Almost every weekend in a typical summer, live music is being performed somewhere in the west Hennepin County area, as restaurants and bars usually book weekly entertainment to bring in customers.
Cover bands are a favorite for businesses to book; however, with the absence of an in-person crowd and restaurants working to figure out their new normal under pandemic-induced orders, cover bands are left rescheduling and hoping they can play on stage again.
Chad Higgins, owner of Time Music Agency in Mound, has loved the music industry ever since he signed his first record deal in his early 20s. From then, he went to work for various record labels around the country and eventually became the owner of Time Music Agency, where he plays in his cover band, Pop Rocks and is the booking agent for other cover bands.
“On the weekends I go play rock star with my band...We’ve played in about 14 countries and 12 different states in the last two years. We work extensively with the Armed Forces, so we’ve performed all over the Middle East and Europe. We actually had two tours this year canceled due to the virus,” he said.
Pop Rocks was supposed to tour Central America for the majority of April and perform in the Middle East over Memorial Day weekend; however those plans have changed along with most of the summer events Pop Rocks and Time Music’s other clients would have been playing. There are still performances scheduled for events later in the summer, but there is no guarantee those events won’t also get canceled or rescheduled, Higgins said.
The summer season can pay for over half of a band’s income for the year, according to Higgins. Bars and restaurants have been closed since March and will stay closed for in-person dining at least until May 4, according to the stay at home order from Gov. Tim Walz.
“There are groups that cater to outdoor festivals... they are in high demand in the summer. They may make up to 75 percent of their income in those three months alone,” he said.
Town festivals, community parks, county fairs, the Minnesota State Fair, food truck festivals and other local summer day events are where cover bands make the most income. While cover bands can be out every weekend playing clubs and bars, it’s merely a way for them to keep their name out in the world when festival season comes around.
“There are bands that are making the same amount playing a bar that they would have been making almost 20 years ago. The exact same amount, so no inflation. There are some that have been around 20 years that are making less now than they did 20 years ago because... playing Friday or Saturday nights isn’t guaranteeing you a packed house,” Higgins said.
With no stages to currently play on, Higgins is working to try to do the right thing for clients and bands that rely on continuously playing gigs to keep their name out there. He’s currently taking it day by day, but knows that the gigs originally booked for this summer will not only affect the gigs for next summer but the ones after that, as well.
Currently Walz has not released information on what life will be like after May 4. Higgins has been working with communities who have events later in the summer to suggest they wait until the government gives more direction for small businesses and social gatherings to cancel or reschedule their event. When clients book with Higgins, a deposit is put down to reserve the band. For the events that have already been changed, the deposit will transfer over to their event next year. The part Higgins describes as “tricky” is if the bands are able to start working again in June, and if a June event was already rescheduled for the next year, the band is only going to receive the remainder of their payment next year.
Higgins described it as if someone was getting one year’s salary over two years, which could cause some bands to call it quits because they cannot afford to continue next summer without the income of this summer.
“No one is going to be crying in their soup over a cover band not getting a raise next year. Obviously there are serious health concerns and there are people who could get very sick and could die,” he said.
In the meantime, bands including Junk FM and Flashmob are taking to the internet to provide content to keep their names alive as well as individual members of other bands on Higgins’ roster who are uploading content individually.
“I realize that entertainment is a non-essential business, but we also feel like we are part of the fabric of people’s lives. We want everyone to know as soon as we can get back out there and provide high quality entertainment that everyone is excited to do it,” he said.