June 24, 2024


Unlimited Technology

MA Music Industry Perseveres Amid Coronavirus

YARMOUTH, MA — Boston funk rockers Ripe were starting to gain some serious traction at the beginning of 2020. The band sold out two shows at the House of Blues in Boston and had big plans for the festival circuit this summer.

Then the coronavirus pandemic halted that momentum for Ripe and every musician as emergency orders shuttered large gatherings, including concerts and music festivals. But instead of wallowing in that reality, Ripe has persevered and is playing their first show in months — a drive-in concert on Cape Cod.

On Saturday, Ripe will perform a sold-out show live at the Yarmouth Drive-in to a crowd gathered in more than 450 cars, all able to socially distance from one another.

Vocalist Robbie Wulfsohn and guitarist Sampson Hellerman told Patch they couldn’t be more excited to do what they love again, even though playing live is extremely different amid a global pandemic.

“It’s a measured but very present excitement,” Wulfsohn said. “We’re blown away we get to play live again. We’re so excited to do it, and we are all so very aware this is brand new for everyone. It’s all the excitement of getting back to what we were going to do and seeing this novelty that things are going to be different for a while.”

“It’s a pretty crazy time to be a human being, but to be a touring musician right now is quite the experience,” Hellerman added. “Playing a show feels like a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Despite this excitement, both band members acknowledged drive-in concerts likely aren’t a long-term solution to a struggling music industry. Musicians get some money from streaming services like Spotify, but the majority of their earnings come from live performances, which aren’t even close to returning.

Across the United States, venues were forced to close, including Great Scott in Allston — though music fans have stepped up with crowdfunding efforts to save their favorite venues. That’s been the case with Great Scott and Once Ballroom in Somerville, with both receiving aid from fans.

“Any way that we try to get live music to come back has to be sustainable with the long term in mind,” Wulfsohn told Patch. “I miss being able to meet and randomly collide with real people there for the same reason. But I acknowledge that wanting that is the opposite of social distancing, where we don’t get to do that for a while.”

The issue is something industry leaders like Adam Epstein have grappled with for months.

Epstein is the CEO of Innovation Arts and Entertainment, the company responsible for the Beach Road Weekend musical festival on Martha’s Vineyard and the Yarmouth drive-in shows. Ripe was billed to play Beach Road Weekend this year, alongside Beck, Guster and other national touring acts, before it was canceled.

“Our industry is based on putting large groups of people into enclosed spaces,” Epstein told Patch. “When we look at this, we’re in trouble; our whole industry is at an existential risk. I’ve been going to shows since I was 12. It’s been a part of everything I do. To suddenly not be able to do that has been devastating.”

Epstein acknowledged it took a while for him and his company to recover. He said he hasn’t had a dollar’s worth of income since March and tried to keep his staff employed. But recently, Epstein said he was forced to make some cuts.

Still, resilience is the only way forward, Epstein said. And that path forward became evident when Innovation Arts got the green light to have drive-in concerts on the Cape.

“In the last few weeks, we feel like we got our energy back as a company,” Epstein said. “We started construction at the beginning of July and built a venue in five days. “We were working 20-hour days to build this thing, and we are so psyched right now.”

Epstein said he’s a big fan of Ripe and couldn’t be more proud of the band for selling out the show. Innovation Arts collaborated with the band to sell livestream access for fans who couldn’t get tickets. Epstein said he’s excited to attend the show as a fan and experience live music again.

“To hear a cheer, to hear people screaming enthusiastically for someone — I can’t remember the last time I heard a group of people yelling at the same time,” Epstein said. “Sixteen hundred people are going to be screaming for these people. I’m getting chills just talking about it.”

Wulfsohn and Hellerman said they can’t wait to hear that screaming crowd again too — and most importantly, at a safe venue.

Safety was also Epstein’s top concern. Epstein said everyone in attendance will have a responsibility to remain socially distant and must recognize that these shows are a privilege.

“We’re a drive-on, not a drive-in,” Epstein told Patch. “You don’t have to stay in the car, but you got to put a mask on. If we respect the space, then this will continue.”

And if the space is respected, bands like Ripe can keep their art alive during a trying time.

“The good news is you can’t kill art that easy,” Wulfsohn said. “There’s a grittiness to all of this for me because people are trying things in a time that’s noticeably crazy. We don’t want our story to read, ‘We had steam going and then COVID-19 hit.’ We see this as a chapter in a long book rather than the end of the action.”

This article originally appeared on the Barnstable-Hyannis Patch

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