Covid blues: Local musicians are down, but not out

By Kimmarie Erickson

Ricky Weeth has been a fixture of the local music scene since Ronald Reagan was in office and relies on the income he generates from paying gigs to make a living.

But he’s never seen things get this bad before.

What makes it hurt even more for Weeth is that before Covid-19 sank its teeth into the local economy and shut down live shows for months, things were really looking up.

“There is absolutely no doubt that 2020 was shaping up to be MY year both in terms of personal development as well as income from music work…The Bodega in March just prior to lockdown was ready to literally book me in any configuration. The fix, literally, was in,” Weeth recalled. “My standing weeknight gigs were booked through the summer, weekend gigs booked up and down the river towns well into the rest of the year. Lockdown happened. It all went away in one fell swoop.”

Although Weeth is missing playing live, he’s not about to return to the stage unless he’s sure he can do so safely.

Ricky Weeth

“It’s not just me and my guys here. My significant other is on the tail end of what appears to be a successful cancer fight,” he said. “I’ve taken a fair amount of guff on social media for ‘cowering in place’ and ‘living in fear,’ but I cannot just go run amok in the world and put anyone at risk. I’d rather live in a hollow log and eat dirt than put them at risk.”

Weeth is just one of many hardworking, self-employed musicians from across all musical genres who are finding things tough right now and itching to get back on the live circuit, but worried about when and how that will happen.

Another born and bred Coulee Region musician, Casey Virock (pictured top), who now resides in Minneapolis, reports that his band Porcupine has not toured or performed shows since the pandemic hit. Virock states that local shows in Minneapolis are starting to slowly come back, but only in small venues with rigid attendance limits and strict mask rules. 

Several nonprofits have stepped up to help musicians put out of work by the pandemic. Among those is Massive Amounts Of Good, created in 2012 by Dr. Turner Berg and La Crosse area musical superstar Reed Grimm, which quickly offered financial assistance to musicians when the live music industry closed down. MusicCares Foundation, a nonprofit created by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, also has been providing support. But the need has simply been far greater than the support available. 

The situation has forced some to get creative to try and keep money coming in. Heatbox, a.k.a. The One Man Entertainment System, a Minneapolis based musician, video game show host, voice over actor, and computer programmer found himself scrambling to make ends meet when the pandemic struck.

“Covid-19 has changed the trajectory of my career. Before Covid -19 happened I was working hard on a new album of funny, funky songs. Then suddenly all of the gigs dried up and I had no income. I had to find a new way to make a little money,” Heatbox, a.k.a. Aaron Heaton explained. ”Lucky for me I have been live streaming, editing music and video, and collecting the equipment to do so for many years. I looked at all of my stuff and said this is what we’ve been training for and I started the Heatbox $2 Song Club on Patreon.” 

Heaton went on to explain the concept of the $2 song club, “People suggest song topics through Facebook, YouTube, and Patreon. Then I pick 2 topics and make short demos for them. People vote on which one should become a finished song through Facebook, YouTube and Patreon. I just wanted to give everyone, including myself, something fun to be a part of during these weird times and also make a few bucks!” 

Back in La Crosse, Weeth is soldiering on, looking forward to the day when things finally return to normal. He’s confident that once that happens, he’ll jump right back into the saddle.

“I know that at some point in the future, once things get back going again, I’ll pick up right where it all got paused and all will be fat and sassy in no time,” he said.

Here’s hoping, Ricky. 

Kimmarie Erickson is a music journalist and local community activist. You can contact her at skullgurlmanagement@yahoo.com.

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