Live Music Is About to Get Its Grand Reopening
When the stage lights rose before the show on March 14, 2020, at Saint Vitus, a cramped New York City heavy metal bar, the venue felt a little more on edge than normal. In its near decade of shows, dance parties, and drinking, the intimate, dimly lit bar and concert venue, a former plumbing school located in the “ass-end” of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, had become an internationally respected nexus for all things heavy metal. That Saturday night, a noise-rock supergroup called Human Impact would give the last concert before the venue officially announced a shutdown on the 17th. The message to the club’s fans for existence in the new pandemic wilderness: “Practice good social distancing — you can throw up the horns and shout HAILS at each other from a safe 6 feet away.”
“The arc of these things, you simply didn’t know what was going to happen,” recalls David Castillo, the venue’s co-owner and music booker and a musician himself. “You knew it [Covid-19] was going to result in a huge impact on nightlife, restaurants, pretty much everything you could call ‘the gathering industry.’”
Many were among the first to close, and their cramped, body-packed design makes them a significant transmission risk and likely to be among the last businesses to figure out how to safely reopen.
More than a year later, Saint Vitus, like thousands of other music clubs across the country, has become a “time capsule,” Castillo says, with untouched posters from last spring still hanging on the wall. The bar is barely alive but is one of the lucky ones, Castillo says. In the midst of a year when concert venues were pretty much silent, Saint Vitus cobbled together pivot after pivot — livestreaming interviews and shows, selling merch, and relying on the goodwill it had built from local bands and loyal customers. A two-month Kickstarter campaign that launched last April earned the venue $125,000, nearly 10 times its goal, helping it stay afloat.
With so many small clubs struggling, Saint Vitus still has a chance. But Castillo says when he thinks about the year of empty stages and bands on…