Break Time Is Over: For Artists, Pandemic Shutdown Is ‘Absolutely Crushing’
Chase Rice's thoughts on his time away from the road represent the opinions of so many country artists in 2020. After grinding for years at a time, the break has been nice, sure — but financially, it’s "absolutely crushing," he says.
The "Lonely If You Are" singer admits he's thrived, personally, during this time of isolation. Had things gone as planned, he'd have come off a winter European tour and almost immediately begun his spring tour. Others are more anxious.
"This is the longest I've been not on the road or not doing something," Michael Ray says, admitting his mental health is at about a "4" on a 1-10 scale. "Yeah, it's starting to get to me."
"I think we were the first to get hard and we’ll be the last to recover, next to cruise ships."
Rice is less congenial. He's actively planning alternate ways he can sustain 16 full-time paychecks in the coming months, or even (it's possible) years. The obvious choice is to get back to work, and as the shutdown continues, more and more artists are changing their position from one of "safety first" to one of "let me play."
“It doesn’t matter how big and famous — somebody like Luke Bryan, he still has 150 or so employees," Craig Campbell says. "Even though Luke is fine, I’m sure it’s weighing heavy on his brain.”
Talking to the L.A. Times, Kenny Chesney described the math of the shutdown as "overwhelming." He is going to be able to keep his full team of 120 full-timers on staff for this year and maybe next, but not forever. Every well has a bottom, but in that interview and an interview with Taste of Country, Chesney expressed optimism that he'll play live show this year.
"I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I did a wedding in Florida at the beginning of March," Chesney told the Times. "And I don’t play weddings. But it was worth it."
A day after that was published, he announced that his entire 2020 tour had been postponed until 2021. But boo-hoo, right? Who cares about a bunch of rich celebrities whining about money?
Try thinking of them as small business owners instead. For Rice, 2020 wasn't going to be tremendously profitable because he was set to open for headliners as the featured act, not headliner. A first-time arena headliner in 2020, he says, might be missing out on tens of millions of dollars — money they'd banked on at the beginning of the fiscal year for marketing, bolstered staff and production.
Then the coronavirus came and cut everyone down at the knees.
"I’ve used what I had set aside for this situation. It’s definitely time to get back."
Since March, we've asked more than a dozen artists about their personal and financial well-being. The messages have grown more urgent.
Talking to PopCulture, Tracy Lawrence conceded that it's unlikely the largest venues will host concerts again in 2020, but made clear he's ready to go. Even Reba McEntire who one would assume is financially secure for a lifetime and who never rocks the health and safety boat — hinted that it's time to get back at it.
"Let's get back to doing what we love so much, living life," she said in a text message video to fans. "I hope you've had a great rest."
Below, find messages from many other artists — the majority fall somewhere between wanting to return to the stage and needing to return to the stage. For now, it will have to be a digital or drive-in stage. Colt Ford and Craig Campbell are stepping out with a trio of drive-in shows this month, and Alan Jackson has two of his own planned. At least one of those artists tells ToC that the rainy day fund is gone. It's not difficult to imagine others needing to lay off staff, as Zac Brown indicated he did at the start of the pandemic.
Clay Walker — "Since I have multiple sclerosis, my risk of mortality with this is double what a normal person’s is. So it’s definitely got my attention. Especially after Joe Diffie dying and seeing John Prine ... I really regret the fact that we’re seeing people politicize this. It’s the last thing that we need."
Trace Adkins — “I’d like to get back to work, doing what I love to do, working with my guys. Sure I’d like to do that. I’m not stir crazy, I’m staying busy doing other things but yeah I’d like to get back to work, sure."
Craig Morgan — "I'm nervous for people in our business. I think there's gonna be a lot of people, a lot of artists, a lot of musicians, publishers, even labels to some degree, that won't survive this."
Chris Young — "My dog's happy."
Chase Rice — “In six months, I’d say, they gotta let us go play. In my opinion — you gotta keep people safe and all that — I mean, f--k this. They gotta let us go play and the people that are healthy can decide if they want to come or not. That’s what the American constitution is all about is us having the choice."
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Jordan Davis — “We have been running so wide open that a break was very well received at first. Definitely didn’t think it was going to last this long, but it has been awesome to spend time with the wife and kiddo.”
Walker Hayes — “I will never forget this time with my kids, ever. When they’re like 50 they’re gonna be like telling their kids and their grandkids, they’re gonna be like ‘Hey, there was this one time where my dad was home for like three months.’ They’re never going to forget this."
Michael Ray — "I started about a 10, but I’m definitely not a — I’m a homebody to an extent and then, yeah …"
Craig Campbell — “We’ve been OK. We’ve done alright. We’ve had enough to keep us afloat for a little while but now, I mean I’m starting to see that’s not going to work for much longer. I’ve used what I had set aside for this situation. It’s definitely time to get back.”
Sara Evans — "I think that the goal should be — and this is just my opinion — obviously to get back on the road as soon as possible. Not to take away the seriousness of anyone who’s been ill but at the same time there has to be a balance. So, my opinion is that if you’re a vulnerable person then protect yourself by all means and at all costs but the rest of the population who maybe isn’t vulnerable health-wise and definitely need to get back to work and need to make money, then I’m all for it. I want to get going as soon as possible and I think about not just my band and crew, but the venues that we play and the people that work at the venues, just all of it."
Morgan — “I think we were the first to get hard and we’ll be the last to recover, next to cruise ships.”
Davis — “I miss my guys, man, I haven’t seen my bass player and my drummer since golly, late February? Early March? We’ve been on the road the last three years so they’re almost more like family.”
Rice — "I’m going to go play. I’m not going to sit back and do nothing because at the end of the day, financially I can’t do that. I need to go play. It’s not even about me at this point. It’s about trying to put together some money here to try to pay my guys."
These Country Artists Have Been Affected by Coronavirus: