A labor of love
Survival of the fittest is a relative concept in Summit County; especially when it comes to surviving as a local band.”I don’t think you could really play in a band to survive without doing something else on the side,” said Ryan Blizzard, former member of Solomon’s Lane. “We always just played for fun.”Live music has thrived in Summit County in years past, but local bar owners and band members have found that the demand for live music is declining at a swift rate.Members of local band “The Burn” find it almost impossible to make ends meet by solely playing local gigs. The Burn band members all have full-time day jobs doing everything from setting up alarm systems to operating cranes.”We run the gamut during the week but on the weekends we’re ‘The Burn’ and it’s great,” vocalist and guitarist Peter King said.The Burn was voted the best local band in Summit County in the Summit Daily News, “Best of the Summit,” 2002. It’s also a favorite of John Greco, owner of Upstairs at Jonny G’s in Frisco, but he has found it challenging to draw crowds for live music.
“Local bands were very well received when we first opened three years ago. We would rotate six local bands over a six-week period,” Greco said.Greco used to frequently book live music gigs, but he found that people weren’t really involved; they were playing pool and darts, and not really paying attention. Greco recently decided to have DJs every Friday and Saturday night, which has been much more lucrative.”Jonny G’s generally appeals to a younger crowd, and they want to dance to hip-hop music and try to hook up,” Greco said. “Live music just doesn’t draw the crowds or make enough money,” Greco said.Jim Shields, owner and general manager of the Snake River Saloon, has watched the migration pattern of Summit County bands for the past 30 years.”They usually get on a good run for a while, for a season or two, and somebody always moves away. It’s not a very lucrative thing,” Shields said. “They do it because they love it. They love the opportunity and being on the stage.”There’s just a constant turnover of bands,” he said.
On the contrary, both Bryan Farmer of Rhythm Pig and Scott Staten of Blue Monkey find it challenging but possible to modestly get by playing tunes as a full-time gig. Members of Rhythm Pig hope to make bar gigs a permanent way of life, and Blue Monkey has been a part of the Summit scene for over ten years.”The toughest thing is to try and get a bar gig that will pay a decent amount,” Staten said. “Most bar owners won’t even pay $500 for a five-man band, and we just can’t spend five or six hours in a bar and then go home at two in the morning with $100 a piece; it doesn’t work.”Staten credits his success to playing with numerous projects five or six nights a week. Staten moved here from Santa Barbara, Calif. about 10 years ago to make a living playing the guitar.”If you play as a musician in Santa Barbara, you live out of your car. Since I’ve moved here, I’ve been pretty lucky. A lot of people helped me out in the beginning, but I definitely had to prove myself,” Staten said.Staten started Blue Monkey, which plays classic surf tunes, Santana material and swing blues. He also plays in the Swing Crew, which has been around for over 25 years as an aprés ski act, as well as Troublesome Creek, which is an acoustic bluegrass band.In the off-season, Staten does pick up work such as landscaping or construction.
“That’s the beauty of living up here as a musician. When things go flat, there are other things to do. Employers know you’ll do the work, and then you’ll be gone,” Staten said.Staten feels the recent problem with bands finding work is due to the fact that there’s not enough room in any local venues. There aren’t many bars that can hold more than 100 people, which makes it difficult for bar owners to make a substantial amount in cover charges, which is used to pay the band.Solomon’s Lane used to be a local band, but the members recently went their separate ways to pursue other careers and higher education. The successful local band Rhythm Pig features a few previous members of Solomon’s Lane, including Farmer.”We really just played for fun when we were in Solomon’s Lane, it was never a serious thing,” said Farmer.Farmer is confident Rhythm Pig has the potential to become a serious band, and he hopes he’ll soon be able to survive solely off of what he makes playing music.”We used to play in Seattle, and we didn’t make a lot of money there. But here, I think it’s definitely possible to make a modest amount,” Farmer said.
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