Musicians, owners open up about challenges in staying afloat
KENOSHA ⏤ Imagine, if you will, the struggle of watching as 50% to 100% of your monthly income vanishes in an instant at a few words’ utterance.
Not because of your choices as a musician or business owner, but because of an unprecedented event that overwhelmed not only the local city and nation, but also the world.
That is the challenging situation Kenosha creatives found themselves in when the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard in March 2020.
On March 16, 2020, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all bars and restaurants to close. This effectively canceled all shows Kenosha musicians had booked in the neighboring state just down the road. That original ban set the limit for March 30; however, it lasted longer in response to the evolution of the pandemic.
Not long after, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers followed suit, later limiting in-person crowds to no more than 10.
Since that time, local creatives have either had to take a step back or had to struggle to find new and creative ways to continue to perform or do their work and earn a living.
The Observer asked the music community to share their experiences during that struggle and how they’ve had to adapt during the time of COVID-19.
Here are their responses.
Jess the Ska Kid
Jessi Martin is a fairly well-known personality in Kenosha.
Prior to the pandemic, Martin hosted a weekly “Sunday Night Live” showcase of local artists at Union Park Tavern, and regularly had live performances of local bands on her streaming show.
While the pandemic shifted the scope of Martin’s efforts, done with partner Cif Moreno, the show already was in a unique position to continue on without much of a struggle, she explained.
“We here at Jess The Ska Kid were prepared as we had already been accommodating those who couldn’t physically come on the show with phone interviews and then sharing their music or having them pre-record a video to share,” Martin said. “When COVID and lockdowns took effect, we moved all our guests to that platform. Our crew changed from seven to just two of us.”
Bands were also able to serve as co-hosts of the show via events on Facebook where those bands streamed live.
“We will always continue to be innovative and come up with ways to continue to share music and art with others,” Martin said. “Our gig on Sunday nights at Union Park Tavern has been on hiatus as most of those we work with aren’t from here; however, we hope to come back as soon as we can!”
While Martin as a local creative had the option of going fully virtual, owners of brick-and-mortar venues could not change course as easily.
For Aimee Crucianelli, who now operates Kenosha Fusion with her husband Danny Crucianelli, the pandemic has been a devastating struggle to overcome.
“To say it’s been a challenge seems like an understatement,” Aimee Crucianelli said. “Kenosha Fusion was once a place for live music every weekend, and now we struggle to find musicians that will not only play during a pandemic, but also abide by our mask/distancing/capacity guidelines.
“Patrons are not much easier to come by for the same reason,” she added. “This makes compensation difficult as well.”
The business has also weathered two exposures to the COVID-19 virus.
“Safety is our top priority, but sadly, it has been to our detriment,” she said. “We have started streaming events to adapt, but sadly, people do not contribute financially when watching online.”
However, the business does currently open its doors for events throughout the week, with safety guidelines in place and enforced.
“We currently open Friday through Monday, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m,” Crucianelli said. “We have live music when possible. Monday night is always open jam (see event for COVID cautious details). When we are unable to find musicians to play we utilize our projector and screen to stream music documentaries or concert live streams.
“We have also made ourselves available for private social distancing parties for those who only want to be around family and very close friends.”
Would You Kindly?
Like Crucianelli, Gina Marie, a founding member of the local band Would You Kindly?, expressed in her comments that “it has definitely been challenging.”
“We tried to transition to live streams, but it didn’t work the way we wanted it to,” she said. “So we decided to focus on an album. We have been in the studio as much as we can to try and get something to release this summer.
“Even that has its challenges though, there are, of course, possible exposures so we take weeks off to make sure everyone is safe. And then of course a member of the band got COVID at work and was down for about 8 weeks.”
Since then, the band has been focusing on staying safe and making new music, avoiding the struggle of public performance entirely for now.
“It’s exciting to see shows happening again and open mics starting back up, and I personally can’t wait to get back out there,” she said. “But we are holding off for a while still. Only a couple shows set up for this year.
“We miss everyone in the music scene and I hope everyone is making it through these tough times.”
Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers
Perhaps, the hardest time dealing with a pandemic is when it comes right after a big break.
There seemed to be no Kenoshan more famous than Betsy Ade in recent years.
Ade wowed national and local audiences with her talents on NBC’s “The Voice” in 2019.
Her band, Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers, packed Lincoln Park in Kenosha following her stint on the show. That performance, taking place on a warm summer day in July 2019, happened as part of the local “Lincoln Park Live” music series.
However, then COVID-19 hit in March 2020, and like everyone else, Ade and the band had to deal with an ever-evolving new landscape.
“It has been so demoralizing, frustrating, scary and a financial burden,” said the band’s tour manager Victor Cera. “Coming off of Betsy Ade’s success from ‘The Voice’, the band had so much momentum and some very big shows in 2020 that were all canceled. From Summerfest, 4th Fest in Stevens Point, Pridefest, to a tour over in Scotland just to name a few.”
He added that the band, like others, turned to streaming shows. However, as the pandemic worsened, “the band stopped doing anything all together,” Cera said.
“Not to mention almost everyone in the band either contracted (COVID-19) or had come into contact with someone, so it was a lot of staying confined and away from each other,” he said. “Now that 2021 is here, there still is still so much uncertainty. We have been asked back to Scotland and 4th Fest but it all depends on the virus,”
Pridefest has already been canceled for this year as well, and Cera expects further cancellations to come.
“I am sympathetic to all musicians,” Cera said, “but especially to the wonderful local talent in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee who cannot perform and make a few bucks just to pay for equipment, sound guys, studio and recording time.”