Last month I told you where some of the more important local stages for indie music stand in regard to booking shows. A year after the pandemic began, places like The Slowdown, The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge are reopening their stages. And while it’ll be some time before touring bands hit the road again, local acts are invited to plug in and rock on.
The only thing stopping that from happening are the bands themselves. I reached out to a dozen local musicians to find out when they’d play again on a local stage. Their answers reflected a serious respect for COVID-19.
Jon Taylor, lead guitarist for Lincoln-based seminal punk trio Domestica, is waiting for folks to get vaccinated. “Based on current vaccine shipping schedules, summer appears to be the earliest anyone should consider assembling large groups of humans for any reason,” Taylor said. He’s passed the pandemic time rocking out on his own glittering basement stage where, “I’m able to self-medicate with high volume until gigs happen.”
Domestica has been known to share a stage with Wagon Blasters, the tractor-punk powerhouse fronted by the inimitable Gary Dean Davis. Those with a sense of history will remember how these folks’ previous bands — Mercy Rule and Frontier Trust — were integral to Nebraska’s first wave of indie punk almost 30 years ago.
Davis has spent his downtime focusing on his record label — SPEED! Nebraska — which reissued Frontier Trust’s debut CD in June and released a new Mezcal Bros. album, Shakin’ Dog, in September.
“As Joe Strummer famously said, ‘The future is unwritten,’” Davis said. “Hopefully things can calm down over the summer, (and) we are able to return to playing shows. Maybe we’ll need to start off outside to keep everyone safe?”
Wagon Blasters bandmate, bassist Kate Williams, said while she would be comfortable on stage once vaccinations have reached the majority, “It will be strange to return to the small, intimate venues that I love, where the audience is right on top of the band.”
Williams hasn’t seen Davis or her other bandmates in person in a year. “Many of us are high-risk (or high-risk-adjacent) and aren’t comfortable practicing in an enclosed basement yet with each other, let alone playing in a room full of friends that we also haven’t seen in the last year,” she said. “It will happen though — I miss all of it so much!”
Caution also was the theme for legendary bassist/musician Dereck Higgins. “I’ll be 66 in July, and that is why I am being cautious and in no hurry to get out in the public gigging,” he said, pointing to fall for a possible return. In the meantime, he’s been recording new music and working on an art project with local choreographer Lauren Simpson.
Craig Fort of punk band Leafblower created an entirely new, outlaw-country-infused musical persona called Lightning Stills during the pandemic. “Obviously COVID is keeping us from booking anything, as well as neither project has been in the same room together in a year,” Fort said. “We all take this very seriously. Not being able to play shows is what’s keeping me from releasing anything physical. Without shows, I don’t have a booth to peddle my goods.”
Indie rockers See Through Dresses frontwoman Sara Bertuldo said her band is still together, “but we’re just focusing on different things at the moment. Some of us are back in school, focusing on work, and/or learning some new skills.” And she added, “We’ve also been working on our third album!”
One of my favorite songs released during the pandemic is “Snake in my Basement,” an infectious (in a good way) garage rocker by Those Far Out Arrows. Guitarist/vocalist Ben Keelan-White thinks his band will be back on stage possibly in early- to mid-summer.
“Outdoor shows seem more likely, but maybe some indoor venues might be willing to make some moves,” he said. “I feel like there is an optimism with more vaccine administration on the horizon. Nobody wants to be a part of a spreader event, but I think the type of individuals who want shows back would be absolutely willing to take the utmost precaution needed to go forward.”
“We’re all dying for shows, but nobody should die for shows,” said Aaron Gumm, half of the red hot electronic rock duo Glow in the Dark. “My parents in Iowa get their second shot next week, and my sister in Austin got her first today. Things are moving in the right direction.”
Some aren’t waiting to return to the stage. Josh Hoyer, one of the area’s best blues and soul voices, played a Sunday residency Feb. 21 at The Jewell in downtown Omaha.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it came down to me needing to get back to work and the venues needing to start getting people in or shutting down for good.” Hoyer said. “At this point, I am trusting people to do what is best for their health and the health of the community. So far, everything has been good, but the moment I feel that there is too much risk in any given venue, I will have to reassess my involvement with them. I think if people are intelligent about it, we can slowly get back to live entertainment.”
Darren Keen, the mastermind behind The Show Is the Rainbow and now a new electronic act, Problems, has a gig booked on St. Patrick’s Day at Boombox Social Club in Lincoln.
“As long as people are masked up and distanced, I’m OK with it at this point,” Keen said. “I’m still hesitant to book my own shows because I can’t honestly say, ‘You gotta come to this gig’ right now. I respect that people want to stay home and safe, and so if I can’t promote things 100% I’m not comfortable booking them.”
I saved the final word for Landon Hedges of one of my all-time favorite indie rock bands, Little Brazil. Hedges doesn’t know when he’ll be back on stage.
“It’s a matter of responsibility and feeling comfortable in the sort of environment that I’m used to playing a show or going to a show,” he said. “I want to do both. But this virus isn’t about me or what I want to do. I just want to try to do the right thing. It fucking sucks. You can quote me on that one.”
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at email@example.com.