As COVID-19 continues to infect the world at an incredibly fast and widespread rate, more and more shows, festivals, and major events continue to get canceled further into the year and beyond. While Lollapalooza was officially canceled just over a month ago, major concerts in Chicago from artists like Harry Styles and Lady Gaga waited a bit longer to make official cancelation announcements. The Chicago Marathon, slated to return to downtown this October, was canceled just last week (only for the second time in its 115-year history). The Chicago Marathon attracts over 40,000 runners every year and generates a wildly large amount of revenue for the city—$378 million in 2018, to be exact.
Chicago at large will certainly miss the income that these events bring in every year, but it’s unlikely that the city won’t be able to bounce back. The same cannot be certain for Chicago’s cluster of independent music venues: who have been forced to close their doors for over five months at this point. The Chicago Independent Venue League (AKA CIVL), has partnered with the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), with hopes to spread the message to music fans and Chicagoans alike to reach out to government officials to help save the venues.
According to this article in the Chicago Tribune, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the federal government is not nearly enough for venues to stay afloat during this pandemic. Venues are looking for more coverage for things like “mortgage and rent forbearance, tax and license relief, and an extension of the program until shuttered venues and businesses are able to reopen at full legal capacity.”
Music venues and independent artists continue to look for creative ways to help relieve the financial burden that comes from zero performance opportunities as much as they can during this time. Lincoln Hall, one of Chicago’s most well-known venues in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, is hosting live-streamed performances by local artists and selling tickets at a low cost for access to the show. Thanks to their ongoing relationship with Audiotree, these shows are broadcasted live from the stage at Lincoln Hall, to an empty dance floor (minus the crew members working behind the cameras).
Beach Bunny, a power-pop band bred in Chicago, stepped up to the challenge of performing to an empty venue just last week at Lincoln Hall. The band, comprised of Lili Trifilio, Matt Henkels, Jon Alvarado, and Anthony Vaccaro, is no stranger to performing, but the task of doing so to a 400+ cap room full of just a few bodies is certainly not what they’re used to. Just a couple weeks before the COVID-19 crisis arrived in Chicago in full force, the band performed a release show for their debut album, Honeymoon, to a sold-out crowd at the Metro—which holds 1,000 people.
Beach Bunny quickly made a name for themselves in the Chicago music scene over the last few years. Trifilio, a now-graduated journalism student from DePaul University, initially released her first song, “6 Weeks,” as a solo artist. According to the Chicago Tribune, Trifilio wanted to enter a battle of the bands competition in 2017, she realized she needed to have a real band in order to compete, which is when she recruited more members to join.
Thanks to the discovered collaboration process with the new band members, Beach Bunny was able to polish their sound, which was evident in the release of their debut EP, Pool Party. Beach Bunny announced at the end of 2019 that they were signing to Mom + Pop, a label home to artists like Ashe, Lucius, Sunflower Bean, Sleater-Kinney, and more.
Beach Bunny’s 45-minute set at Lincoln Hall felt quick, but for avid concert-goers, it brought a familiar feeling of experiencing a live show by your favorite band. For someone who has never had the chance to see Beach Bunny perform, it didn’t feel like they were phased at all by the unusual circumstances they found themselves in for this performance. Noting that this was their first show since March, Trifilio effortlessly sang through the first four tracks off of Honeymoon, taking short pauses to comment on the weird feeling of playing to essentially nobody (though the “chat” feature on the live stream page was going off fairly rapidly throughout the entire performance, confirming that there were in fact, quite a few people watching from their homes.
“If you’re in your bedroom you can mosh or something,” Trifilio said earnestly, continuing the show with an unreleased song and some old tunes from the archive (“Prom Queen,” “Sports”). Though the statement was assumingly made to sound lighthearted, it hit close to home. The new normal, at least for now, is watching musicians play empty venues through a computer screen, on low-quality Instagram live sessions, or for the luckier ones, in a designated, assigned spot in a parking lot next to your car.
Lincoln Hall will be hosting an event on July 23 with The O’My’s. Click here to purchase tickets to the live stream and to find more ways to help support Chicago’s independent music venues.
All show photos credited to Jessica Mindrum.