by Sonora Birnie
Just a month ago, the Boise music scene was buzzing with the usual anticipation and excitement that spring brings. Then something happened that no one could have ever predicted; the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world and shut down life as anyone knew it.
The effects of COVID-19 can be felt on a global scale, and the Boise music scene is no exception. Self isolation and quarantine changes everything for the local venues, musicians, and live music lovers of Boise, Idaho. Live music and performances always amp up around spring with Treefort kicking everything off, but when the music festival was canceled, the community began to realize this year was going to be different. On March 11th, Treefort announced, on their Instagram, that the festival was going to be postponed until September 23rd.
“When Treefort canceled that was a pretty good sign to us that there was going to be a major impact on a local level here. We are an official Treefort venue so we had that week blocked off for Treefort shows and when they pulled out that was a wake up call to us,” booking agent Jeremy Tomlinson said by phone.
Tomlinson, an independent agent, has been booking talent for the Regal Beaver since February of this year. He says he went from working on booking up to 20 shows a month for the venue to having almost nothing to do for them.
Many bars, restaurants, and music venues began taking precautions far before the state of Idaho issued it’s stay-home order on Wednesday, March 25th.
“It was around the 10th or 11th (of March) when this really started to bubble up. At that point we had sixty dates on the calendar for the next few months most of which were touring bands that were coming from all over the world,” Tomlinson said. “ We had a band from Norway that had to pull out. It was around the 14th or 15th (of March) that we made the decision that we needed to stop having shows at least through the end of the month.”
Kale Brown and his indie rock band, Corduroy Blue, play at the Regal Beaver on a regular basis and were slated to play Treefort before it was canceled.
“The weird thing about it was that the first person to get it (Coronavirus) in Idaho was actually someone our bassist was close to. It was pretty frightening. He actually missed two of our shows because he was still under a fourteen day quarantine,” Brown said in a phone call.
Self isolation can be hard, but it is especially difficult for bands who are used to being able to practice, write and record together. This is the case for five piece pop rock band VEMM. Three of the members, Elias (bass), Violet (rhythm guitar),and Michael (lead guitar), were able to respond for an interview.
“Because of self isolation we haven’t been able to practice collectively as a band for about two weeks. It’s hard on all of us because we not only see each other as band mates but as each other’s best friends,” Violet said in an email. “ However, we have made it a plan to utilize this time of self isolation as a time to make personal improvements and individually come up with songs that will help us create more music when we can all come together again.”
VEMM released their first EP, Flamingo, in February 2020, and were going to play their originals at Treefort and hoping to release another record soon after.
“We were planning on using our spring time to produce another record, but now our plans will probably change because working as a band remotely is hard. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to perform one last time in Idaho City with a few other local bands before the pandemic took a turn for the worse,” Elias wrote in an email.
New members of Boise’s live music scene also feel the effects of this unprecedented time. Downcoast is a new Alt-rock band who has only been performing live for about five months, and was planning on releasing their first EP this spring.
“After our first session at the studio when we all went out to eat and noticed that all the restaurants had their lobbies emptied, it just kind of set in that if it’ll affect restaurants like this it’ll probably affect us too,” Keegan Bridwell (bass, vocals, guitar) said in an email.
While outlooks may be bleak, some artists are trying their best to use this time to be as productive as possible.
“I think this whole situation has had a positive impact on my writing in a weird way. Being hunkered up at home and having all this craziness going on outside really gives me a lot of time to think and content to write about. I’m a very social person, so this whole thing has been really rough on the ol’ cranium. I’m kinda becoming the stereotypical ‘tortured artist’…” David Bridgeman (guitar, vocals, keyboards) said in an email.
Deathproof coffee is another popular venue in Boise, known for their unique coffees and all ages shows. Mike Verlennich and his family have been part of the live music venue and coffee house since its inception in February of 2018. They opened the coffee house in June of 2018 and the venue in September 2018, never guessing that they would close temporarily just two years later on March 19th.
“This was an incredible blow to our business, our family and our employees. We not only utilize the space for music but also for dance, comedy, corporate meetings, pop up shops and basically anything else that can utilize a large event space with a large proscenium stage, sound and lighting.” Verlennich wrote in an email. “The venue aspect of the building drives the greatest amount of our traffic as well as revenue. It also provides the most employment within the space.”
Verlennich says that the best way to support local businesses is to order from the ones who are doing take out or curbside service and Tomlinson urges those who can to tip locally using the virtual tip jars that can be found online.
Not only are the performers and venues under a lot of pressure at this time, but the patrons of them are saddened by this turn of events. Allison Dahms is a Boise resident and, prior to the pandemic, could be found at any of the multitude of the live shows Boise has to offer.
“Music is my entire world and I feed off of the artist’s creativity and sound. I miss going out and supporting musicians and being surrounded by people who appreciate live music just as much as I do. I feel like I belong at concerts.” Dahms said in a direct message. “With the absence of it right now, I’m lacking some serious serotonin. I feel like I have lost a part of myself and I can’t wait for this to be over.”
At a time when everything is uncertain, music, live or not, is one thing that remains constant. Boise has the opportunity to come together and show support for the local musicians, artists, and businesses that make the city what it is. The Boise community can do this by streaming local bands, following their socials and tuning into livestreams, ordering curbside or takeout service from small establishments, and buying local merch, music, and art whenever possible.
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Downcoast. 8 likes · 1 talking about this. Alternative/indie rock band based in Boise, ID.