“We’re going to make the music-going experience even better, so we’ve just got to hold on.”
Slade Echeverria and Danny Stravers hadn’t played music on stage for more than a year.
Echeverria and Stravers sing and play guitar for Anarbor, a veteran Arizona alternative rock outfit formed in Phoenix in 2003.
While venues across Arizona and the rest of the country closed early on in the COVID-19 pandemic to lower the risk of virus transmission, they were also some of the last businesses to reopen.
But the band had the chance to perform to live audiences on March 27 at Wasted Grain in Scottsdale—albeit to a mostly seated crowd—in order to maintain social distancing.
Stravers said the changes didn’t make any difference.
“It was crazy just to see how excited people were because we’ve all been without live shows for so long,” he said. “It was just as exciting and honestly one of the most exciting shows that I’ve ever played, just because you could feel how bad people wanted to be there.”
Gov. Doug Ducey lifted capacity limits for businesses and local mask mandates two days before Anarbor’s show, but Stravers said people who came still followed safety protocols.
Since then, Wasted Grain has begun to host shows regularly, with a Facebook page showing a full calendar of events. Other venues across the state are following suit.
The Marquee Theatre in Tempe carefully reopened for a different kind of live show earlier this year.
The venue, which typically accommodates 1,500 people, first ventured into reopening with a dine-in concert series, socially distancing tables of six to 10 people throughout the venue. It reopened for general admission at the end of March following Ducey’s order.
But despite the governor’s order that venues can return to operating at full capacity, Marquee still has options for socially distanced seating throughout the venue, according to general manager Tracy Henderson.
“People are slowly getting back into the swing of things,” she said. “We came into this after being closed for 13 months and said ‘Hey, how can we do it?’”
The historic Orpheum Theater in downtown Flagstaff is planning for an exciting spring—something general manager Susan Walter calls a “re-emerging.”
The venue will start hosting shows capped at 100 people either indoors or outside beginning May 15. The plan is to increase to shows capped at 200-250 people in June and continue slowly, moving toward its capacity of 1,200 people as conditions improve. For now, shows will still operate with reserved seating.
Stephen Chilton, co-owner of The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, said the venue hosted its first show since March 2020 on April 17. Wheelwright, Jared Kolesar of Jared and the Mill’s solo project, played for a seated crowd capped at 50 people.
Chilton said he’s hoping to see full shows by June, but it’s tough to predict what things will look like.
Protocols in Place
Even as more Arizonans get vaccinated, the venues aren’t fully letting up on COVID safety protocols just yet.
Flagstaff’s Orpheum will also require concertgoers to wear masks outside of their assigned area, and The Marquee is requiring masks through at least the month of May.
The Marquee’s floor fans are no longer operating, and the water fountains and hand dryers in the bathrooms have been closed off. Concertgoers will have to undergo temperature checks at the door and can bring in their own sealed water bottles from outside.
Chilton said The Rebel Lounge is still weighing how it will handle protocols as the state swings back to pre-pandemic life.
“It’s hard to put a constraint on concerts that isn’t on every other business,” he said. “There’s so many bars that are more packed than we are that aren’t doing anything.”
Henderson of The Marquee said she’s feeling a mix of hopeful and anxious as the venue reopens. She’s trying to keep safety in mind and praying that more shutdowns aren’t on the way. “I want it to work,” she says.
Ultimately, Henderson wants the public to feel comfortable as they’re assessing whether it’s time to return to live shows.
“If everybody could please have patience, patience with the staff, patience with their fellow patrons,” she said. “Follow the guidelines that are put in place, they’re there for a reason, and just have fun.”
A Return to Touring
The venues are looking to local artists to occupy their stages as uncertainty about national tours remains.
Walter of The Orpheum said it might be a while before out-of-state artists come through.
“We are taking a lot of national holds, but we aren’t seeing tours until late summer/fall,” she said. “And that’s because a lot of people don’t understand that for a band to take on the expense of a national tour, they have to be able to book in 20 states, and right now all the states are just not aligning.”
Chilton noted venues also need time in advance to make sure they get the word out about their shows.
“One of the issues for a venue like us is we need to book weeks in advance. It’s not like we can decide, let’s open tomorrow,” Chilton said. “We have to have a band on stage. We have to book them in advance. We have to have time to market it and promote it.”
Echeverria and Stravers of Anarbor were working on a European tour shortly before the pandemic hit.
Now, over a year later, they said they foresee themselves starting to book more local gigs in the coming months and maybe playing some shows in California—but they still feel a long way out from more distant travel.
“I don’t see us touring, I don’t think, this year. Maybe 2022,” Echeverria said. “I definitely don’t want to be like the first band to go out and do it.”
With the last year off from playing live shows, Echeverria and Stravers have instead devoted their time to working on a new record that will come out later this fall.
“All we had was this record, because there was really nothing else to work on,” Stravers told The Copper Courier, “so I hope that that translates into the final product.”
Walter of The Orpheum said due to all this time off from touring, she foresees a music “golden age” coming in the next year and a half.
“We’re going to be so ready,” she said. “The artists are going to be stacked with new music. We’re going to have learned all of these inefficiencies. We’re going to make the music-going experience even better, so we’ve just got to hold on.”