The Current State of the Local New Hampshire Music Scene

The Current State of the Local New Hampshire Music Scene

(Photos: Kyle Frisbie)

At a time where money is tight due to COVID-19, Local music venues are hurting. Some like the Great Scott in Boston are even being forced to close their doors for good. It’s time to do something to support them or more of these local live music venues may vanish. The goal of this article is to help shift everyone’s focus back toward their hometown venues. These venues have allowed so many incredible artists to start their careers.

The Stone Church in Newmarket

The first local music venue owners we wanted to talk to were Mike and Cheryl Hoffman, of The Stone Church in New Market, NH:

How has COVID-19 affected you?

“It’s been financially devastating. We were closed for 63 days. We started off the year with a lot of great acts and were doing really well. We had a lot more really exciting shows to come to celebrate the Church’s 50th anniversery. It was a real “punch in the gut”. We’ve even had to take money out of our retirement to help keep the business afloat. The Stone Church has so much history to it. This is one of the first places that Phish played outside of Vermont. We are not going to let the Church go under. We had to refund a good number of tickets. Some people were really great though and they put their tickets on hold to be used for future shows.”

New Englan music Scene 2020 - FRISBIE (6 of 7)

How are you staying engaged with your audience?

“We are doing live outdoor music seven days a week. Right now it’s a lot of local acts that we are going to have playing.”

What precautions are you taking?

“There has been great communication from the state. Any time we’ve needed to find out information on operating procedures the Assistant Attorney General has been there to answer our questions. We are in compliance with the guidelines given by the State of NH. We are having tables of no more than six people spaced six feet apart. Initially the Assistant Attorney General told us only one musician can perform each night. All of the shows for the time being will end by 9 pm.”

New Englan music Scene 2020 - FRISBIE (7 of 7)

What are concerts going to look like for the foreseeable future?

“For now shows will be held outside. We are still allowing patrons to use the indoor restrooms but they will be required to wear a mask when they are inside. Extra masks are available if you don’t have your own. We are really looking forward to the rest of this year and are hoping to do some potential one off shows in the near future. We may have some bigger bands playing here since touring isn’t happening right now.”

3S Artspace Portsmouth

Next, we interview Sara O’Reilly, Marketing Manager for 3S Artspace Portsmouth in Portsmouth, NH:

What have you done to stay engaged with your audience?

“We’ve done a few things to stay in touch with our community. We’ve partnered with bands Whitney and Waxahatchee for livestream shows, live streamed early morning DJ sets to start people’s days, created video content for kids with a local family hip-hop band– things like that. We’re continuing to explore what’s possible because we know as we reopen our doors, things aren’t just going to go back to the way they were pre-COVID, and we’ll need to continue offering virtual experiences as an option for many to be able to remain engaged with 3S. We even just did an online art auction this past weekend which was really successful and a lot of fun for people! We also keep our followers up to date on Facebook and Instagram, and through announcements in our weekly e-newsletter.”

New Englan music Scene 2020 - FRISBIE (5 of 7)

In what ways has the pandemic affected 3S Artspace as whole?

“Much like other arts orgs and music venues across the country, we’ve been affected deeply by the pandemic. We’ve canceled or rescheduled about 45 shows and events to date, we’ve seen major revenue loss which prevents us from functioning in any normal capacity. Staff have been laid off or had hours reduced. We are always supporting artists and musicians and it’s been a real challenge to see how we do that change basically overnight. But, we’re nimble and we’ve got ideas and plans in motion, as well as the support of our nonprofit by so many to help us through this so we can continue to be 3S, so to speak.”

When did you stop holding live shows? How long have you been closed?

“We closed to the public on 3/13. We had a Kat Wright show scheduled for that night which was postponed.”

New Englan music Scene 2020 - FRISBIE (1 of 7)(West End Blend at 3S Artspace)

When are you planning on holding live shows again?

“We just had an announcement from Gov. Sununi on Friday about the final phases of reopening the state which includes galleries (which we have), and then venues by the end of June. So this week, our internal meetings are all planning sessions for setting dates and figuring out what types of programming we can begin with, all within health and safety guidelines.”

What precautions does the State of New Hampshire require for you to hold live shows again?

“As a baseline, we’re using the CDC cleaning guidance, the NH universal reopening guidelines, as well as the industry specific guidance for our Gallery space, Performance space, etc.. Our 3S plan will also have elements tailored to our unique needs and we’re working on that internally.”

The Bank of NH Stage

Our last interview was with Joe Gleason, Executive Director for Capitol Center for the Arts about The Bank of NH Stage in Concord, NH:

What have you done to stay engaged with your audience?

“Initially our communications were all about the rescheduling or canceling of shows and processing a lot of questions that people had for us. As it became clear we would be shut down for a long duration we shifted focus and tried to engage people by promoting the many free live streams from local musicians and other businesses within the community.”

New Englan music Scene 2020 - FRISBIE (2 of 7)(Eggy at Bank of NH Stage)

Have you been doing live streamed or archived shows online?

“Before this crisis all of the shows that we presented were basically one night only and live. Audio and video recordings are not generally allowed unless contracted with the artists and since we never had a virtual need before we kept to the basics of putting on great live shows. So, we really don’t have any archived content, although I wish we did! As we begin to re-open we are adding live streaming of shows as an option. It doesn’t replace the experience of seeing the show in person, but for at-risk patrons it will provide an option for them to participate.”

In what ways has the pandemic affected the Bank of NH Stage as whole?

“Being completely shut down the first major impact was letting our many food and bar staff know that we would not have any work for them. As a reasonably busy 3-4 night a week operation this affected dozens of part-time staff. Without shows on our stage almost all work stopped. The venue still needs to be maintained and those fixed operating costs still need to be paid. Luckily, we are a larger organization than just the Bank of NH Stage. We also own and operate the 1,304 seat Chubb Theatre. The Capitol Center for the Arts is a 501c3 organization and has been in operation for 25 years. The momentum the new venue was building has stalled without shows. Performers and audience alike were spreading the word about the Bank of NH Stage and we were feeling that through increased attendance and bands reaching out to us wanting to play on our stage. We will get back to that as we reopen this Summer. It won’t quite be starting over but it will take some time to rebuild.”

When did you stop holding live shows? How long have you been closed?

“The last show at the Bank of NH Stage was March 13. The first show canceled was March 14. We have had no performances or events in the venue since that time.”

When are you planning on holding live shows again?

“The State has announced indoor venues like ours can re-open as soon as June 29. We don’t have any public shows booked in July but we will host some invitation-only shows to help us test our new procedures, including reduced capacity for social distancing.”

What precautions does the State of New Hampshire require for you to hold live shows again?

“There is a six page guidance document. The major points are reduced capacity to 50% or social distancing of 6 feet between parties, whichever is less. No intermissions, limit contact between performers, staff, and attendees. Mask use if within 6 feet of each other. Many beefed up sanitation procedures and a host of other restrictions that will make attending a live show much different than what it was.”

Are there any additional precautions you are planning on taking for your live shows?

“Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of our customers, our staff, and for the performers and crew that come through our doors. In addition to compliance with the guidelines issued by the State of NH we are following applicable procedures from the Event Safety Guide published by the Event Safety Alliance and the Venue Reopening Resources guide published by the National Independent Venue Association. Both of these guides are promoting best practices for venues to follow in the entertainment industry.”

In general how will the concert experience differ for concert goers?

“We will switch to seated concerts for now until we can test and confirm working protocols for having a general admission standing crowd in a safe and controlled manner. Entering the facility, purchasing food/beverage, accessing restrooms, limited contact with the performers are all major changes to the normal experience.”

It’s clear that local venues were deeply affected by COVID-19. Even so, for the most part they are ready to bring back music in the not too distant future. The Stone Church is already doing outside shows and it looks as though July has some exciting reduced capacity shows in store. For more information, stay tuned.

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