When the concert business shut down in mid-March, Bobby Garza abruptly shifted from putting on live events to tearing them down — his company, Austin-based Forefront Networks, had to cancel the California food-and-music festival Yountville Live later that month, and massive productions like December’s Trail of Lights in Austin are in question, too. In early April, his life changed even more dramatically: Forefront furloughed 30 percent of its staff, including him.
As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Garza, a 43-year-old Forefront creative team leader who used to be general manager of festival producer Transmission Events, every other week to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the latest installment here and see the full series here.
Have you heard any news about the job opportunities you’ve discussed?
It feels like a strange kind of torture waiting for things to happen. There’s some thought that you have to make your own future and I’m trying to do that. I’m waiting on other people to figure out a contract or decide that they want to hire me. I’m not very good in those spaces! I’m hoping by end of day today or early next week, I’ll have at least one contract. That means when the federal $600-a-month subsidy runs out [in late July, unless Congress intervenes], I’ll be able to switch out from collecting unemployment for 50% of my salary to maybe finding a contract plus one more that will get me that. It feels promising that might happen in the next week or two, but that game of chicken is a lot closer. I’m mentally preparing myself for a lot of ramen in the future.
How hopeful are you about the possibility of a vaccine, possibly in the next few months?
My mom is self-quarantining in a town just south of Austin, where I grew up, and she still lives there by herself. So this idea that a vaccine is close really gives me hope. The practical implications of that have very little to do with my job and more to do with my mom being able to [see] my kids. I don’t want to get my hopes up too much and start thinking it’s going to come out in three to six months. Maybe it’s going to be a year.
The coronavirus situation in Texas is alarming and I wonder if you can feel it firsthand, despite isolating at home.
Yeah, it feels terrible. This desire to “reopen the economy” was so incredibly short-sighted. One of the things I’m so completely confused about is religious services — as long as they’re outside, they don’t have any capacity requirements. Are you kidding me? And how do you anticipate that people are going to follow social-distancing guidelines through some sort of self-policing actions when you can’t get people to wear masks in the first place? Texas opened up way too fast and we are now paying the price for that. The worst part about that, to come back to our industry, is venues are still closed. They didn’t even get to open.
I read that 90% of Austin music venues may have to close by Halloween. How terrifying is that from where you sit?
My buddy Chad Swiatecki wrote that article about a survey that was done by the Hobby School of Public Affairs that’s out of the University of Houston and was commissioned by the Austin Chamber of Commerce. One part that’s really good news is that the Chamber of Commerce is releasing data that’s relevant to music venues. I don’t have any confidence that the chamber was thinking about venues too much until they saw some of this information. When you start seeing that over 60% of venues are not going to make it because four months leads to closure, it puts a super fine point on the fact that our industry is seismically impacted. The city of Austin released like a million and a half dollars for musicians, but left music venues out of that equation. These are small businesses with very little cashflow. They’re not incredibly liquid. They have super-high rents.
How are you managing the virtual camps for your kids this week?
Oh, this week was incredible. [Laughs.] My youngest is 10, and he was in a cookie-cooking camp from 10 until 1. It would have been an incredible experience had I not had to do other things in the middle of all of that. So as I’m trying to focus on “hey, get a job, pay your bills,” I was upstairs on my computer praying to any deity I could think about that my house wouldn’t burn down or explode. Then, looking at the aftermath in the kitchen, it’s like, “I don’t even know if a hazmat crew could figure out what the hell just happened down here.” My kid learned how to make 10 different types of cookies, which was amazing, and he was busy for three hours out of the day, so I shouldn’t complain at all about the two hours it takes to clean up afterwards! The camp dance is incredibly challenging when you throw a 350-degree oven and a stand mixer in.
When we meet in person someday, I would like some cookies, please.
I will send you the list of ones to choose from. There is an international offering, from Mexican snickerdoodle cookies to some German cookie I can’t pronounce that had some orange zest to, like, a South African cookie, I think. These are very fancy cookies.