Houston Music

In Search of Live Music During the Coronavirus Scare

L-R: St. Patrick's Day fans Chris, Kasey and Robert
L-R: St. Patrick's Day fans Chris, Kasey and Robert Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Much of Houston's and the world’s music news over the past week has focused on concert cancellations in the wake of COVID-19 concerns. From the biggest acts in the world to our local favorites, music artists have been forced to adjust their calendars and their livelihoods as long-planned events have been scrapped to heed social distancing guidelines set by groups like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those cautionary measures have affected avid live music fans too, and Houston Press has worked overtime to update these ongoing entertainment calendar changes.

Since these are currently just guidelines and not mandates, we were certain we’d find Houstonians out enjoying live music and social gatherings over St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Admittedly, the pickings were slim. The crowds we encountered, for the most part, weren’t robust. But, we were more successful finding a few shows than we were finding a few rolls of toilet paper on Saturday. Since we’d already braved a manic Costco and encountered at least 250 folks there frantically searching for Charmin that morning, we ventured out to Houston venues still hosting music events that afternoon.

At Lucky’s Pub EaDo, Celtic punk rockers the Dead Rabbits promised a Cranberries’ cover near the end of its afternoon set. We braced ourselves for “Zombie,” which might have been appropriate in the current apocalyptic hysteria, but they chose “Dreams,” a much more optimistic tune. Taking in the festivities were audience members Chris, Kasey and Robert who opted against self-quarantine to celebrate Paddy’s Day.

click to enlarge David Rodriguez and his young music fan, Liam - PHOTO BY JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
David Rodriguez and his young music fan, Liam
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
“So, I love St. Patrick’s Day. I feel like every year I do not have much luck with St. Patrick’s Day, something always ruins it,” said Kasey. “I thought, that’s so perfect that this year I had a great plan to go to a bar crawl or spend some time drinking green beer at a good spot and, of course, coronavirus came out. I thought surely I was going to show up today and it was going to be completely empty, dead, or they were just gonna cancel it. So, I’m pleasantly surprised.”

“I came out because everything else I love has been taken from me,” said Chris, whose tone aimed a bit of resentment at the virus and its life-altering impact. “No March Madness, most sports, church has been cancelled. I’m not letting people take more stuff from me. And, I think I can be adult about it. I keep my hands to myself, I don’t think I’m sick currently, so it’s just about keeping your boundaries and enjoying yourself.”

“I was going to go to the rodeo today,” said Robert, who was listening to Dead Rabbits instead of watching the Jon Pardi show, which was cancelled, along with the rest of RodeoHouston’s concert calendar. “St. Patrick’s Day is such a fun event, it’s something you can’t miss out on. I know I’m not one of the at-risk populations, so if I was at risk I definitely would be staying home.”

Down the road at Cactus Music, Skatastrophics performed the 3 o’clock in-store set to promote their new album, Symptoms of the Atmosphere.

click to enlarge Destiny (far left) and her friends didn't let the idea of COVID-19 stop the party - PHOTO BY JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Destiny (far left) and her friends didn't let the idea of COVID-19 stop the party
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

“I know that shit’s crazy, but it means a lot that y’all came out to check us out. So, we will deliver and play songs,” Skatastrophics’ front man Billy Munoz told the gathered. Among those in the crowd for the spirited set was fellow musician David Rodriguez and his six month-old son, Liam. Rodriguez said he couldn’t pass the chance to be on hand for his friends’ big afternoon.

“You know, we love to support local music, we love to go to shows. Right now, I’m with my son here, he’s six months old, and he just loves it,” said Rodriguez of Sin Apuros 66, which played the Skatastrophics’ album release last month at Continental Club. “We just love to support music.

“For sure, I’m not a fan of the news. In my opinion, they’re trying to panic everybody,” Rodriguez continued, echoing a sentiment that’s been shared repeatedly on social media over the last week. “I won’t be scared. I’m for sure trying to be healthy and exercise, but I won’t be scared of any virus or anything. For me, I love to appreciate any moments. I would go out and enjoy the music and enjoy everybody and talk to everybody. I won’t be stopped because of any news trying to (create) panic.”

Some folks did stay put and those which were music fans were able to take in a virtual show Saturday afternoon. One of Houston’s most fun bands, Swimwear Department, took a novel approach to the novel coronavirus by performing an audience-free poolside “Live Stream for the Quarantined Concert” Saturday afternoon. The band worked hard over an hour-long set to recreate the energy its loyal fan base expects. About the time that show kicked off, the excellent variety cover band The Slags were entertaining real live listeners at Jack & Ginger’s in Midtown. The Irish bar’s St. Patrick’s Day event was easily the biggest crowd we encountered (besides the teeming masses at Costco). If there weren’t 250 people on the grounds, it was close.

click to enlarge Hilda (second from right) said a cautious approach to going out can help the music and service industries during these trying times - PHOTO BY JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Hilda (second from right) said a cautious approach to going out can help the music and service industries during these trying times
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
The Slags kicked off their five o’clock set with Cardi B’s “I Like It,” which reflected the mood of party-goers. As the day passed and the green beer flowed, concerns about the virus seemed less evident. When we met Destiny, she was boasting some wicked moves on the dance floor. We asked if she was nervous about going out and her response was, “No. Corona is a figment of your imagination. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face and you’re good. Corona who?”

Hilda and her friends were a few tables away and were a bit more stoic about things.

“We are following all the instructions the specialists are giving, but I consider this place like an open area and I’m going to avoid putting my hands on my face and just follow the basic instructions of what can bring me the virus,” Hilda said. “If you just stay home all the time, I guess we’re going to stop the economy and I think that that’s going to be worse than the actual virus.”

No matter where you fall on the idea of social distancing at this stage of the pandemic, the words the Dead Rabbits sang from that old Cranberries’ tune resonated all afternoon. For all of us, “life is changing every day, in every possible way.”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.