The Virus and Live Music: The Story of The Roasting Room Lounge

Christmastime always puts me in a musical mood, as blog posts this week suggest.  Christmas is the perfect season to illustrate the power of music, as so much wonderful music has been written about Christ’s Birth.

In The Before Times, in the Long, Long Ago, before The Age of The Virus, it was also a lucrative season for musicians.  Other than wedding gigs (a market I haven’t managed to crack into yet), nothing pays better than a Christmas party.  They’re fun, full of free food, and they pay well.  The spirit of free-flowing generosity (and the generosity of free-flowing spirits) results in some warm winter paydays.

Of course, this year has been particularly tough for musicians, as I’ve detailed many, many times before.  Revenues from private lessons and gigs seem to be bouncing back (at least for me), and the struggles of The Virus brought forth a burst of generosity.  Bandcamp Fridays really helped inject some much-needed cash into the coffers of independent musicians (myself included).

Musicians have also had to get creative.  That’s why I hosted my annual Spooktacular from my front porch.  Venues are constrained by various local and State laws (and sometimes dictatorial edicts) limiting their capacities, and many eateries have been slow to resume live shows.  That’s created real limitations on venues and artists, but it’s also opened up opportunities.  My Spooktacular was mildly profitable, but it also brought people together for desperately-needed fun and camaraderie (and put a few bucks into the pockets of the musicians involved).  I don’t know if that model will endure once The Virus is defeated, but it’s something for musicians to consider in this strange new world.

But for all I’ve written about the damage The Virus has caused to musicians’ finances, I haven’t looked at the impact on venues at all.  That’s an unfortunate oversight on my part, because a venues’ success or failure can directly impact that of an artist.  Many musically-inclined venues are coffee shops or small restaurants, so they largely cut live music as they went to take-out-only and delivery formats.

Some venues, however, are built entirely on music, or at least use music as their main draw (the opposite of how most venues operate, where the music is just a way to get more bodies into the door to buy beer and hot wings, as my blogger and musician buddy Frederick Ingram once lamented to me).  One such establishment in South Carolina is The Roasting Room Lounge, a listening room in Bluffton, South Carolina, whose mission is to host live shows featuring touring independent musicians.

I’ve never been to The Roasting Room (though it sounds like an incredible place to listen to music—and I’d love to play there!), but I’ve been receiving their e-mail newsletter for some time now.  They semi-regularly post these e-mails to their blog, The Roast, and it’s been interesting to read about their attempts to remain viable in The Age of The Virus.

Suffice it to say that it hasn’t been easy on them, and the posts make for forlorn reading (the newsletter’s author, Jordan Ross, writes in a very pleasing, humorous, inviting style, but they’ve been struggling due to The Virus, so the content, not the writing itself, is sad at times).  In their October 2020 newsletter (“Real Talk”), it seemed that the venue was going to shutter, or fundamentally change their business model, as the math didn’t check out.

But redemption came.  Two weeks later (also in October 2020, in “The Match Checks Out”), patrons and supporters of the venue apparently came through big time with donations, gift card purchases, etc., and The Roasting Room will live on, albeit with the familiar restrains and limitations The Virus has forced upon us all—limited capacity, odious masks, etc.  They’re focusing more on local artists because touring has ground to a halt for most national acts, but they’re going to keep crafting memorable live music experiences for their patrons and fans.

That’s a glimmer of hope.  Musicians depend upon venues like The Roasting Room to reach audiences—and, really fans.  The people that are going to shell out $40 for merch are the folks that go to listening rooms.  The business model is incredibly difficult to sustain—I still lament the collapse of Conundrum Music Hall in West Columbia—but such joints give musicians real opportunities to grow their fan bases.

It’s easy to take music for granted—it’s everywhere, and easily accessible—but it takes real dedication, focus, energy, time, and money to create it, to produce it, and to distribute it.  I sometimes feel like Joseph Haydn—a self-made musician who landed a very demanding but stable Kapellmeister‘s position—and am fortunate to have a full time gig that allows me the opportunity to make music all day.

Most musicians aren’t so fortunate to have built-in “patrons.”  Venues like The Roasting Room are vital to keep new, engaging music alive.  Let’s help keep them going.

To help keep me going, consider picking up my discography—just $15.75!—on Bandcamp, or subscribe to my SubscribeStar page.

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