Venues booked quickly, local musicians rejoice
After more than a year of silent Friday and Saturday nights, live music performances have come raging back to the valley, and it’s possible no one is happier about that than the musicians themselves.
“It definitely is a missing piece for me especially. It’s my tunes and the big creative outlet for me,” said Solomon Woras, of local band Danville. “I think a lot of people felt that missing piece.”
Washington officially brought its phased reopening program to a close on June 30, ending the exile from the stage that musicians experienced since March 2020. Since the beginning of July, several venues in the valley have hosted multiple performances a week. Bands are clamoring for gigs, and audiences are ready to rock.
“We’re clawing and grabbing for anything we can get,” said Stephen Kish, of The Full Uplift.
Washington’s official reopening on June 30 led the way for regular or indoor performances without social distancing, but musicians did find venues in the past few months. Once the weather warmed up, TwispWorks’ pavilion became a popular venue for outdoor, socially distanced concerts and dramatic performances, including the Liberty Bell High School Drama Company’s presentation of “The Laramie Project” in May.
Methow Arts had a particularly creative way to enforce social distancing at an outdoor event. On June 26, they hosted a boat-in concert with the help of Sun Mountain Lodge on Patterson Lake. Dozens of people paddled across the lake from the boat launch to the Patterson Lake Cabins — amid a historic heat wave — to watch the Bitterroot Beets perform on the shore.
“I’ve never had such effusive and energetic feedback after events as I’ve had this year,” said Jacob Young, co-owner and general manager of Old Schoolhouse Brewery. “It’s an overwhelming sense of gratitude and happiness I’ve heard from people.”
Biding their time
Not every band or solo musician dealt with the pandemic the same way. Some found ways to limit their social circle and keep practicing, either outside or wearing masks. Others cut out gathering in groups all together.
“It was very tentative. I think everyone experienced the pandemic somewhat differently,” Kish said. “We were pretty much, from my end of the camp, locked down. … We all had our own filter for what we feel comfortable doing.”
Kish kept playing on his own — working on some solo projects, but also sending digital files back and forth with fellow musicians to create digital collaborations from a distance. He said he knew some bands, local and otherwise, who got together for regular livestream performances.
“We played masked up,” said John Almquist, who plays with The Apostles.
Members of the band jammed during a Methow Valley Citizens Council members meeting earlier this month.
“We played together as much as we could during COVID,” said bandmate Paul Gitchos. “It just feels good to be playing music again.”
Danville practiced outdoors under a carport as long as the weather held out in 2020, but in the winter had to take a break — there just wasn’t any way to practice safely, Woras said. Woras said he knew a musician who went the extra mile to make a safe practice space, using plexiglass sheets and an air filtration system.
Most area musicians perform as a hobby or a side-gig at most, but Kish makes his living getting people together.
“That’s my business, event sound and I rent PA equipment,” he said. “Every finger that I have or hand in a pot was severed.”
The Full Uplift’s last show before the pandemic was at one of the Methow’s last major events — Cascadia Music’s Musicians of the Methow showcase in March 2020.
“We had 14 months off,” Kish said. “We didn’t see each other. We kind of sent digital files back and forth.”
Their first show after COVID was particularly meaningful for the band, Kish said. They played at the memorial for a longtime friend of the band — Joe Sprauer.
“It was emotional, we all were affected,” Kish said. “We did the set that Joe always would have loved. … It was a little bit sluggish at first, kind of the transition of remembrance and kind of inward thinking. … And then, about two songs in it was just everyone was dancing and letting loose.”
Turn it up to 11
Then, after months with nothing, live music came roaring back all at once. This month Methow Valley venues have at least two or three bands or solo acts booked every Friday or Saturday night alone. Many are locals, but some are regional acts finally able to tour again.
“As the restrictions lifted, but lifted in a manner that was … faster than we imagined it would be, it was kind of this tsunami,” Kish said. “The dam broke.”
In fact, Kish said there are more bands looking to play than gigs or venues, or audiences for that matter.
Last weekend alone there were at least three shows each Friday and Saturday night in Twisp and Winthrop.
Methow Valley Ciderhouse has live music every Friday and Saturday night starting at 6 p.m., Old Schoolhouse Brewery is partnering with TwispWorks to bring bands to the pavilion, and the Twisp River Tap House, formerly Twisp River Pub, has reopened with live music twice a week as well.
Kish is again taking on the music manager job at Old Schoolhouse Brewery and its taproom at TwispWorks, and looking forward to things getting a little closer to normal.
He said it hasn’t been determined yet if the regular open mic nights will resume right away, but the summer is booked solid on Friday and Saturday nights at the pavilion in partnership with TwispWorks.
“We do plan on booking some shows in addition to that,” Young said. The taproom also has a radio transmitter hooked up to the pavilion speakers, so people eating inside can hear the music too.
The future of bands at the OSB brewpub in Winthrop is less certain.
“We have such a small indoor space, first of all, and our outdoor space, we’re a restaurant and brewpub and when we have music it takes up tables. “Young said. “We want to keep supporting musicians but the taproom is definitely better suited for a music venue.”
Richard Wasson, co-owner of Methow Valley Ciderhouse, said they’ve had a huge response to their frequent performances.
“We had three bands … for the Fourth of July holiday,” he said. “We’ve had good crowds and good appreciation, some dancing and very much interested in hearing some music outside.”
The Ciderhouse plans to continue its regular open mics and music on Friday and Saturday evenings. A more detailed schedule hasn’t been posted yet on their website.
For some, group activities have come back uncomfortably fast. Others are just happy to feel like life is getting back to normal.
“Everybody’s just chomping at the bit. I heard next weekend there’s like three different music things going on,” Woras said earlier this month. “Just in a small community it spreads things really thin, but it’s really cool too.”
Danville had its first public performance since COVID restrictions on July 4 at TwispWorks. It was a good show, but Woras said but the band is at their best in a bar where the atmosphere is “hot, sweaty and close.” Live music fans know what he means.
“I think it’ll be just a little bit before you don’t have that little anxiety about it,” he said.
He’s certainly not the only one feeling nervous about close contact. Okanogan County Public Health announced this week that the Delta variant of COVID-19 — known for being particularly contagious — has been detected for the first time in the county.
“Yes, we’re always concerned as [COVID rates] ramp up in other parts of the country and we’re even seeing the Delta take over in certain parts of the country and even Washington,” said Lauri Jones, Okanogan County community health director. “We’re hopeful it won’t be an issue but we’re hanging in there trying to prepare.”
The upshot, Jones said, is that it’s easier for contact tracers to track COVID cases tied to an event. “This isn’t going away any time soon, absolutely,” Jones said. “Our focus is kind of trying to get vaccinations in arms and I think as we get closer to our vaccination goals, then it will become less of an issue.”
Upcoming shows in the Methow Valley
• Gregg Hardy & Co. at Twisp River Tap House — 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 23.
• The Full Uplift at Twisp River Tap House — 9 p.m. Saturday, July 24.
• Salmon Bay Duo at the TwispWorks Pavillion, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, July 30.
• Danville at Twisp River Tap House — 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 30.
• The Bitterroot Beets at the TwispWorks Pavillion — 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, July 31.
• Vera Loves Vinyl at Twisp River Tap House — 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6.
• The Marcus Duke and George Schneider Duo at TwispWorks Pavillion — 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7
• The Methow Valley Ciderhouse has live music scheduled at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturdays.