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Wisconsin music industry continues to struggle during pandemic

Wisconsin music industry continues to battle pandemic
Posted at 10:57 PM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 23:57:18-05

APPLETON, (NBC26) -- With thousands of canceled festivals, events and live performances, the Wisconsin music industry continues to battle the effects of the pandemic.

Matthew Suits Anderson, the lead singer and keyboard player with Wisconsin-based band Apollo's Beacon, said he's been a career musician for most of his life.

“I got into music around age six. My parents got me into piano lessons and the Green Bay Boy's Choir around 10." Anderson said. "Music has always been a big part of my life."

Anderson travels around the Midwest with Apollo's Beacon, an alternative rock group.

“We use to pull around 100 shows a year. We’ve lost about two-thirds of those shows," Anderson said.

Some of the canceled events included spring, summer and fall music festivals.

Anderson said they've been able to play at a handful of musical clubs that remain open, but are mostly restricted to places within Wisconsin due to pandemic restrictions in surrounding states.

Live performances account for a large chunk of the band's income. Anderson said the musicians aren't the only ones struggling right now.

“There's cameramen, there's lighting crew, there's semi-drivers, there's sound production and stage crew. It takes a lot of hands to make something like that happen, and nobody is getting the support out there for the loss that we’ve had over this time," Anderson said.

We Make Events, a national coalition of live-event industry workers, reported 95 percent of live events were canceled due to the pandemic.

Organizers with Save Our Stages estimate that 77 percent of live-event workers have lost 100 percent of their income during the pandemic.

The lack of live performances hits home for the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, which typically averages about 450 events every year. Shows include bands, comedians, cultural performances showcasing local art groups and education programs. The P.A.C. also host community events and family gatherings.

“Our last public performance was actually March 12. We have not been able to reopen to the public since," said Maria Van Laanen, president of the P.A.C.

Although times are tough, the Center continues to engage the community virtually.

Staff transformed the Center State High School Musical Theater Program, which offers opportunities for high school students in northeast Wisconsin to learn from professionals, into a fully virtual experience. Van Laanen said the program has a record number of 24 high schools participating this year.

“Those are the types of missions moments we’re most proud of and thrilled that we can still deliver those," Van Laanen said.

The P.A.C. has also been able to host some virtual performances throughout the pandemic and other educational programs.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the country, Anderson and Van Laanen are joining major music organizations in asking Congress for more COVID-19 relief.

“We need to make sure that we are talking to our elected representatives about the importance of passing more funding to help our community members who find themselves out of work right now," Van Laanen said.

And to support local art.

“We really have to come together on a local scale to make local flourish first, so that we can have a strong comeback post-pandemic," Anderson said.