The Mishawaka Amphitheatre (The Mish) was the first venue in Colorado to host a ticketed performance mid-June. The Mish is a legendary 1,000-people (on a non-pandemic year) outdoor venue, reinvented by Dani Grant and her husband Matt Hoeven in 2010. But it was established in 1916 by musician turned motorcycle explorer/entrepreneur Walter S. Thompson. The Mish obstacles were more significant than just the public health catastrophe and all the industry changes. The Mish also faced a natural disaster, Colorado’s largest wildfire on record, The Cameron Peak Fire. The Mishawaka books some of the most renowned touring artists on the planet and boasts to be one of Colorado’s most iconic independent venues.
Faced with adversity, they were fluid and produced a summer full of safe, live music.
Will Reutemann, venue operations and production manager at Mishawaka Amphitheatre, just wrapped up the summer season.“We’ve been very fortunate to have the ability to host outdoor socially-distant events and concerts at the Mishawaka this summer. Leading up to this event, we hosted roughly 35 shows – which is typically just around what we host during a standard season,” Will said.
The Mishawaka was not immune, just resilient.
With that resilience, they found the strength to give back with the power of music. The Mishawaka hosted Gratitude – A Benefit for the Poudre and Rist Canyon Volunteer Firefighters: Presented by WinterWonderGrass and the Mish and raised over $18,000 for the Poudre & Rist Canyon Volunteer Departments. “This money helps them replenish funds that were stretched thin during this long and strenuous fire season,” Will says. “For example, these departments used six months’ worth of fuel budget in two months, and these departments were forced to invest in more equipment, chainsaws and wildland gear throughout the past few months.”
Musicians and artists from WinterWondergrass performed live, with honor. “A few of the artists who performed were directly impacted by the (Colorado wildfires) fires this season. So for them to have an opportunity to give back and play a show for this cause (Colorado wildfires) was special for them, and it was fun to watch,” says Will.
The Mish is in the Poudre Canyon on Colo. 14, about 10 miles northwest of Fort Collins. In summers past, shuttle buses of large, enthusiastic crowds sustainably to-and-from the outdoor venue for a night nestled beneath the stars, under the mountains, with Colorado’s only nationally designated “Wild & Scenic” River roaring as a backdrop for the stage. Seeing their favorite act perform in this most intimate and rare performance is an unforgettable experience.
The only thing that is different in 2020 is, well, everything—the crowds. The canyon playground’s stimulating pulse is suddenly just a hiss, and the entire music ecosystem is at a virtual standstill. How people see live music is still unknown and how bands travel to play is a case-by-case scenario if and when possible.
In April 2020, Pollstar reported nearly $9 billion in industry losses because of coronavirus cancellations. In June 2020, Americans for the Arts released its most recent impact findings, saying that 62 percent of American artists (across all disciplines) are now unemployed. In Colorado, an estimated $2,430 million cumulative losses for the creative industries from April to July 2020, according to LOST ART: MEASURING COVID-19’S DEVASTATING IMPACT ON AMERICA’S CREATIVE ECONOMY.
The Mishawaka was safe and managed an exhaustive list of preventative measures in preparation for summer. “Everything from new protocols for patrons, staff and artists. All of our standard operating procedures had to be reviewed and viewed through this new lens. It was challenging,” says Will. “On the patron side, we had to implement new check-in procedures, staggered time entries to avoid long forming lines. For artists, implementing new cleaning procedures, both on-stage and in the greenroom. For staff, it went well beyond the standard county health protocols.”
Will says, “The biggest challenges were managing expectations and educating everyone (patrons, artists, staff) on new policies and procedures. Simple things we took for granted before were now different. Everything from being able to help an artist with their equipment to a patron walking up to a bar to order a beer – those actions aren’t allowed during these times. So developing communication and helping to create clear guidelines for all parties involved was a challenge.”
Will says, “The biggest obstacle was putting together our initial COVID safety and health measures in place. The Mishawaka was the first venue in Colorado to host a ticketed performance during this COVID era back in the middle of June. There weren’t a lot of resources out there about how to operate and run shows safely, so we had to piece together best practices from the limited guidelines we had and then adjust as we moved forward.”
Owner Dani Grant is one of the founding members of REVS (Reopen Every Venue Safely) – an initiative that provides resources, strategies, protocols, and action plans to help reopen venues safely across the country. REVS website states, “2020 has made clear our collective obligation to reimagine the fundamental structures of our music communities. Answers to the questions facing our respective communities today must be tailored and customized for individual cities based on their current and aspirational realities.”
“The future is unclear, but I know we’ll continue to deliver live music in some shape or form as we have for over 100 years, Will says. “The Mish has overcome fires, floods, and now pandemic. We most likely won’t be back to full capacity events next season, so we’re looking at starting the season early in the spring and pushing it later into the fall as we did this year.”