NB Magazine – January 2021

On New Year’s Eve in 2019, we toasted the new year of 2020. The future seemed bright and life was good, at least for a few months. By mid-March, things changed. A worldwide pandemic reared its ugly head and brought everything to a screeching halt. Essential and non-essential jobs were quickly determined and millions of lives were changed forever. The arts industry took the biggest hit. In a matter of days, actors, musicians, sound crews, tech people, road crews and live music venues across the world stopped working. As you know, New Braunfels has a vibrant music scene, in fact, we were recently recognized as a music friendly city by the Texas Music Office in Austin. Our local musicians and music venues suffered a devastating blow. As the forced shutdowns stretched from weeks to months, many thought it would be the end of our music scene. Fortunately, Texas musicians are a resourceful bunch and they don’t go down without a fight. They dug foxholes and got ready for battle.

Local musicians that make their living playing around town were the hardest hit. With bars and restaurants closed, they had no place to play. They are resilient though and quickly started doing live streaming shows from home and offering online music lessons. Many got day jobs mowing yards and stocking groceries. Our local touring musicians that have a band, road crew and tour bus drivers, did everything in their power to keep their people on the payroll. Local artists like Cody Canada and Wade Bowen started doing weekly live streaming shows to make extra money to pay their band and crews. One group of local songwriters started a Facebook group called Sequestered Songwriters and every Monday night they paid tribute to a different artist. Often it was a legendary performer that had recently passed away, like Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver and Hal Ketchum. Fans could donate money with Venmo or Paypal

Our local bars and music venues closed in March and many remained closed for several months. With no end in sight for the shutdown, many bars changed their business model and reopened as restaurants. They had to incur the huge expense to install commercial kitchens and hire additional staff, yet could only operate at 50% capacity. Once again showing the true Texas resilience and spirit they are made of, they made lemonade out of lemons.

Whitewater Amphitheater, the 9,000-seat outdoor venue, lost their entire 2020 season because of the pandemic. The lost revenue and financial impact to our community was in the millions of dollars. Owner Will Korioth took the news in stride and forged ahead. He started construction on many improvements to the property, including a general store, a RV park, and guest cabins. They reconfigured the seating area to include tables placed 6-feet apart and created a VIP concert experience. They are booking many incredible acts for the 2021 season including Cody Johnson, Koe Wetzel and Willie Nelson, just to name a few. They plan on opening in April with smaller capacity shows but hope to be back to full capacity by August.

Gruene Hall, our most famous live music venue, also suffered during the pandemic. Due to the often close standing crowds, many of their concerts and festivals were cancelled. They arranged tables and chairs inside the dancehall and beer garden and started scheduling smaller capacity shows. While January and February are normally their slower months due to weather, you can rest assured they will be back in full force as soon as possible.

The Brauntex Theatre closed on March 13 and was unable to open for the remainder of the year. For a small non-profit venue, this presented many challenges. The bulk of their 2020 scheduled shows were moved into 2021. During the forced downtime, they did several much-needed renovation projects, including installing a new state of the art sound system. They also acquired the rights to host the 2021 Scripps Spelling Bee, a nationally known contest involving school children in Comal and surrounding school districts. This prestigious event will take place on Saturday March 27. Their new season of concerts will be announced in April and the new sound system will allow bigger named acts to perform at the historic theatre.

As we enter a new year, one that we hope brings more good things than last year, we can continue to count our blessing. Our music scene will survive, and we will be able to enjoy live music once again. Things may look different; we may not be able to sit close together and the crowds may be smaller, but with change, opportunities often come. So, look for that silver lining and know that we will get through these challenges together. The settlers that founded our city endured far worse hardships than we ever will, and they persevered. They expect the same from us.

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