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Live Music in the Time of Coronavirus

By Emma Christley

Finding itself in a vital crossroads moment, survival takes priority over improvement in the live music industry.

Cattivo, located in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, is listed as temporarily closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic on their official website. Photo Credits: Andrew Otts


When Abby Goldstein first arrived in Pittsburgh, she found a music scene that was fragmented and territorial, but now to survive through a pandemic, the city’s approach to local music will need to change.

Ed Traversari has been working in and teaching about the industry for 30+ years and remains hopeful that in spite of it all, his students will be ready for the jobs that will need to be filled when live music returns.

Yet Adam Valen, marketing manager for local promoter Drusky Entertainment, is much less optimistic about the erasure of independent venues and local promoters by corporations with multi-million dollar endowments who are able to buy cheap real estate.

As the ongoing pandemic threatens the future of an entire industry, the recent closures of beloved local venues such as Hambones in Lawrenceville and the Rex Theater in the South Side have hit the community hard. Now it’s feared that there will be more closures to follow.

“It’s such a defining moment for this industry…we need legislative action to survive this and more than just words of support. We need federal funding, county funding, anything to help keep these spaces alive,” Valen said.

Hambone’s, one of many venues to close due to the Coronavirus pandemic, was known for its comedy acts as well as live music events. Photo Credit: Andrew Otts

Stuck at a Crossroad

In recent years there have been community discussions regarding the future of live music in the city. Goldstein, in her capacity as General Manager of WYEP, joined with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the City of Pittsburgh Office of Nighttime Economy to conduct a study that would make recommendations for the betterment of Pittsburgh music.

Published a year later with the help of Sound Music Cities, an organization that has conducted similar studies in cities like Austin, Texas, the study focused on issues such as sound ordinance and the development of leadership, audiences and careers. But the study was met with mixed reviews, particularly from Goldstein.

In regards to recommendations on regulatory reform, she thought the study provided solid solutions.

“But the section on leadership development was just off the mark,” she said in an email. “It recommended an overly complicated structure for a community lead effort that nobody was willing or able to oversee. It was also wrong for a city with a fractured, cliquish and mistrusting music scene.”

Traversari says that because sports and live entertainment will be the slowest to return, he is anticipating the release of a vaccine, which he is hoping will mean good news for the 2021 concert season. He tells his students  that when live music comes back, it will be extremely strong as concertgoers hope to “catch up on what’s missed.”

A day before speaking with Valen about the crossroads moment live music is in, the announcement was made that beloved South Side venue The Rex Theater would be permanently closing.

“We run the risk of losing that cultural value and that ecosystem if our venues falter, so that’s why the priority is [on venues],” Valen said.

Valen continued to say that if there isn’t a vibrant community, there’s that risk of losing those spaces which were meant to be venues to large corporations.

“At that point, programming doesn’t come locally, it starts to monopolize and you start losing that cultural value that comes from the city and that’s built and raised from people that came from here,” Valen said.

A devastating loss for the live music community in Pittsburgh was the permanent closing of the Rex Theater on E. Carson Street. Photo Credits: Andrew Otts

This message of gratitude to the concert-goers of Pittsburgh was left on the marquee of the Rex Theater on E. Carson Street. Photo Credits: Andrew Otts

An Industry on Hold

Without legislative support, it’s worrisome how independent local venues and promoters will survive. But the future of live events is uncertain, even for the bigger promoters in the area.

Angela Thomas, the marketing manager for Promowest-owned venue Stage AE on the Northside, was furloughed at the end of June and hasn’t seen the inside of her office since mid-March.

Stage AE on the North Shore is owned by PromoWest. Angela Thomas is the Marketing Manager at Stage AE and says “only time will tell” when the venue will open again. Photo Credits: Andrew Otts


“I was just starting to explore ways to promote our venue on TikTok when I got furloughed,” Thomas said via email. “I also had to end our internship program, which was really difficult for me. I know my interns were so excited for our spring and summer concert season.”

Thomas said “only time will tell” when the venue will be open again but added, “In order for concerts to return on a national level, we need a vaccine.”

This piece is from Multiplatform Magazine Reporting Digital Magazine FALL 2020 Issue “Good Trouble – The New Normal.” 

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