For a musician, a stage is comfortable. It’s a place to use their talents to bring joy to those who will listen.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it also provides a barrier just far enough away from any potential looming threats of the virus as they entertain a crowd thirsty for live music that has been missing for nearly three months.
Live music is gradually returning to bars and restaurants, as LedFoot traveled from Sioux Falls to play at The Back 40 Taphouse Grill’s Bike Night on Thursday for its first gig since March 8. Meanwhile, Fargo-based Rustic the Band made its first live appearance since March 6 at The Ammo Box’s grand opening on Saturday in Ethan.
“A lot of us have family members that are elderly or have severe illness, where if they caught (COVID-19), they would probably die,” said Rachel Wilson, lead singer for LedFoot. “So, we wanted to be extra cautious. … We needed to refresh, because after you (don’t play) for a couple months, you lose your skill.”
When bars and restaurants began to shut down, both bands also took a hiatus from practicing in hopes of limiting chances of contracting or spreading the virus. Wilson said that LedFoot communicated through Zoom and attempted to practice individually, but it was not quite the same as being together.
For Rustic the Band, they had an online performance on April 23 with Livewire Entertainment, a Fargo company that puts on concerts and theatrical performances. Still, they did not decide to return to practice together until recently as calls come in for bars reopening.
Once they began to practice together again, they became more comfortable with the idea of playing in public, especially with precautions put in place.
“As a band, we’re automatically social-distanced from the crowd,” said Scott Anderson, manager and guitar player for Rustic the Band. “We won’t be intermingling and everything like that like we normally would. In talking about it, that’s how we view it. We are comfortable with being around each other and we social distance when we get together. I think that’s the key in keeping it under control.”
One of the big draws for the bands was the opportunity to play a show in a venue with an outdoor stage. Playing in a cramped bar with patrons an arm’s length away is still an uncomfortable prospect at the moment for Anderson, who is joined in the band with his son and daughter-in-law, as well as Parkston native Lee McCaskey.
“The fact that it’s outside is a big deal,” Anderson said. “I’m a little uncomfortable for those people. You never know how packed together they’ll be or how many people are going to be there. The fact that it’s outside in the open air was really important in (taking the gig).”
The Back 40 stage was set away from the crowd, while owner Keke Leiferman opted to cap the number of entrants at 150 -- despite the capacity of the outdoor seating area being 375 -- in order to keep patrons safe.
The Ammo Box also attached a stage to the back of the building, while also placing an adequate distance apart tables and providing sanitizer around the venue in an attempt to balance safety and the need to make a profit.
“We’ve taken a lot of extra precautions,” said Sam Beeson, owner of The Ammo Box. “We made sure things were as far away as they could get, we have hand sanitizer everywhere, cleaning stations -- you name it. We took every precaution we could. … You can’t stop everything, but you can do the best you can.”
LedFoot has dates lined up late in the fall in enclosed venues, in hopes that time will allow the spread of the virus to decrease in order to play without worry of potentially getting infected.
“There were a few (places) we questioned because it was a very small, enclosed space,” Wilson said. “We felt it would be a little easier to come hang out with us and enjoy the night in the outdoor venues. … As long as the numbers keep going down, we’re hoping bands can come back.”