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Event Designer Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: ‘The Reality is We’re Not 100% Back for 24 Months’

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.)

How is the first week of school for your two kids?

We’re figuring it out. All three of us on Zoom at the same time is probably what every parent is shaking their fist at the gods about right now. It’s going to start getting glitchy, and one of us either won’t be able to learn or won’t be able to work. I don’t know that you solve it.

How does scheduling conflict for your kids’ classes and your contract job?

I’m in the middle of writing a proposal deck on the concept enhancement for the Long Center [a live venue in Austin] — they have this thing called the Rollins Sessions, and the production team and the programming team have come together on this universal agreement on what it needs to look like and how we pull existing resources and how we’re smart about positioning it. All of that’s in my head. Most of the time, I want to capture it as quickly as I can, to get it all on paper. Instead of that, I looked at the clock and realized it’s 11:45 and my kids have a defined period for when they’re supposed to have lunch and had to come downstairs and start cooking. I feel pretty strongly about not just giving them crap to eat.

How much do these kinds of conflicts affect your job schedule?

The days are longer. This is probably the case for a lot of parents. The days start a lot earlier now that school is back, but once I get them set up, I go work for a little while, and when they’re done at 3, I try to stop or not have meetings so I can make sure they’ve got stuff to do and a snack to eat and my youngest is logged into his after-school programs. After they go to bed, I’ll jump back on my computer and try to crank out another hour or two of stuff.

That sounds stressful. What are you doing to take care of yourself?

[Laughs.] That’s a good question! This is the first week that I’ve made a conscious decision to try to start doing some of the things that I used to do — trying to exercise at least once a day, like yesterday I went for a run, the day before that we did martial arts, the day before that I did some strength-training at home. That stuff is really helping.

What other projects are you working on at the Long Center?

I was telling you about the Rollins Sessions [livestreams starring local musicians at the Rollins Theatre]. They’ve done a couple of them. I want to think about them in a different way. These virtual events get a little same-y. The Long Center wanted to get content quickly, which is exactly right for what was happening a few months ago. You don’t want the building to be dark, you want there to be activity, you want people to remember [the theatre] is there. Are there quality improvements we can make? Can we think about different camera shots? Can we think about batching production so we can get more content, [rather] than standing one session up, tearing it all down and, two weeks later, doing the same thing? What types of cameras are we using? This is the deck I’m working on: trying to get this to the executive team so we can start booking some bands and making stuff happen, hopefully [by] end of the month.

Are you starting to think about whether your old job comes back when this is all over?

I don’t know. I’m not even thinking in those terms right now. I’m thinking about the opportunity I have right now, which is part-time, but I’m hopeful this becomes a job. The reality for the music industry is we’re not 100% back for 24 months. It doesn’t flip a switch. Tours don’t happen overnight. I don’t even know how many staff are able to hang on without changing careers. That’s one of the most tragic things to think about.

Twenty-four months! Does that include the six months we’ve already had?

Yeah, probably. Even with really responsible safety precautions, especially for bigger venues, and venues that don’t have proper ventilation, I think it’s at least next summer. How far back do you have to plan for stuff that’s going to sell 2,000 tickets? For festivals, it’s a cyclical process, it happens on a 12-month calendar. Independent productions have to lay out cash to be able to hold equipment and put down deposits for bands. How do you do that if you’re not accepting cashflow right now? It’s going to take a couple of pulls on the rope to get the engine started.

That concludes the substantive portion of our conversation. Now we have to talk about ukuleles.

[Whispers.] Can’t talk about it very loud, but my sister bought my kid, for his birthday, a new ukulele, and I’m very excited about it. It’s acoustic, electric and cutaway. And blue marble. It’s awesome. I think I’m going to get him some app-based lessons. He’s been playing bass a lot. He started his jazz band.

What are some songs you’ve been playing recently with your kids?

I pulled out a couple Beatles songs: “Hey Jude” from before, and “Let It Be” was the other one. One we started playing together was “Tonight You Belong to Me,” the song from The Jerk, a great song and my favorite part in that movie. We’re slowly going to build up a 15-minute repertoire of very basic ukulele songs.


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