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Tower Theatre's Chad Whitehead On When Concerts Could Return to Oklahoma


Chad Whitehead is the operating partner for Tower Theatre, and for like many in the music business, the past year has caused heavily reduced revenue and numerous layoffs for his business. But for 2021, Chad gives a possible timeline for when live indoor concerts could truly return to Oklahoma.

This is No Cover, a production of KOSU and Oklahoma State University and hosted by Matthew Viriyapah. 

Hear Chad talk about what it has been like running a concert venue, the Save Our Stages act, and what could prevent tours from stopping in Oklahoma.

If every headline an agent or a manager reads about Oklahoma City or Oklahoma is bad news about COVID, they're just going to skip the market.

On running a concert venue during a pandemic

We had to let go a lot of really good gig employees, people who just work the shows, bartenders, techs, and stuff like that. We had to do that pretty immediately in March. And we thought at the time in good faith, 'hopefully this will be just a few months and we'll get back to it.

I think all of us had a pretty naive hope that we be able to duck this thing. But then as the summer went on, we spent a lot of energy trying to figure out how to open just as a COVID model... My partner, Stephen and the rest of the team put in an incredible amount of work trying to think through all those logistics.

Ultimately, how do we just exist 'til this is over?

We took out 200 seats out in the balcony, physically removed them out of the building just to make more space for less people.

For Tower Theatre, our revenue were down 90% from what they were the year before. So no business can really exist on 10% of their regular expected revenue... We had a crew of around 40 and I'd say at this point it's under 15.

It was really tough ending 2020 not knowing where we were gonna go in 2021... That the Save Our Stages relief package has been passed was a huge positive note to end the year on, because it let all of the venues in America kind of  breathe a sigh of relief...

And that's where Tower is at right now. We're waiting to apply for the Save Our Stages program.

On when concerts could return in 2021

I don't think you're going to see a lot this year, until after Labor Day. I don't think anybody is gonna do a ton of stuff before then indoors. I think everybody's looking for outdoor options for the summertime...

But I think regular tours are looking at the fall right now and they're kind of not messing with anything between now and then. Because a tour has to have a nice run of cities that are all in the clear... But it's going to be a while. 

We're all going to be sitting around waiting for concerts for another eight months I think.

Everybody is real hopeful though. There's a lot of hope in the industry that by fall we can really be after it and try to get back to normal.

And then, it really becomes a race of 'can the state of Oklahoma hit the timeline that everyone else is hitting and not gum it up?' Because if we can't get our act together as a state— if every headline an agent or a manager reads about Oklahoma City or Oklahoma is bad news about COVID, they're just going to skip the market. They're gonna skip the state.

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