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The day the music died

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COVID-19 has live music on a low note

By Tom Marino

On any given night, winter or summer, Big Sky establishments offered a wide variety of live music. From solo crooners playing favorite covers to original alternative bands like Dammit Lauren and the Well; from up top to down the canyon, it was easy to find live music.

That all changed March 15, 2020 when Big Sky Resort announced it was closing and the county soon followed by closing all bars and restaurants. While some establishments have started to offer a smattering of live music, it’s currently far from the good old days.

EBS sat down with Brian Stumpf from Dammit Lauren and the Well to get a sense on what it’s like to be a working musician in these unprecedented times.

Tom Marino: Between your gigs with the band and your various solo and duo dates, how many gigs were you playing a year before COVID-19?

Brian Stumpf: In the winter with ski season, I’m playing at least five times a week. In the summer, the last couple of years, three or four times a week at least. That was my career, it’s all over now. (laughs)

T.M.: How are the streaming gigs going? It’s a relatively new way to perform in our digital world. What are the pros and cons?

B.S.: It was so cool in April then it got nice out. People were super generous [but] it’s not the same. I think YouTube livestream stuff I have been seeing is not as popular as it once was. … It has lost its luster a little bit. People want to go to a real show now.

T.M.: As the primary booking agent for the band, what kind of feedback are you getting from managers and owners who book live music?

B.S.: No one knows. We got the Pine Creek [Lodge] gig because we had been working on a run through Red Lodge. It was mellow. That was the first week of July. That was when things were still calm. We ended up getting cancelled at Snow Creek [in Red Lodge] as we were packing up the gear because they had to have seated people and they didn’t want to do that. Everything changes every week as far as what you’re allowed to do. We were supposed to be in Whitefish tonight and Sandpoint tomorrow. The Sandpoint gig said we can only pay you half and the Whitefish people said people really can’t dance. So we shut it down.

T.M.: It sounds like you guys have been busy writing new material. How many new songs have you written since March and what have you been inspired by in these times?

B.S.: The focus right now for the band is to write. I think we have six new songs. Four of those have been written in lock down. We need to get another five or six tunes and go into the studio. Really it’s nice not to be distracted by gigs in that sense. The way that we do it is I usually put chords together and I record it on my phone on the couch and send it to Lauren and she puts melody and lyrics to it. Then we bring it to the group and start messing with that and the four of us get together and try to add to it and get it dialed.

T.M.: What is your favorite chorus in the new batch of songs?

B.S.: Lauren wanted to call this tune “Electric Restlessness.” And I thought that was too much of a tongue twister to have as a chorus. Somehow she made it sound super cool and perfect for the chorus.

T.M.: I recently played a gig and folks were telling me how good it was to hear live music again. Do you see the live music scene coming back stronger than ever post COVID-19?

B.S.: I mean I have no idea when. One thing I have kind of noticed is [live music] does mean a lot to people. People tend to slash the entertainment budget first. And that may well still be the case but I think for those that are willing to invest in it, as they get the go ahead, people will show up. As an expert in aprés ski culture, it behooves the local establishments to continue to have live music for our valued guests and visitors.

T.M.: What do you know about the new music venue being built in Town Center?

B.S.: [That] should ensure that live music continues to be a part of the nightlife experience in Big Sky, maybe even take it to the next level. I’m pretty sure it will be open by the ski season and hold about 300 people or so. The stage and sound system will be top notch and will help our local acts get some more experience as well as invite national touring acts to our town. We have some great stages in this town, and I’ve loved working with these different venues over the years, but as the town has gotten busier, these establishments have had to focus more on f-and-b, understandably.

T.M.: How many days did you ski last winter?

B.S.: I’m going to plead the fifth on that one. I have a reputation to uphold. (laughs)

Tom Marino is an IT specialist and musician. He has been singing songs all around Big Sky since 2005.

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