Each time that Stevens Blanchard has the opportunity to book a gig for his band, The Conniption Fits , he does a delicate mental tally. How many people will be at the gig? Will they be wearing masks and social distancing? How soon is the mortgage due?
“It’s a cost-benefit analysis,” said Blanchard, who handles vocals and guitar for the Lebanon-based band. “Are we going to get coronavirus by doing what we have to do, or are we going to get away with this one?If someone were to come down with coronavirus it would be a very bad decision.”
Although all three members of The Conniption Fits have day jobs, so to speak, they all rely on income from the band to make ends meet. During a typical summer the band plays 3-4 shows a week, but this year, they’re lucky to have one. That’s after a three-month total hiatus from March-June. They used those months to record a new album, This Useless Thread, but even with 53,000 streams on Spotify, the album has earned them virtually no money.
“There’s no living in recorded music,” Blanchard said. “It’s all live performance. So, when the opportunity for a gig arises — at a private party or a small bar, the financial necessity often wins out over the health risks.
“It would be a luxury for us to say ‘2020, we’re not going to play any shows,’” Blanchard said. “That’s just not in our reality. I wouldn’t make my mortgage.”
So, the band continues to play. “It’s a strange situation that we feel forced into,” Blanchard said.
To try to keep safe, Blanchard and his bandmates, Jamie Hosley (bass) and Jeff Samataro (drums) try to get in and out of a gig as quickly as they can. But too often, fans want to come up to shake hands or give a hug. Avoiding that can be difficult, Blanchard said.
At one show in Maine this summer, a bar owner became furious with the band. As the set went on, patrons started taking off their masks, singing along and dancing, with little regard for social distancing.
“He was furious because we did our job,” Blanchard said. “Everything we’re geared to do, you can’t do that anymore.”
To try to keep in line with recommendations around gathering sizes and social distancing, The Conniption Fits have stopped promoting shows. Still, some areas are not letting them perform because of the crowd sizes they draw. The band recently tried to book a show at an Upper Valley bar, but the town vetoed the plan over concerns about crowd size.
“I’ve never been in a situation before where our problem is our success,” Blanchard said.
Yet, the band’s popularity has been helpful during this tumultuous year. As their schedule cleared, fans began reaching out directly to ask about bookings for private parties. The band has played birthday parties and even a divorce party this summer. Blanchard said that some musicians have lowered their prices, but The Conniption Fits charge the same booking fee even for these smaller venues.
“Just because coronavirus has killed a lot of the venues doesn’t mean that the value of our shows is diminished,” he said, adding that lower prices wouldn’t necessarily mean more bookings.
At some points, The Conniption Fits have felt caught in the middle of different mindsets toward the pandemic. The band members take the pandemic seriously, Blanchard said, but they also feel judged for performing, when they’re just trying to continue their livelihood.
“People think that we play these shows as a political statement somehow,” Blanchard said. “I feel weird about it. We’re forced into a situation where there’s no bailout for us. Given the choice, I wouldn’t take most of the gigs that I feel are risky, but when we’re looking at dollars and sense, would an extra $500 help you?”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here . For more information visit collaborativenh.org .