Zach Smith performing with Town Mountain at The Met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Submitted Image/Zach Smith.
Zach Smith is the stand-up bass player for the Asheville-based bluegrass band Town Mountain. He turned 25 recently and had planned on continuing his tradition of enjoying a “nice, juicy steak” with friends and family. Instead, he continued to shelter in place.
His birthday celebration is not the only casualty of the coronavirus. Town Mountain’s next 22 shows have been canceled, and the band’s promoter thinks the group could be out of work until next spring. Smith is looking at losing 75% of his annual income, and that is if he goes back to work in the Spring of 2021.
Town Mountain’s lost income is just one result of their canceled shows: venues lose money, employees lose money, alcohol and food suppliers lose money, local restaurants, hotels, and gas stations lose money. It is a chain reaction like what’s going on in entertainment-related business nationwide. Tens of thousands of canceled performances, thousands of closed businesses, millions of lost jobs.
Roy Cathey is a 53-year-old musician in Fayetteville, a child of 1970s classic rock, who has toured with a Boston tribute band, the rock group Gibraltar, and the Monsters of Rock Cruise. Like most performers now, he, too, is sheltering in place.
“2020 was supposed to be my big year, my breakout year,” Cathey said in a phone interview. “I had three CDs due to be released, numerous big shows and the possibility of a European tour. Now I’ve had to fall back on my trade skills in the HVAC industry.”
Cathey is currently the lead singer of The Fifth, “as in, a fifth of liquor, The 5th Dimension, the Fifth Amendment, anything with a ‘fifth’ in it.”
Roy Cathey performing with his band The Fifth at the Pala Resort and Casino in Pala, California. Submitted Image/Roy Cathey.
“A huge chunk of my income is just gone. I’m missing an album cycle and tour income, I can’t connect with my audience, I’m not releasing new music, uncertainty is ruling my life,” Cathey explained.
A survey of 107 live entertainment-related businesses conducted by the online trade magazine Live Design at the end of July revealed that production companies, rental shops and similar theatrical entities had lost an average of 75% of their expected revenues since March.
Smith and Cathey hope that when things return to normal they can pick up where they left off musically and with life in general. Smith has been with Town Mountain for three years and it is the culmination of a dream.
“I grew up with music in my home. My dad has played bluegrass most of his life. When Town Mountain had a spot open up, I left college and jumped at the chance,” he said.
“Playing on stage is such a rush. Before the pandemic, we had a chance to open for Tyler Childers at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Denver. Ten thousand people cheering you on and loving your music. Man, that was awesome.”
Cathey has had many such experiences over the years. “I was playing ‘Super Rock’ in Manheim Germany with Aerosmith and Whitesnake, the most nervous I’ve probably ever been. Sixty-five thousand people focused on me and my band, their energy willing me to perform at my best. It was unbelievable.”
In Pembroke, the executive director of UNCP’s Givens Performing Arts Center, Dr. James Bass, said the loss of live performances is “a tremendous detriment to the students and the community.” However, he’s trying to focus on some optimistic impacts.
“Most arts organizations, GPAC included, have pivoted toward the creation of virtual content and live stream performances to stay engaged with their audiences,” Bass said. “Some research is now coming out to suggest that this has been positive in many ways. For example, some arts patrons who may have never visited GPAC in person are enjoying a recorded performance of one of our talented faculty members in the comfort of their living room. When we do return to live performances, there's a chance that some of these new social media followers who have discovered us will now come and visit us for their first time."
Recently the Pine Needle reported on educational online performances for which the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra is able to pay its musicians out of a grant. Bass said a Robeson County Arts Council grant helps GPAC pay some artists for their virtual collaborations as well.
Bass said digital engagement has become a major part of arts distribution during the pandemic and is likely going to pioneer the arts’ future. Artists need to learn how to successfully monetize it, he advised.
Zach Smith, the Town Mountain bassist, still had a steak for his birthday, “but without all the friends and family.”
You can follow Zach at www.townmountain.net and Roy Cathey on Facebook as “The Fifth.”