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Event Designer Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: ‘Are There Going to Be the Dance Police?’

The furloughed executive lead creative + experience at live events company Forefront Networks is most worried about Austin’s independent venues while he looks for solutions to restarting concerts under new safety guidelines.  When the concert business shut down in mid-March, Bobby Garza abruptly shifted from putting on live events to tearing them down — his…

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Event Designer Bobby Garza in Austin, in a Pandemic: ‘Are There Going to Be the Dance Police?’

The furloughed executive lead creative + experience at live events company Forefront Networks is most worried about Austin’s independent venues while he looks for solutions to restarting concerts under new safety guidelines. 

When the concert business shut down in mid-March, Bobby Garza abruptly shifted from putting on live events to tearing them down — his company, Austin-based Forefront Networks, had to cancel the California food-and-music festival Yountville Live later that month, and massive productions like December’s Trail of Lights in Austin are in question, too. In early April, his life changed even more dramatically: Forefront furloughed 30% of its staff, including him.
As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Garza, a 43-year-old Forefront creative team leader who used to be general manager of festival producer Transmission Events, each week to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read last week’s installments here and see the full series here.)

You’ve spent your time in quarantine talking to people in the concert business, with Music Cities Together and other groups. How would you describe your colleagues’ moods these days?
It runs the gamut. How do you maintain some level of revenue by pivoting into new spaces? That’s a scary thing to do. It feels even more terrible if you’re trying to pivot into something that you’ve never done, on a really compressed timeline, with no anticipation about some potential revenue. On the other end of the spectrum is friends involved in the gig economy and contract work, who work festivals during festival season and bartend in between. Those are the folks having the hardest time getting assistance and they need the assistance the most.
When you talk to people in the concert gig economy, what is the sentiment? Are they hopeful, scared, devastated?
All of those things. Hope’s probably near the bottom. “What the hell do I do?” If you spend most of your day on hold or getting hung up on by some unemployment agency, what time do you have to actually go look for a job?
How many Austin clubs survive the pandemic? Will there be a Stubb’s Bar-B-Q? Will there be an Emo’s?
The two that you mentioned are part of the C3 [promoter] family. So they may have better safety measures in place than some other folks. But if you think about Mohawk or Barracuda or Hotel Vegas, they may not have the corporate backstop or cushion. In other cities, some of these larger music companies are taking control of medium- and large-sized venues, and maybe those are OK. What’s really at risk is “mom and pop or old punk-rocker wanted to create a venue that probably does not have a cash reserve.” Some of those will go away. We’ve seen a bunch of Austin iconic businesses that are already closing. Austin is one of those cities that is almost violently entrepreneurial: If you’re an Austin business, you’re an independent business. I worry about those the most. They provide the most cultural value, but they’re probably the most at risk.

If and when everything goes back to “normal,” what has to happen for music clubs to recover most efficiently?
It’s folly to believe we’re going to flip a switch and everybody’s going to go back to doing business the way they were. That’s Pollyanna and a little bit dangerous. What will make that feel less like a long trudge up a big, steep hill is if we can figure out what impediments venues, musicians and event companies actually face. In Austin, a constant source of frustration is the length of permitting times, your ability to block off parking spaces — fundamental block-and-tackling things that take time, which equates to money. Stuff like “how do we provide property-tax relief?”
Can concerts reopen to some degree already, with social-distancing and masks and so on?
I was reading something about Nashville: You can open at 75% capacity, but you can’t have a dance floor. I was like, “Cool. What does that mean?” There’s geometry at stake here and I don’t know if anyone provides guidance for that. Are there going to be the dance police? If a crowd rushes a stage because they’re so excited, are you going to pull the plug and turn the lights back on and say, “Everybody needs to back up!” You can create policy that makes sense on paper, but the practical application for the live-music industry has not been talked about. That’s the stuff that’s going to slow everything down.
And that’s what you’re working on now?
Yeah. I’ve gone through the process of even drawing stuff out, just for myself, because I’m a visual thinker. What does it look like if you have to keep pods of people six feet apart from other pods of people? How much space does that take up? What happens with your walking lanes? How do you ensure people are maintaining the proper distance and not doing what everybody does at festivals, which is pack as close to the front of a stage as possible?

How else are you passing the time in quarantine?
We converted our back patio into a little martial-arts Zoom studio. We’ve had two months of virtual classes. I’m about to get my second belt in quarantine, which is hilarious. Working on hitting and kicking things is a good stress relief. My oldest son is second-degree black belt at 13, and my youngest is 9 and he’s working on his black belt. You have to demonstrate kicking, punching and holds, but you have to be of good character. Part of their requirements are to practice random acts of kindness — we’ve had these conversations about “how do you do that when there’s no one around?” As much bleak shit as there is out in the world right now, taking the time to be a little present in the moment about the positive stuff is super-important.

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Art & Culture

Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring ‘Turntables’ Video

YouTube “We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.” That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic…

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Janelle Monáe Leads The Revolution In Stirring ‘Turntables’ Video

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“We are in the middle of a revolution right? What’s a revolution without a song and a song without a revolution.”
That’s the question the Grammy-winning artist Janelle Monáe posed to Entertainment Weekly when describing her latest single, “Turntables.” The song was released on and flips between cleverly rapped lines about “liberation, elevation, education” and a harmonic refrain with clear gospel influences. It’s Monáe’s take on a contemporary protest song, a call for a political sea change, in the vein of, say, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”
Courtesy of Atlantic RecordsAnd on Tuesday (September), Monáe released a moving music video — or, as she calls it, an emotion picture — that solidified that message. The visual opens and closes with the singer walking along the beach in a beige trench coat and military cap. At times, she can be seen singing into a retro microphone before an American flag; in others, she moves through staged breakfast scenes, with a family reading through newspaper headlines as they mouth her lyrics. The visual flashes through archival and contemporary footage depicting inspirational figures past and present: Where one scene shows the model and activist Jillian Mercado at a photo shoot, another depicts a conversation with lifelong activist Angela Davis.
What rings true without is a hopeful cry for change and for equality, and a recognition of those who have been leading that fight for decades. Monáe wrote “Turntables” for the new Amazon Studios documentary, All In: The Fight for Democracy, that shines a light on voter suppression, particularly through the lens of Stacey Abrams’s failed bid for the Georgia governorship. “Right now, I am focused on turning the election in our favor,” Monáe told Entertainment Weekly, “and I hope this song can inspire those who are on the ground doing the work.”

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Joe Keery’s Reinvention, Mxmtoon’s Carly Rae Jepsen Collab, And More Songs We Love

Getty Images/April Blum The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new? Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by…

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Joe Keery’s Reinvention, Mxmtoon’s Carly Rae Jepsen Collab, And More Songs We Love

Getty Images/April Blum

The search for the ever-elusive “bop” is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new?
Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. This weekly collection doesn’t discriminate by genre and can include anything — it’s a snapshot of what’s on our minds and what sounds good. We’ll keep it fresh with the latest music, but expect a few oldies (but goodies) every once in a while, too. Get ready: The Bop Shop is now open for business.

St. Vincent ft. Yoshiki: “New York”

St. Vincent, the intuitive musical goddess that she is, must have sensed our collective need for another quarantine ballad. Enter “New York [Feat. Yoshiki],” a classical arrangement of the standout single from 2017’s Masseduction. An added string section courtesy of Yoshiki, a Japanese multi-instrumentalist, beautifully complements the song’s original piano instrumentals. What more can I say? “New York isn’t New York / Without you, love” just hits different in the middle of a pandemic. —Sam Manzella

Djo: “Keep Your Head Up”

Last year, Joe Keery (of Stranger Things fame) released a glossy solo album under the moniker Djo. It was titled Twenty Twenty, and its sparkling arrangements ended up being quite far removed from the overall vibe of 2020 the year, but who could fault him for his optimism? Keery has also long been a contributing member of Chicago psych band Post Animal, but Djo is simply Joe — and latest “Keep Your Head Up” feels like several Joes ripping open a vortex in the funk-time continuum. This is a groove, peppered with buzzy synths and icy falsetto and an honest-to-god sax part. It’s akin to Todd Terje doing Tame Impala, a lightheaded cocktail rush that feels both clubby and bedroom ambitious. Positively galactic. —Patrick Hosken

Mxmtoon ft. Carly Rae Jepsen: “OK On Your Own”

When Mxmtoon’s Maia said she recorded “OK On Your Own” for the girls and the gays, she wasn’t kidding. The mellow bedroom-pop bop soundtracks a journey of self-reflection after a breakup, complete with the soft ukulele instrumentals that put the 19-year-old singer-songwriter on the map. Is it revelatory? No, but with pop icon Carly Rae Jepsen lending her sugary-sweet vocals to the second verse, it doesn’t have to be. Now I’m just waiting for “Party for Two.” —Sam Manzella

Video Age: “Aerostar”

Pleasure Line, the third album from emerging indie pop quartet Video Age, delivers perfectly escapist ’80s new wave vibes for when you need to get outta 2020 for just a moment. “Aerostar” is its punchy center, a hip-twisting, shoulder-shuffling groove that delivers quirky robot dance commands (“Slide to the left, now! Shimmy to the right!”) over hoppin’ funk synths and a kickin’ drum machine. It all harkens to a simpler time, one where dance floors were actually a real thing. Oh, the ’80s! —Terron Moore

Ruel: “As Long As You Care”

About a year ago, Australian middle-part heartthrob Ruel told MTV News that for him, “songwriting is exaggerating to an extent.” On his latest, the technicolor, soulful “As Long As You Care,” his exaggeration is so seamless, you’d be forgiven for believing the 17-year-old is actually a time traveler. The neo-soul groove he rides propels everything upward, even as the sound cheekily looks backward. “As Long As You Care” has one amazing hook, coupled with sonic candy that makes his upcoming third EP, Bright Lights, Red Eyes (out October 23) one to watch. —Patrick Hosken

Alycia Bella ft. Boogie: “Cue the Sun”

Something magical happens two-and-a-half minutes into “Cue the Sun,” the exploratory new collab between striking R&B voice Alycia Bella and rapper Boogie. After piping in the aural equivalent of stage smoke via jazzy piano and gorgeous vocalizations — “It feel like being lost in the right direction” — Bella’s song enters a more sparkly realm for Boogie’s recitations. By the end, you’re lighter, like your mind’s been cleared of all the cobwebs. Cue the sun. —Patrick Hosken

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Who Are You Most Excited to See Perform at the 2020 ACM Awards? Vote!

The 55th Academy of Country Music Awards will welcome back Taylor Swift and present a new collaboration from the evening’s host Keith Urban and P!nk on Wednesday, Sept. 16. But which one of the highly anticipated performances are you counting down the hours to? Nine-time ACM Award winner Swift, whose latest studio album Folklore has topped the Billboard 200 for six…

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Who Are You Most Excited to See Perform at the 2020 ACM Awards? Vote!

The 55th Academy of Country Music Awards will welcome back Taylor Swift and present a new collaboration from the evening’s host Keith Urban and P!nk on Wednesday, Sept. 16. But which one of the highly anticipated performances are you counting down the hours to?
Nine-time ACM Award winner Swift, whose latest studio album Folklore has topped the Billboard 200 for six weeks, will come back for the first time in seven years to perform the country-leaning fan-favorite track “Betty.” Meanwhile, 15-time ACM Award winner Urban and Pink will come together for the world television premiere of their brand new collaboration “One Too Many,” which is from the country star’s forthcoming album, The Speed of Now, Part 1.

Billboard broke the news Monday (Sept. 14) that all five nominees for entertainer of the year — Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett — will take the stage to perform a medley of their greatest hits. Additionally, ACM’s freshly crowned new male and female artist of the year winners Riley Green and Tenille Townes, respectively, will also perform.

For the first time in the awards show’s history, the ACMs will be broadcast live from Nashville, with socially distanced performances from the Grand Ole Opry House, the historic Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe.
The 55th ACM Awards will air live Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. ET (delayed for the West Coast) on CBS and CBS All Access. (The event is produced by dick clark productions, which shares a parent company with Billboard.)
So which of the performances can’t you wait to see? Vote below!

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