NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Inside a warehouse for MooTV, a live video production company in Nashville, Tennessee, the floor-to-ceiling shelves are lined with row after row of video screens, cables and rolling cases that normally would be out on the road with Brad Paisley, Chris Stapleton or Dierks Bentley. At one end of the warehouse sits an empty bar with beer taps where fans once sat on stage with Paisley.
It's starkly quiet in the warehouse that was once a bustling hive of activity just weeks ago.
“We've watched within a few days 100% of our calendar clear, which means no income and a lot of mouths to feed,” said Scott Scovill, owner of MooTV.
Live music, concerts, festivals, awards shows and other live entertainment events came to an abrupt halt just weeks ago over concerns of spreading the new coronavirus. For thousands of live entertainment staffers who work behind the stages, the world got a lot quieter.
Concerts make up a multibillion-dollar live event industry that has boomed in recent years even as album sales have declined. But that industry went from highs to unprecedented lows in a matter of days.
Workers who live gig-to-gig supporting musicians, sports, festivals and other live events that draw massive crowds are suddenly faced with months of no income and no clear idea of when gigs might resume. Many of them are freelance or contract workers, which means they don't have the support of a business to keep them going during slowdowns or provide health care or medical leave.
The concert business is also very seasonal, with the number of shows slowing in the winter, which means many businesses and workers were financially depending on an uptick in gigs starting in the spring, just as the virus hit.
Kai Griffin is a tour manager, production manager and sound engineer who has been working for country artist Lorrie Morgan for seven years, in addition to working with several new and upcoming bands. On average, he works about 125 shows a year. But after the virus hit the United States, he's out of work for the foreseeable future and with very little in savings.
“I didn't have hardly any work towards the end of the year,” said Griffin, 49, who is a father of three children. “You save up for dry times in this industry. Now it's absolutely nothing. It's totally bone dry.”
Griffin sought out financial help from his family as well as MusiCares, the Recording Academy's charitable organization, which gave him $1,000 to help with bills. “I was so thankful for it,” he said.
The first real sign of the virus' impact on mass events was the cancellation of the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, followed by the postponing of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California. It's likely that those mass entertainment events and venues won't be the first to return either.
“In my 29 years, this is the worst I have ever seen,” said Chris Lisle, of CLLD LLC, a show production designer in Nashville who has worked on tours for Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert and One Direction.
He started a nonprofit years ago called Touring Career Workshop to help freelancers in the live music industry. Another program, called All Access, connects touring workers with mental health and counseling professionals, which he said will be critical for a lot of out-of-work people right now.