Tyler Ontiveros: “I’m so relieved that there's some sense of normalcy again. Even though there are restrictions, we have a little light at the end of the tunnel.” Credit: Steve Young

(Updated on Feb. 11 with information on the county advisory)

The pandemic has raged on for nearly a year—and musicians have struggled to live in a world where live music has been prohibited.

However, with the easing of the stay-at-home order by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Jan. 25 came the first limited OK for live performances in California since March of last year.

“Limited” is the key word. Rules vary from county to county; in Los Angeles, for example, live performances are still forbidden. In Riverside County (and in most of the rest of the state), live performances are only allowed at outdoor restaurants. According to a Feb. 11 advisory from Gregory P. Priamos, Riverside County’s County Counsel, performers “must maintain physical distancing from spectators and other performers. Performers who are singing, shouting, playing a wind instrument or engaging in similar activities without a face covering must maintain at least 12 feet of distance from spectators.”

Still, the news of live music being allowed again came as great news to performers.

“Well, it’s about fucking time,” said Derek Jordan Gregg, a solo singer/songwriter and the leader of three-piece band the Hive Minds. “I don’t think it was very well thought out—having music not be a part of it (before). It seems like it was just kind of overlooked. You start to realize just how important it is for people to hear music.”

Gregg has performed at Wildest restaurant in Palm Desert the last two weekends.

“I can feel a difference between a couple of years ago and this year. People are about ready to bawl because of a song I play,” Gregg said. “People need this. It’s one of the world’s oldest professions, and it’s insane just how much people really need this to feel content.”

He said local musicians can’t wait to return to local stages, even with the restrictions.

“I think there are going to be a lot of musicians willing to play for very little money, because we’re so hungry to play,” Gregg said. “I can’t wait to get onstage with my boys. I can’t wait to jam with some new boys, and the pay is kind of the last thing on my mind right now—which is not great for a gigging economy. But we gotta play. I’m about ready to pay $20 to play The Hood.”

Tyler Ontiveros is another seasoned veteran of the music scene. His time is spent between rock groups Mega Sun, Waxy and Order of the Wolf.

“I’m so relieved that there’s some sense of normalcy again,” Ontiveros said. “Even though there are restrictions, we have a little light at the end of the tunnel. Waxy had already performed at Dale’s Records on Dec. 30 as a rebellious act. It was a private, invite-only show, but we still were safe and wore masks and stuff like that. Rock ’n’ roll being rock ’n’ roll, and rebellious in nature, we kind of just said ’fuck it’ and played the show anyways. It was very intimate. There were maybe 10 people there, max. … It was a little glimpse of what it was like to get back to playing live shows, and now everybody else is on the same page.”

Up in the high desert, Landers Brew has been hosting outdoor, distanced shows for a while now, despite the state’s prohibition. Waxy will be returning there for a show on Saturday, Feb. 13.

“We have a debut of a new project that’s going to be playing after Waxy, and then another special guest performing prior to Waxy, so it’ll be three acts in total,” said Ontiveros. “We should be able to draw a decent amount of people. It’s outside, and it’ll be under the desert sky, so it should be nice. I think we might draw a decent amount even though it’s in the middle of nowhere, since everybody’s been missing live music. I’m sure they’d be willing to make the drive for some good entertainment.”

While musicians may be champing at the bit to perform again, many venue managers are exercising caution. Brad Guth, owner of The Hood Bar and Pizza, told us that for now, the much-loved venue would only feature comedy and bingo. At the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. in Thousand Palms, taproom manager Wesley Gainey said music would not return to the venue until “toward the end of the month.”

“We’re going to take a slow walk into it,” Gainey said. “At this point, I’m compiling a list of the performers who want to perform. … We want to make sure that we do everything as safely as possible, and within regulation. We want to make sure we have all of our t’s crossed and i’s dotted before we full on get it going again.

“We did build our new beer garden outdoor patio area with the idea of having small performances back there. We do have the room for it, but we want to make sure that everything is fleshed out pretty well.”

People are about ready to bawl because of a song I play. People need this. It’s one of the world’s oldest professions, and it’s insane just how much people really need this to feel content.” derek jordan gregg, on performing live music again

Gainey said sanitizing and spacing will be important when live music returns to CVB.

“If we’re doing a showcase, or we’re having four acoustic performances in a row, we’ve just got to make sure that we’re really cleaning everything in between performances,” said Gainey “That’s a big one—making sure the microphones are cleaned. We did that before, but we just want to make sure microphones, mic stands and anything else that’s handled is getting disinfected between every single use.”

Gainey said he and his team will feature only solo acoustic performers for now.

“A full band is going to take up too much space,” Gainey said. “We already had a series of acoustic Sundays, and we were getting into doing an acoustic night every month and a Spanish-language acoustic night every month. Pre-pandemic, we were doing four nights of live entertainment. We’re going to slow-roll back in with just one night a week, and kind of feel it out and see how that goes. We also just want to be more mindful of the space we’re using, because it’s so limited.”

Gainey, a musician himself, called the return of live music “huge.”

“Not just as far as doing it for work, but doing it as a part of the music community—having a place where I could organize, get people together safely and try to feel like the world is somewhat normal, even when it’s not, and trying to get that feeling back of how things were, because it’s just been rough,” Gainey said. “We’re 11 months into this. … A big driving force of me wanting to do it is not just business-wise, but also getting the community back together and having each other’s backs.”

Mychal Renteria, the brewery taproom manager at La Quinta Brewing Co., said he’s going to keep things simple regarding the return of live music to the brewery’s Palm Desert location.

“What I’m trying to do is just limit crowd interaction,” said Renteria. “We’ve got our patio set up, and then inside of our warehouse, we have a door that faces the patio—a big garage door. I’ll have the musicians be in the garage door playing out toward the patio. That eliminates people from being up close and personal with the musicians.”

Renteria is also limiting the quantity of performers.

“I’m trying to do a duo—maybe a trio, max—but I’m not trying to get full bands, or a full rock concert going,” Renteria said. “A lot of it also has to do with the energy. The last thing I want is this rockin’ band to come up, and everybody’s sitting down because they have to. That kind of ruins the whole energy vibe—where if you’re having a couple of beers, and you’ve got an acoustic guy, the energy is going to be toned down already by the music that’s being played.”

Renteria is aware that restrictions have come and gone throughout the pandemic, and is keeping this in mind when scheduling performances.

“I’m not booking out bands three months in advance the way I normally do,” he said. “I’m taking it one month at a time, and we’ll go from there. This could end tomorrow in terms of reopening, or it could end tomorrow in terms of having to shut down. I have no idea anymore.”

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Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...