Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The F Word: Major record labels engage in one-day music shutdown

Posted By on Tue, Jun 2, 2020 at 4:23 PM

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From folk icon Woody Guthrie championing the American farmer to poet Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon,” bad times can make for positive music full of reactive change, and the resulting good music can beget change for the better. Sadly this seems to happen when things are well past the boiling point, when it’s too late and we’re faced with anger, unrest, and riots like we did this past weekend.

Following the horrific murder of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police May 25, there has been an immediate sense of fury. Once again, we look to music for release and relief.

This crime has awakened a beast in our collective consciousness. It has picked at wounds that won’t be healed by solemnly singing “We Shall Overcome.” But the music must lead passionately and loudly, with appropriate anger.

Two leaders in the music industry — Jamila Thomas of Atlantic Records and Brianna Agyemang of Platoon — have a slightly different idea: shut down. Shut down for a day to show support for the families of George Floyd and other victims of police violence, as well as the black community as a whole. The intention is to provoke a real conversation about how to best lift up the black community in tangible and effective ways.

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It is no doubt well-intentioned, but a lot of music stores and businesses just opened back up after being on lock-down for nearly three months. To propose shutting down may not be the best idea. Record stores such as Rochester’s Record Archive are opting to support the cause by donating money to Black Lives Matter.

“There was no specific directive suggested,” Record Archive’s co-owner Alayna Alderman says. “But donating money definitely works.”

On today, June 2, the Universal Music Group announced that it will observe what has been dubbed “Blackout Tuesday” as a “day to contemplate, connect, and organize," the company wrote Sunday on Instagram. "We stand with the black community. #TheShowMustBePaused."

This blackout directive has spread to the likes of Atlantic Records, Capitol Music Group, Columbia Records, Def Jam, Elektra Music Group, HitCo, Interscope Records, Geffen Records, A&M Records, Island Records, Pulse Music Group, Reservoir, Republic Records, Sony/ATV, Sony Music, Virgin EMI, and Warner Records. They have all pledged to cease business activity for the day.

“This is not a day off,” read a statement from Columbia Records. “Instead this is a day to reflect and figure out ways to move forward in solidarity. We continue to support the black community, our staff, artists, and peers in the music industry. Perhaps with the music off we can truly listen.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Thursday, May 21, 2020

The F Word: Record Archive still spinning

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2020 at 4:10 PM

With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area music stores and venue owners have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this final edition of The F-Word series about how such businesses are surviving, CITY music writer Frank De Blase checks in with Record Archive.

This recent pandemic has ravaged the lives and careers of countless people, both here and abroad. Rochester is resilient and undoubtedly tough, but there are still scars to admire and stories to be told. Tales of dealing with distancing, wearing masks,washing our hands seemingly a thousand times a day, and self-quarantines. Wi-Fi is the new virtual commodity. COVID-19 is rendering our lives financially, emotionally, and physically compromised. It sucks.

Record Archive has been a constant in the Rochester scene for 45 years, selling recorded music in all its forms, plus a wild display of knicks and knacks and odds and ends. Alayna Alderman has been there, flashing a gregarious grin, for 35 years of the store’s existence.

Alayna Alderman, vice president and co-owner of Record Archive, has been with the company for 35 years. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Alayna Alderman, vice president and co-owner of Record Archive, has been with the company for 35 years.

The Record Archive’s vice president and co-owner with Richard Storms, Alderman is one tough lady. A pop culture champion, a retail visionary, a mover and a shaker, and a mother of three.  And yet she was caught unaware in the wash of this terrible viral tsunami, like so many other business owners in the entertainment and hospitality trades.

Initially, Alderman felt shock, fear, and the ultimate sadness of laying off her entire staff, 19 employees in all.

“I was heartbroken, tearful and frustrated,” Alderman says. “Next came the wave of uncertainty of ‘How long will this last?’ and ‘Can we all survive it?’ And now it is the acceptance of knowing so many people have lost their lives during this, and it's not over. In addition, we are trying to reopen, rebuild and re-establish ourselves.”

The effects of the pandemic have also impacted Alderman on a personal level.

“Trying to stay positive and upbeat for my children has been a tremendous challenge,” she says. “Also, I simply miss my friends. The only upshot of this ‘pause’ is that it gives you time to think and identify what's really important.”

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Even before the pandemic, the record industry had been hit hard as of late, with changing trends in technology and the culture of shopping. But it was “never this severe,” Alderman says.

“Discount retailers devaluing music, competing with free digital music, and the ongoing issues with distribution of physical goods in the marketplace are just a few hurdles that I must clear,” she says. “But never like this. It's eerie.”

On Friday, March 13, it was still business as usual, as the RA still hosted its Happy Hour in the Backroom Lounge. Opened in 2016, this live music venue and event space in the backroom of the record store can hold 150 rockin’ souls. and offers over 100 beers and more than 50 wines, plus spiked seltzers, hard ciders and sparkling wines.

“The room was full that night, but you could feel a heaviness in the air,” says Alderman. “The buzz went from the typical lighthearted chatter of music and beer to a nervousness of ‘What the hell is going on?’ As the reports of infections and deaths continued to climb, we decided to close.” That was on Wednesday, March 17.

Alderman (pictured) says the record store has already implemented plexi shields and sanitizing stations, according to CDC safety guidelines, in anticipation of reopening. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Alderman (pictured) says the record store has already implemented plexi shields and sanitizing stations, according to CDC safety guidelines, in anticipation of reopening.

Flash-forward to today: Alderman has her eyes on the prize — an imminent re-opening — and has gone through all the necessary steps to ensure financial viability. These actions include obtaining a Payroll Protection Program loan from the federal government, engaging in brisk online selling at shop.recordarchive.com (something they have always done), and ramping up listings on third-party platforms like Ebay, Discogs, and Amazon.

Record Archive is also getting its physical store ready at 33 1/3 Rockwood Street to make sure the business is compliant with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, once it is able to open again during Phase Two of New York state’s reopening plan.

“We have already installed plexi shields at the front counters, socially distancing markers on the floors, sanitizing stations throughout the space, and all the other CDC recommendations to the best of our ability,” she says.

The Backroom Lounge will have to wait a bit longer before opening, but Alderman is anticipating opening it as part of Phase Three or Four, with what she expects to be 50-percent capacity to start. She says the lounge has bookings well into 2021.

“I wouldn't say it will be back to normal or anything like that,” Alderman says.” We will be moving forward in new ways. I am cautiously optimistic.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The F Word: Iron Smoke Distillery chases coronavirus with whiskey

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 5:05 PM

[UPDATED 5/14/20] This article has been updated to include information on the newly announced online event "Wag the Jaw with Tommy Brunett."

Tommy Brunett is a triple threat. He’s the CEO and founder of Iron Smoke Distillery, the 56-time award-winning whiskey company in Fairport. Brunett also runs the tasting room and live music venue on-site, and he’s a musician himself as frontman for the Tommy Brunett Band.
Iron Smoke Distillery's Tommy Brunett - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Iron Smoke Distillery's Tommy Brunett
Earlier in his career, Brunett played guitar with the Rochester heavy metal mavens in Immaculate Mary, the band that displaced The Who as the “Loudest Band in the World” in 1988. The guy clearly knows how to let loose, and he’s brought that vibe to his distillery.

So the whiskey was flowin’, the joint was jumpin’, and the guitars were twangin’. Everything was jake; it was Shangri-La di da. Nobody saw it coming.

Then along came the COVID-19 sneak attack, and things fell silent. Brunett was hit in all places that you don’t want to be hit. He found himself having to adjust, just like the rest of the planet.

“I was on the road when the wheels came off in early March, and left to come home early after a cancelled event in Fort Lauderdale,” he says. It hit him hard as a business owner. “It was a long, uneasy, and contemplative trip home,” he says.

On a personal level, Brunett clearly has empathy for those tasked with battling the pandemic directly. He recently gained traction with the timely and beautiful song “Angels in the Rafters” — and its accompanying video — with fellow Rochester musician Elvio Fernandes. Lyrically, the track explores the plight of first responders during the pandemic.

Brunett’s company reflects this empathy as well. Iron Smoke adapted quickly, shifting to the production of hand sanitizer and partnering with Rochester Midland Corporation to distribute approximately 15,000 gallons of the product to hospitals, first responders, and other workers on the front lines who are most at risk of contracting the virus.

“We would make it, bottle it, and they would sell it and distribute it,” he says. “When the fishermen can’t fish, they fix their nets. That’s what I’ve been telling people, to encourage them to not stop being productive and turn this into some positive.”

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As a venue owner, Brunett had been getting his legs under him. Iron Smoke was a cool joint, and more and more people were coming out before COVID-19 kicked those same legs out from under him. Brunett didn’t know what to do, until he had breakfast with Rochester radio icon Brother Wease, who offered some sage but not exactly encouraging advice.

“I had lunch with Wease in Florida the day I headed back up to the ROC,” Brunett says. “And I told him that I was a bit distracted because of the whole thing, as far as the tasting room/venue side of the business quickly turning to shit, and I was trying to figure out what to do. And he said, ‘What’s there to figure out? You’re fucked, brah. Just realize it.’

“He was right,” Brunett says. “We would all go on to be fucked for a while, and hearing him say that about the live music and bar side of things brought me a little comfort in a very strange way. Then it was on to figuring out the rest of things.”

Brunett wasn’t just concerned about his business. He worried that the livelihoods of working musicians had become collateral damage — just part of what makes COVID-19 so insidious.

“As a musician, my heart completely fell out of my chest for all of my friends and cohorts depending on income from touring,” he says. “All sides: production, artists, promoters, venues. This is a world I know and have operated in, so it was crushing to think of them and their families without the ships sailing.”

Despite the choppy waters caused by the economic downturn, Brunett says that Iron Smoke has been able to keep its staff employed, helped in part by participating in the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

Brunett also credits their weekly contributions of hand sanitizer to healthcare workers and others in need as a way to stay focused and express gratitude. “It feels good that we can make a small but sometimes significant contribution to the new rockstars out there,” he says.

Iron Smoke Distillery’s support for the community extends to bartenders and musicians who have been affected by the pandemic. On its newly created website Smoke Out COVID-19, Iron Smoke enables people to tip bartenders and musicians, who post videos of original drink recipes and songs, respectively.

Brunett is also reaching out online with a new talk show, entitled "Wag the Jaw with Tommy Brunett," which premieres live on Thursday, May 14, at 5 p.m. via YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.  Stemming from happy hours that he had been hosting on Zoom,  his show will "lifestyle, music and, booze." The first show will feature virtual visits from reality TV stars — including the Greece-based psychic Jennie Marie of the TLC program "Mama Medium" — and a musical performance from Rochester's Todd Kraszman.

Believe it or not, whiskey sales are up overall, despite the pandemic. Brunett’s whiskeys ain’t your daddy’s spirits. It’s whiskey with a hint of smoke. For aficionados, that’s two great tastes in one that came from a serendipitous, you-got-your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate moment.

“I came up with the idea in the backyard in 2011, while getting my whiskey swerve on and smoking ribs — merging two great American pastimes of tasty BBQ and traditional whiskey-making,” Brunett says. Iron Smoke, a small-batch distillery that sources its liquor exclusively with local ingredients, will have its 10th anniversary next year.

Brunett has no particular insight, no crystal ball as to when this will all be over. He’s busy. There’s whiskey and hand sanitizer to be made, patrons to be served, rock to be rolled. There’s no time for worry.

“Change happens almost minute to minute right about now,” he says. “We’ll get there, but we need to figure out how to beat the virus before ‘back to normal’ happens, and that will be a while. The hardest thing to hear from my friends in the touring community is that it may be a long haul: 18 months or more before the crowds start roaring again. God only knows.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Thursday, May 7, 2020

The F Word: There are no shows, but Alison Coté's rock 'n' roll art goes on

Posted By on Thu, May 7, 2020 at 4:59 PM

With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area musicians and the artists who help promote them have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this ongoing series of The F-Word, CITY music writer Frank De Blase finds out how various players in the local scene are staying afloat.
Alison Coté has become the go-to artist for Rochester musicians in need of show posters, album covers, and more. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Alison Coté has become the go-to artist for Rochester musicians in need of show posters, album covers, and more.
Graphic designer Alison Coté’s posters are so ubiquitous in the Rochester music scene, it seems a local show just isn’t ready for the stage until it has a slick showbill from Coté to accompany it.

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Her style is adaptable to whatever her musical clients can dream up, but Coté has a clear affinity for vintage aesthetics that range from “Live at the Apollo” to B-movie schlock ‘n’ roll. An Alison Coté poster is typically 11 by 17 inches, and will run you $100 and up. Since 2016, Coté’s been creating these works, which can be seen on lampposts and in shop and venue windows throughout the city.

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Enter COVID-19, exit the shows and the posters that promoted them. Before the scene came crashing down around our ears, the 27-year-old Coté was designing 10 to 15 posters a month for local and traveling shows.

That’s gone away, but “not entirely,” she says. “I’m still doing some work for optimistic folks who have shows planned for later this year.” Point of the Bluff Vineyards — with events planned for late summer at its location in Hammondsport near Keuka Lake — is among those hopeful clients commissioning new concert posters.

Coté stays busy, working out of her Penfield studio, the walls brightly accented with some of her art as well as that of others. The workspace, which contains only her computer and mid-century dollhouse collection, isn’t as cluttered as one might think. She used to work in physical mediums more. “It’s strictly a digital endeavor now,” she says.

Despite her obvious talent, Coté has precious little training; her time in college was abbreviated. After attending Pratt School of Design for a year and a half, she quit her formal education and began learning from her professional-artist parents, David Cowles and Laura Wilder.

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Coté’s works are highly recognizable, in large part because of the transparency of her influences. “I’m inspired by all things vintage and retro,” she says. “I especially love kitschy, playful design from the 1950s and 1960s.”

Her first concert posters were created for her husband Alex’s rock band, Dangerbyrd. Gradually, friends from other bands began asking her to create additional posters. Eventually, when demand started to get too high, Coté had to start charging, and poster design became her profession.

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A lot of Coté’s current work is coming from bands and artists who are taking advantage of being cooped up in quarantine and recording a lot more. It’s a surge of creativity. Those resulting new albums, LPs, EPs, CDs, and singles — released by the likes of Trevor Lake, Dangerbyrd, and Greg Townson — need cover artwork. For this, Coté charges between $150 and $500.

“I think Alison is great to work with because she communicates very well,” says Lake, Televisionaries’ guitarist and drummer for both Dangerbyrd and The Hi-Risers. “I’m also pretty vague with my ideas and she puts together a masterpiece from my not-so-descriptive ideas. She’s also mad cool.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The F Word: Bernunzio Uptown Music is still strumming

Posted By on Tue, May 5, 2020 at 4:36 PM

With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area music stores, in addition to club owners, have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this ongoing series of The F-Word, CITY music writer Frank De Blase finds out how such businesses are staying afloat.

John Bernunzio, owner of Bernunzio Uptown Music on East Avenue, has been an East End fixture for years, a devoted music fan and purveyor of just about anything with strings. And the man has a real affinity for hats, evidenced by the line of Stetson he sells at the store. This is the guy who, after hearing that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s banjo player had lost his instrument in the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina, gave the man a replacement when he was scheduled to play the Rochester International Jazz Festival that year.

John Bernunzio with some of his wares. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • John Bernunzio with some of his wares.
Before the pandemic, you could stroll into Bernunzio’s store and be immediately awestruck by all the six-string beauties lined up on the walls, like a fine furniture parade of vintage fiddles, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, and guitars. For now, some of these instruments may have to wait a little longer for their turn in the loving arms of the eager musicians who flock to the place.

The showroom at Bernunzio Uptown Music on East Avenue is officially closed for now, another unfortunate and hopefully temporary loss for local musicians in a long line of COVID-19 setbacks. But that’s not to say Bernunzio has completely shut down the operations. The business is still filling orders for instruments by mail, as it has for 40 years, and has begun curbside pick-up and delivery in keeping with physical distancing guidelines. Bernunzio is also selling instruments on consignment.

With the physical store shut down, a lot has changed in a short amount of time. But Bernunzio says it sometimes feels like the old days.

“We still sell a banjo or ukulele now and then,” he says. “The interesting thing is people are making a lot of music at home. They’re doing things from home and so they have some time to play. The downside of the whole thing is that our customers are musicians and their income is seriously curtailed.”

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Ultimately, Bernunzio is unclear about when he will be able to open the store again. He does seem to think that there will be irreversible differences in how we consume and communicate through music, even after the pandemic subsides.

“I think smaller venues will be important,” he says. “I can’t see people flocking to giant events, at least for another year, if at all. I think the whole thing is giving us an inward perspective on what is important. Musically, I think everyone has agreed to the importance of it in our lives but how it gets delivered could be drastically changed.”

He adds: “The idea of quarantine and the idea of buying local kind of go hand-in-hand.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Friday, May 1, 2020

The F Word: Sound engineers are suffering

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2020 at 1:53 PM

ILLUSTRATION BY JACOB WALSH
  • ILLUSTRATION BY JACOB WALSH
With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area sound engineers, in addition to club owners, have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this ongoing series of The F-Word, CITY music writer Frank De Blase finds out how businesses that rely on a regular live audience are staying afloat.

When COVID-19 struck, the infrastructure of the live music scene in Rochester collapsed like dominoes. Sure, there were the musicians caught in the avalanche, as were the venues that counted on those musicians to attract thirsty patrons. But there is a third group that has become a casualty in the absence of live performances: the engineers who run the venues’ sound systems.

One of those engineers is John Vassallo, who owns Spice of Life Productions in Hilton. “As far as surviving,” he says, “I am keeping the wolves at bay for as long as I can until money starts rolling in again. I unfortunately can’t get another job.”

Vassallo’s family is also being directly affected by his lack of work. He is the primary caretaker of his 87-year-old father, who needs daily care. On top of that, he plays the role of school teacher during the week for his 6- and 8-year-old children.

He does have a small amount of money from his dad’s pension coming in, but it typically runs out by the middle of each month. That’s when he counts on sound company dough to provide for food and meds for his dad. But currently, that’s not happening.

“The most difficult thing to deal with is the uncertainty,” Vassallo says. “We have had 35 to 40 events, that are a yearly thing, completely eradicated from our coffers. How do you bounce back from that?”

Unfortunately, income that Spice of Life Productions regularly took in from large-scale summer events such as Corn Hill Arts Festival, Spencerport Canal Days, and Park Avenue Summer Art Festival has disappeared for this year as well.

“On top of that,” Vassallo says. “We have lost all of the corporate work that was scheduled. Most of these events have been in my hands for 15 to 22 years. As of right now, I am looking at an 80 to 85 percent loss of total annual income for the company.”

In turn, he worries about his inability to pay his employees, and the possibility that it may be difficult to retain them and keep Spice of Life Productions on the right professional track for the next several years.

Despite having applied for aid through seven different programs, Vassallo says the federal government has been little help so far, and that he doesn’t have high expectations about outside aid coming in.

But that doesn’t mean Spice of Life is standing still in the face of the pandemic. In order to stay viable, Vassallo is shifting his focus toward the various rental items the company offers.

“I am pushing our tents, tables, and chairs for this summer, hoping that the backyard parties are going to happen,” Vassallo says. “I am banking on small groups that are going to want to be together rather than large crowds.”

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Another sound engineer whose work schedule has been decimated by the pandemic is Nick Marinaccio, whose job as the lead LED video wall technician at the Batavia-based Audio Images Sound & Lighting Inc. has been furloughed until the event cancellations subside.

Marinaccio was already planning a busy spring with Audio Images, including several bookings for spring festivals at colleges, when the hammer fell. Other prominent gigs for the company that have been postponed or canceled include the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, the Fairport Music Festival, and George Eastman Museum’s Garden Vibes concert series. Additionally, Marinaccio says he will miss his regular side gigs for Dragonfly Tavern and Public House during the Park Avenue Summer Art Festival.

Despite the sudden downturn in events, Marinaccio is hopeful in the short term that Audio Images will see a demand for rental services, which don’t necessarily involve rock ‘n’ roll or require a PA.

That said, Marinaccio thinks it’s possible that an eventual resumption of concerts and events may be cut short if the virus’s impact ramps up, and another shutdown of public gatherings is required.

“My coworkers and I know the event industry will never be the same,” he says. “We are expecting a slow ramp up to ‘normal’ by summer/fall 2021.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Friday, April 24, 2020

The F Word: Montage Music Hall gets a much-needed push

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2020 at 8:17 AM

With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area club owners have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this ongoing series of The F-Word, CITY music writer Frank De Blase finds out how businesses that rely on a regular live audience are staying afloat.

Rochester metal fans are a fiercely loyal lot. And though Montage Music Hall, located downtown at 50 Chestnut Street, brings in bands from all genres, it’s predominantly a metal club. Montage’s talent buyer and headbanger-in-chief, Randy Peck, has been bringing classic, speed, and death metal music to town for 15 years.

Montage Music Hall's Randy Peck (left) with guitarist Neil Giraldo - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Montage Music Hall's Randy Peck (left) with guitarist Neil Giraldo
But the treacherous speed bump that is the coronavirus pandemic has halted all shows and slowed things down in a hurry. Like other local venue owners, Peck sought out the government aid provided through the Payroll Protection Program. Peck says he applied immediately, but that Montage’s application was unsuccessful.

“Unfortunately, we have not heard back,” Peck says. “And as of now, those assets have now run dry. There is talk of there being another round.” So at this point, it’s a waiting game.

But Montage is getting black-leather love from all over Rochester’s metal kingdom. Peck has been knocked out by the community’s response.

“I have to say, the fans of the Montage Music Hall have been amazing,” he says. “The outpouring of support has been overwhelming.”

Peck contemplated launching a fundraising campaign, but was reluctant to start one until the feedback from fans on social media made him reconsider. He has since created a GoFundMe campaign that raised  more than $3,800 of its $25,000 goal in the first week.

“This support made it an easy decision not to sit and wait for things to happen, but rather be proactive,” Peck says. In return for donations, he says supporters will receive tickets to future Montage Music Hall events.

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Still, many unanswered questions loom for Peck and Montage. How will the bills be paid without concerts generating revenue? When the club reopens, the timing of which is completely unclear, will there be occupancy limits or other restrictions in place? What safety measures will be needed to keep concertgoers protected from the virus?

Peck says that physical distancing guidelines have forced him to cancel Montage shows until at least July 1, even if the state lifts its restrictions on businesses by June 1.

Despite the bleak situation, Peck is encouraged.

“Rochester has always been a rock city, a metal city, a live music city, and these fans have always been so loyal to the music they love,” he says. “They have been so loyal to us. It has really given me the added push to fight through this.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The F Word: A matter of wait-and-see for Anthology

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 3:01 PM

With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area club owners have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this ongoing series of The F-Word, CITY music writer Frank De Blase finds out how businesses that rely on a regular live audience are staying afloat.

COVID-19 and its fallout have left a trail of tears in its wake, financially hobbling musicians and venue owners of both big and small clubs. Phil Fitzsimmons, the owner and operator of Anthology (which has a capacity of just under 1,000), has had to shut things down like all the rest.
Hollywood Undead performs at Anthology. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Hollywood Undead performs at Anthology.
But Fitzsimmons is somewhat optimistic. He sees a glimmer, a twinkle, a spark of hope.

“We are keeping a positive outlook,” he says. “And we are continuing to book shows for the distant future.” He acknowledges this is a medical crisis currently, not just a financial one. And it’s a moving target.

“The most difficult thing has been coming to grips with the constantly changing information flow around coronavirus and its effects,” he says. “It is difficult to book makeup dates when the understanding is that the virus is constantly in flux.”

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So Fitzsimmons cautiously looks to the future, planning for different scheduling contingencies based on when community health guidelines might again allow for public performances. Currently, there are some concerts tentatively planned for late summer, with the number gradually increasing in the fall and winter, and a full slate of shows for 2021.

Most of them are “holds,” as bands and management take a wait-and-see approach to rolling out small to medium tours.” Fitzsimmons is keeping the faith. He isn’t too worried.

“I don't think we can go back to normal,” he says. “But I do believe an informed public can make good decisions regarding best practices and social events.”


Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The F Word: Filling up the Lovin' Cup

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2020 at 11:21 AM

With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area club owners have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this ongoing series of The F Word, CITY music writer Frank De Blase finds out how businesses that rely on a regular live audience are staying afloat.

Lovin’ Cup is everything you want in a venue. It’s a coffeehouse that comes off like a restaurant. It’s a restaurant that comes off like a live music joint. And it’s run by a knowledgeable staff to make sure it’s all those things.

Lovin' Cup's Leslie Ward - PHOTO BY JULIA HART
  • PHOTO BY JULIA HART
  • Lovin' Cup's Leslie Ward
Leslie Ward, co-owner and director of concept and business development for Lovin’ Cup — located at 300 Park Point Drive — was torn over what to do when the inevitable effects of the coronavirus pandemic set in.

“It was a highly emotional business decision to close down,” Ward says. “Having to lay people off, short-term — those phone calls were so emotional, I cried after all of them. But in the end it was safer for everyone for us to close down for about a month.”

In the meantime, Ward continues to employ an abbreviated staff, whose work includes catering services for essential workers. Beginning next week, Lovin’ Cup will also offer a takeout menu featuring family-style items, available a few nights each week, according to safety guidelines.

And though Ward says the financial strain has heightened her stress and contributed an uncertainty to issues such as a timetable for resuming concert performances, Ward is taking a hopeful, one-step-at-a-time approach.

She said Lovin’ Cup was fortunate enough to be approved for the federal Small Business Administration’s Payment Protection Program, or PPP. “I don't think we could have survived for long without it,” Ward says. “Maybe a month or two, but this is a savior for us.”

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Ward is keenly aware of how the pandemic is affecting other local businesses in her industry. When the state ordered restaurants, bars, and breweries to close their doors and limit operations to takeout only, Ward and Geoff Dale of Three Heads Brewing organized a meeting so that the owners of such establishments could meet and share their concerns, discuss ways to band together, and relay pressing questions to the state Comptroller’s Office.

“I saw a lot of fear in that room, even some tears,” Ward says. “This uncertainty is gnawing away at all of us, but I am certain that our ROC community is so incredibly strong. I take a lot of comfort in the fact that I know we are not in this alone, and that our community is so rad. We will come out of this thing.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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Friday, April 17, 2020

The F Word: Keeping Three Heads above water

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2020 at 12:52 PM

With an unpredictable future looming precariously before them, Rochester-area club owners have been caught in a kind of COVID-19 limbo. In this ongoing series of The F-Word, Frank De Blase finds out how businesses that rely on a regular live audience are staying afloat.

Three Heads Brewing's Geoff Dale - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Three Heads Brewing's Geoff Dale
It’s hard to keep smiling during this pandemic, but you can see the corners of Three Heads Brewing concert organizer Geoff Dale’s mouth curl up into a grin when he talks about the things he loves: beer and the Rochester music scene. And he’s taken a hit in both categories.

Three Heads is still functioning, but at a reduced capacity. Less beer is being brewed — about half the batches produced pre-COVID-19 — and the stage is silent. The tasting room at 186 Atlantic Avenue is open only for "to go" sales of growlers and cans. Last week, the brewery began making its wares available via GrubHub.

Dale says it’s difficult to see friends struggling and being unable to help. “The worst thing about this situation is all the unknowns,” he wonders aloud. “When will we be open again? When can we bring our staff back? When can we do shows? It is just a weird holding pattern and I have no answers for our crew and friends.” He adds that Three Heads Brewing has furloughed 19 of its 28 employees.

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But Dale says the brewery was never at risk of closing the doors for good because the state government has deemed it an “essential” business. “The real concern was how to manage the money we need to pay for rent and taxes while taking in significantly less money,” he says. Three Heads Brewing did get some much appreciated aid from the federal government.

Despite the severe financial belt-tightening, he does have an answer when asked what he plans on doing when the pandemic loosens its grip and people come back out. “I think we will get back to normal,” he says. “It will take time. But there will be music on our stage, and I'll be in the front row holding my beer in the air, singing along.”

Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at frank@rochester-citynews.com.
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