Austin music industry hit hard by COVID-19 pandemic

The recent cancellation of ACL 2020 was a big disappointment for fans and a multi-million dollar economic hit for Austin. It was also the latest hardship for those who work in the music business, especially those setting up stages.

"It’s been gut-wrenching all week," said Chris Warndahl with Miller Pro Audio. He was hired to set up for the Vanilla Ice concert at Emerald Point Bar & Grill. The show’s cancelation due to COVID-19 fears is one of a thousand gigs he has lost since the outbreak.

When asked how much longer he could hold out, he said "Not much longer, there are several good companies in town, not just us, and I don’t know how long any of us can hold on, there's a lot of good people not working."


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He has had to lay off 16 employees so far. "I know several artists who have had number 1 hits that are taking a job,” said Warndahl.

Jondan McBride, one of those artists out of work, is an Austin based musician, who tours internationally with artists like Aaron Watson and Kevin Fowler. "It feels weird not to be able to play music, but the scary part is not knowing where the income is going to be,” he said.

McBride and others in the music industry, at first, did web-based performances, but that’s tapered off. "It kind of makes you feel like, this could be indefinite, so it makes people feel like, do we need to change careers,” he said.

RELATED: ACL Music Festival canceled for 2020

What can fans do to help those like him? "Honestly it’s kind of up to those of us who have chosen this profession to figure it out, I don’t really expect fans to figure it out for us,” said McBride.

McBride was already teaching music on the side to earn extra cash. Lighting engineers, he knows, are still on the road but driving trucks after getting their CDL.

The Wyatt Company, a Nashville candle company, was started up by a friend, Ben Deem with a portion of the candle sales helping those who are out of work. About $20,000 has been given out, according to Deem. “Anywhere from paying mortgages, to car payments, to phone bills, just anything that can help someone, that’s what we want the money to go towards,” he said.

RELATED: Push back sinks Lake Travis Vanilla Ice concert

McBride says he knows firsthand that the candle project can make a difference. “It’s a way to figure this out on our own, rather than waiting for government or private help,” he said.

FOX7 asked McBride how sustainable all the effort is for him and how much longer he hold out and hope that in-person concerts can start again.

"We are already past the point of holding on, we are having to figure this out, right now, it’s too late to say I'm going to ride this out until things come back to normal, because the way I'm hearing it, nobody thinks it’s going to come back to normal,” said McBride.


Chris Warndahl argued that shows could go on if government leaders would work with the industry and set up protocols for events. Warndahl believes a plan could be modeled after what’s being done in Korea, Japan, and even Sweden.

"If we do our masks, if we socially distance, there's plenty of room to put 800 to a thousand people in a venue like this and maintain the groups, I got another venue where they doing bike racks with tables, there is no way be within 8' of another customer at any given moment. So yeah, there are ways," said Warndahl.


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