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'Everything we do, they're telling us not to do': Coronavirus impact on Charleston entertainers

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Dave Britt of Ashes of Old Ways won't be playing for the time being. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Social distancing is endangering an industry that relies on bringing people together. 

As an ordinance that bans groups of 50 or more and closes all dine-in services across the state was put in place, artists who depend on public events and, often, food-and-beverage jobs to stay afloat suddenly were put in a precarious position that's already causing hardship.  

Many are filing for unemployment, but that money will only be a fraction of what they typically earn each week. 

Some local tour managers have seen their gigs canceled for the next three months, and have no other source of income to mitigate the damage. Musicians are turning to livestreaming and asking for donations to help them get through the crisis. Many artists are scrambling to find alternative ways to pay their rent and buy food. 

Rollin Jay Moore, a local comedian who primarily makes his living from cruise ship comedy shows, got the bad news that his busiest season was being postponed this week. An email informed him that he would effectively miss out on $12,000 he was expecting from upcoming gigs. He has three kids to support. 

"With all this social distancing, staying six feet away from each other and now limiting crowds over 10 — when you work in the entertainment field, that’s everything we do they’re telling us not to do. We work with crowds, we draw crowds," Moore said. 

What helps a little is knowing that all his comedy buddies are going through the same thing. But still, he has a mortgage payment and mouths to feed. 

"Once you’re a dad, then it changes the whole ball game," Moore said. "I'm just taking it day to day, minute to minute, looking in the fridge and seeing I have enough to get by for a little while. My biggest fear is the fear of the unknown." 

Another local dad feeling concerned and confused right now is Justin Osborne, lead singer of Charleston band Susto. He just had to cancel his tour through May, with no idea how he will make a living in the meantime. Luckily, his wife is a teacher, and he's planning on being a stay-at-home dad for the time being.

He's also looking into crowdsourcing a new album and performing for fans online in a way that can be monetized. He's still in the brainstorming stage, he said. 

Some artists have begun to develop a plan. 

Mia Naome, a Charleston-based tour manager and photographer, had all her gigs for the next two months canceled, including a photo assignment to shoot the High Water Festival.

She's been working on an online print shop as a way to generate new income and plans to split her concert photo sales 50-50 with featured artists. 

"I know everyone in music is struggling right now, so I want to be able to help my friends pay their bills and also, hopefully, be able to pay mine," Naome said. 

Another local tour manager and booking agent, Taylor Flynn, was expecting to head out to premier music festivals SXSW and Coachella for the first time this spring. Both have been canceled or postponed — along with the tour dates she's spent months planning. Any future bookings also are on hold, with venues and artists uncertain even about the summer at this point. 

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"I’m trying to not be upset, because I know it’s all for the best, but it’s pretty weird when everything you do just stops and your opportunities are all gone," Flynn said. 

Unlike most of his peers, Johnathan Trull of Charleston band Crab Claw had purchased supplementary unemployment insurance before the threat of the coronavirus had become known. He said it costs about $30 a month in addition to his other insurance coverage, and it covers 40 percent of his income. He'll still be able to file for additional funds from unemployment benefits. 

He worked at Bangkok Lounge, the seven-day-a-week karaoke bar on King Street, that is now shuttered temporarily. 

“I don’t know anyone else who pays as much for insurance as I do," Trull said. "I guess it was finally worth it." 

Most artists are not that lucky, especially those who have lost jobs in both music and food and bev. 

Riley Randall, who plays in local reggae band See Water and works at The Alley, says things are okay for now but will become rough if businesses remain closed for an extended period of time. 

"If we aren’t allowed to open back up for more than a couple of weeks, I don’t know how I am going to bounce back from that," Randall said. "My two primary sources of income rely on crowds."

He's accepting donations via CashApp for song request videos and looking into live streaming. 

Matt Varner of Charleston band Community Pool also lost two sources of income: band gigs and a job at an event production company called Innovative Event Services. When he filed for unemployment benefits Wednesday afternoon, the website was down and phone lines were clogged. He gave up for the day. 

Varner said he's concerned about what's likely to be a rough and lengthy recovery period.

"I’m more scared about the financial burden on me than I am of the virus itself," he said. 

Dave Britt of Folly Beach band Ashes of Old Ways, shared the sentiment. 

"I wonder at what point the quarantine becomes more destructive than the virus," he pondered. 

Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.

Kalyn Oyer is a Charleston native who covers arts and entertainment for The Post and Courier's Thursday edition, Charleston Scene. She used to write about music for the Charleston City Paper and Scene SC.

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