Impacts of COVID-19 on Colorado music scene, part 2

Ty Davis

Read part one of the series here.

People may expect local artists to turn to livestream performances in the pandemic, but that wasn’t the case for every artist. While bands like Chess at Breakfast and The Sogs cited success with using the format, rapper Mitchell James said that livestreaming, in his opinion, was not conducive to the way rappers perform for an audience. Others simply didn’t feel it would be of much benefit or did not want to perform without the energy and interactivity of the crowd.


For bands that either don’t have as much recognition in their community or are just starting, do-it-yourself venues present a way to spread awareness, get practice with performing in front of an audience and, possibly, gain the attention of larger venues. The venues, which were a staple of the Fort Collins music scene, ceased operations due to COVID-19 with no clear idea on when many of them would return.

But in July of this year, house venue Under The Willow, formed by Alex Woodchek and Corey Wright, reopened after a brief hiatus for artists to use its large backyard to perform socially distanced shows.

“With so many of our friends who are musicians, there was this collective feeling of dread, ache and longing for the live music space,” Woodchek said. “Zoom shows just don’t quite cut it, so we really wanted to meet that desire in our community.”

Woodchek and Wright promised they are taking every precaution to ensure the safety of attendees and artists and are following a multitude of guidelines, including those set by Larimer County. These claims were corroborated by Nolan Brumbach of The Crooked Rugs, who performed at the venue. While Woodchek and Wright said they have not had to deal with anyone refusing to follow the guidelines, they are prepared to take appropriate measures to handle the situation.

The Bohemian Foundation, through the NoCo Music Relief Fund, provided assistance to artists and industry workers who have lost income as a result of the pandemic. It awarded 139 grants to artists and industry professionals across Northern Colorado, totaling $127,000, according to Laura Wilson, the live music manager at the Bohemian Foundation. 

According to Shannon Hein, a business specialist for the City of Fort Collins, the City has recently finished its second round of applications for Fort Collins’ Small Business Assistance Program, designed to help businesses that have received assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program but may need more help. Recipients of the program have not yet been announced.

“It’s easier to start a DIY venue out of your garage or your house than it would be to start an independent venue in and of itself, and I really do think that as money flows out of the music industry, it will allow for more room for smaller artists and the DIY movement to preside.”-AJ Frankson, vocalist for Janet Earth

Art will survive. As long as there’s a person with tools at their disposal, they will create. Given the current situation and predictions, the real question is not, “Will art survive?” so much as, “How healthy will it be by the time we go back to normal?”

Very few artists said they expect to lose local musicians. In fact, many predicted that, since a lot of artists were working-artists to begin with, the number of musicians in Fort Collins would largely stay the same. A few even predicted an influx of new artists who took up music during the pandemic.

In the scenario that Fort Collins sees more venues close, many artists said that the DIY music scene will see an influx of new spaces to meet this demand.

“It’s easier to start a DIY venue out of your garage or your house than it would be to start an independent venue in and of itself, and I really do think that as money flows out of the music industry, it will allow for more room for smaller artists and the DIY movement to preside,” said AJ Frankson, vocalist for Janet Earth.


Frankson opened her own DIY venue, The Planetarium, in August 2019, but it closed in February of this year.

Some artists expressed concern that, once we enter a post-COVID-19 music scene, there will not be enough time and space for local artists to perform at larger venues due to favor toward larger artists who can guarantee sales. Though opinions varied on this, some artists acknowledged this was a possibility but said they were fine with the situation in the short-term if it meant these venues would be able to sustain themselves.

Others did not see this as a possibility, either saying venues would continue to incorporate local artists in a similar capacity to how they had previously or foreseeing venues implementing adaptive techniques to cater to local acts.

Will Reutemann, the venue operations manager at Mishawaka Amphitheatre, said that Mishawaka would make an effort to focus on providing opportunities for local artists. He added that the venue would implement an adaptive pricing model, similar to the pre-pandemic model, with prices varying based on expected turnout.

The recently introduced RESTART Act and Save our Stages Act could help prevent the National Independent Venue Association’s prediction of the majority of venues closing. The RESTART Act proposes to extend the PPP, and the SOS Act proposes the Small Business Administration provide grants to many in the music industry who have been affected by the pandemic.

Both bills have been introduced to the Senate, but the most recent event for either bill came in July when the SOS Act was referred to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Michael Seman is an assistant professor in the arts management program at Colorado State University and an author of a study on the impacts of COVID-19 on the Colorado music industry. He predicted that, should we see a significant reduction in venues, it will be some time before the health of the music scene here in Fort Collins returns to its previous state. While not foreseeing a reduction in artists, Seman did predict they will be slow to return in a post-COVID-19 world.

“Venues will come back in some form, but it will be a little bit of time,” Seman said. “It will take some time before someone feels confident in opening a venue again from scratch.” 

Losing venues in Fort Collins will not just have an economic effect on the City by virtue of losing businesses, but their loss will likely also affect other businesses in Fort Collins as well. As noted in Seman’s study, venues can have a ripple effect on other businesses.

“It’s an economic engine,” said Jim McDonald, cultural services director for Fort Collins. “Not only are people buying tickets to see performances, but many times, there’s an amplifier effect where they are maybe spending a night at a hotel, filling their car up with gas, eating at a restaurant or going to a bar before or after, so the arts are one of these elements that draws people in and really helps the soul of the community.”

We simply do not know what the state of music in Fort Collins will be by the time we reach a post-pandemic U.S. Many current and future factors will affect the live music industry’s future, and, by proxy, the future of local artistry. For now, many artists continue to hone their craft and wait for the time when their community can come together again without fear.

Ty Davis be reached at or on Twitter @TyDavisACW.