With the mask mandate done, there are signs Lawrence’s live music industry is coming back to life
photo by: Sylas May
The masks are off, but it is still a bit early to say the shows are back on. One of the city’s largest promoters, though, thinks the day that Lawrence is again full of live music is getting nearer.
“I hope people are ready to see some music soon,” said Mike Logan, who owns two of the largest music venues in Lawrence, The Granada and The Bottleneck.
Logan said he thinks there will be some live music shows in Lawrence as early as June, although probably not at his venues. He’s hoping to host a concert in July at the Bottleneck. (Details on the band are not available, and let’s be honest, I’m probably not cool enough to know them anyway.)
Logan anticipates starting concerts in the larger Granada venue in late August. By September, he thinks multiple shows will start arriving in Lawrence.
“I’m feeling like at a minimum we should have eight-plus shows a month to get going, and then start feeling a little more like normal,” Logan said. “Just this morning, I had probably had eight or nine shows inquiring about dates for late in the year.”
A lot could change the situation, with the most obvious being a surge in the virus. But another factor is the pace of reopening in places far from Lawrence. The fact that Douglas County recently lifted its mask mandate doesn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of the music business.
“The industry relies on a national reopening,” Logan said. “A band has to be able to get on a tour bus and go across the country and make it worth their time. They can’t sit and idle.”
The good news is the industry hasn’t seemed to forget Lawrence during the pandemic layoff. Lawrence has long had a live music scene, but it has changed over the years. Promoters say there is still potential for the industry to be a major part of the Lawrence economy, but the city frequently seems on the edge of falling down the list of live music cities.
“It is active right now,” Logan said of the number of calls he’s fielding about possible shows. “Our job is to get as many of these bands to come play Lawrence instead of Columbia or Lincoln or Tulsa or places like that.
“We’re doing that job with probably half our staff. We are not back up to speed on the backside because we still don’t have any revenue.”
Yes, the large federal COVID relief bill did include significant amounts of money for the music and live entertainment industries. But Logan said the rollout of the program has been frustrating. The bill was passed in late December, but businesses weren’t able to make applications until April. The industry is still awaiting word about when money might be awarded.
“We are still working with one hand behind our back,” he said.
The best news, though, are the signs that area residents remain hungry for live music, Logan said.
“I hear from a lot of people who want to just come see a show,” Logan said. “They don’t really care what it is. They just want to see a show. It is a missing component of their life.”
Logan said he understands that well. He said he was recently inside The Bottleneck, which has been closed for months, when he decided to have a technician turn on the sound system.
“I just wanted to hear that noise of a live concert,” Logan said. “I just wanted to feel that thump in my chest.”
Logan also owns the Abe & Jake’s event space near Sixth and New Hampshire streets. It is less of a live music venue and more of a spot for larger community events and fundraisers. Logan said he hopes to start fielding more inquiries about those types of events now that pandemic regulations have loosened. Logan said the venue is still going to require masks in certain situations for a bit longer.
“I think every business is going to have to read their audience and read the customer base for a while,” Logan said.
Thus far, the event business hasn’t been teeming with prospects. Often, those events are planned months in advance, so it will be interesting to see if nonprofits and other frequent hosts of large events get back into planning mode soon. Logan is projecting it will be a while before that part of his business gets back to normal.
“I don’t think we will get anywhere near 2019 levels until mid-2022,” he said.
One other quick note from Logan about his Bottleneck property at 737 New Hampshire St: If you’ve been by the building recently, you’ve probably noticed a large amount of work underway. I originally thought it was just a project for a new roof, but then I saw steel beams starting to protrude from the building over the sidewalk.
“I thought I was just putting a new roof on too,” Logan said, “but then you know how it goes.”
The steel beams aren’t for anything fun, like a covered sidewalk seating area. Instead, structural engineers said they needed to be temporarily put in place to shore up parts of the building. As part of the roof construction, some issues were found that showed parts of the facade needed to be strengthened.
Logan said the building will be fine in the end, but it will end up being a more intensive project than originally expected. He said he’s hoping to qualify for some state tax credits due to the age of the building and the role it plays in the historic downtown district. He said the work will keep the historical lines of the building. He still expects to have the work done in time for a July reopening of the bar and music venue.