for an artist’s mental health. Fortunately, they have been able to prioritize themselves, which I am sure, leads to greater creativity, more output, and more money in the end.
I am encouraged that the people who are in the artist’s orbit are finding their own creative paths to support the artists without further grind. More engagement with fans is also a positive takeaway from this forum. I am anxious to see live shows again, as I am sure everyone is. However, as someone who has watched a lot of live streams this year, subscribed to more podcasts, and listened to a lot of music, I am grateful that care is being taken with the health and safety of both the artists and the audiences.
As we all emerge out of quarantine and into what will be a more normal existence, a panel discussion at South by Southwest moderated by Andy Gensler of Pollstar broached the topic of what is next in the world of live music in independent venues. Joined by Grace Blake from Iridium, Amy Madrigali, a Troubadour agency associate, and Dayna Frank, CEO of Minneapolis venue First Avenue, the conversation offered frank ideas of what has happened and what is coming down the road.
All three venues were coming off fantastic showings for 2019 and were looking forward to great things in 2020. In fact, First Avenue was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary in April of 2020. And then, as Andy Gensler put it, “The gut punch was South by Southwest canceling.” Although talks of forming an industry association between Rev. Moose (eventual NIVA co-founder and Executive Director) and Hal Real had begun a little earlier than when the pandemic hit, the SXSW cancellation gave an urgency to the situation that led to the formation of NIVA (National Independent Venue Association). From an initial steering committee of about 30 people, NIVA has grown into an organization that has kept independent venues front of mind during lobbying efforts (#SaveOurStages Act) and fundraising, all with the goal of financially shoring up the independent venues and all of the people who are dependent upon them. Blake and Madrigali both serve on the NIVA board and Frank is the current president.
When asked about their takeaways from this year, all were quick to answer. Blake said, “We were really able to provide some comfort into how to navigate the system. We were able to say to Congress, you really need to step up and help these venues who have never asked for anything. For me, it was a lifesaver.”
Madrigali related, “To echo what Grace said, we came together. Sending 2 million letters to Congress. Showing the power of what we can do in our cities and our country. We can communicate with our government. My first lobbying call was with Representative Adam Schiff – myself and my GM. In his world, LD is Legislative Director and in my world, it’s a Lighting Director. We had great support from our representative and we are really lucky.”
Although President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law on March 11, 2021, Frank reminds us there is much to be done, “We are waiting for the SBA to finalize rules and open up applications for grants. We are nagging them every day. We’re hopeful that an SBA administrator gets confirmed soon so someone from the administration can guide the process along. We definitely need the SBA to provide the safeguards.”
Gensler then asked about the future: “We’re seeing some southern routing opening up in New Zealand. Are things creeping back to your venue at all?
According to Blake. “New York has some of the strictest restrictions. We have to walk before we can run. I do look forward to the vaccination process to continue to happen so that, as we head to herd immunity, we can get closer.”
When asked about Live Streams, Madrigali said, “We had the SOS Fest (October 2020). Coming up, we are doing a TV show. It’s minuscule as compared to where we were before. In November 2019, we had booked 30 nights. In November 2020, we had booked 5 live streams.”
Frank hasn’t found it financially feasible to open for less than full capacity, so summer may not be in play, but fall may be a different story, “When the fall happens – and I am going to will it into existence – we will be busier than we have ever seen.” Blake is “cautiously optimistic”, and is looking toward the fall as well. “October is almost booked. November is getting booked, December. 2022 is looking good, especially for overseas acts.”
For those venues still trying to hang on until the fall, Madrigali recommended checking the SBA website to apply for funds. Frank recommended that artists try to get PPP loans as an independent contractor.
For more information about NIVA and the work being done, go to www.nivassoc.org. Since it can take time for grants to be issued, money is still being raised to help those venues in the most need. A donation link is provided on the website.
We were blessed with the presence of live music from Extra Medium Pony during night 2 of our Cancelled Plans Continued. The bauble lights threw an ambiance unlike any other. Donate directly to Extra Medium Pony through their Paypal with email email@example.com, or to the Imperfect Fifth Tip Jar.
Ships Have Sailed did some incredible work as the last act in our 9 hour stretch of talent at Cancelled Plans Music Festival 2020. If you didn’t get a chance to watch live, revisit it now. And be sure to tip if you have the means!
Local Nomad gave us all the feels at Cancelled Plans Music Festival 2020. Not going to lie, it’s been wonderful hosting so many artists on our platform, and we want to continue to do so because of acts like this! Feel free to leave him a tip if you’re as chill as we are after that set.
Parrot Dream, hands down, provided one of the most spectacular light shows of Cancelled Plans Music Festival 2020. We enjoyed their entire set… and all the comments on their visual and audio artistry afterward. Make sure to tip them for their work!