A Word With Gregg Shirley About Live Music’s Return During The Pandemic

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In March, as the coronavirus pandemic brought the live entertainment world to a halt, here on the Big Island we saw bars, clubs, and theaters close as well. Gertrude’s Jazz Bar, a popular venue in Kona, decided to close in early March. It recently announced its gradual return with a grand re-opening on Thursday, June 4.

I reached out to nightlife proprietor Gregg Shirley about what music will be like at a distance and the virus’ devastation on the music community and business owners.

When did Gertrude’s officially suspend operations?

It was just before a big St. Patrick’s Day Party we had scheduled on March 17. It was going to feature the Hawaii Irish Dancers and The Kilt Lifters.

How did things go during the downtime?

Closing the venue wasn’t actually a surprise. It was getting to a point where bands were starting to cancel anyway. They were talking about bailing anyway just because of the whole thing. And then it turned out that we officially had to close, so, we did. And then everyone, everywhere else, just understood that everything was shutting down. And we told all our employees to go on unemployment. Luckily, they’re actually are making more money by being off with all that extra bonus money they’re getting from the Feds.

How are you following the new public health guidelines with food and entertainment at the club?
Well, we’ve got to follow the CDC guidelines, “hose down” people when they come in, not literally, but you know what I mean. [laughs] Everyone’s got to wear masks and the staff have to wear masks at all times. Our new plastic menus are sanitized after each use. The tables are six feet apart, and capacity is going to be half, or less than half, of what it normally was.

I think we are going to figure out how to offer a take-out menu too because we have a new chef and a new menu that we started that weekend before we had to shut down. Eventually, once things get rolling, we hope to open for breakfast and lunch as well. We might even have entertainment during those times too.

How about the entertainers?
The bands are getting paid by the door cover charges, usually five dollars. Musicians keep 100% of the door. We’re going to wait on having bigger bands coming in. A four-piece band can keep a safe six-foot distance from each other. There will be a dance floor, but we’re going to have to announce, depending on the number of dancers, that there can be only so many couples on the floor, and no changing partners.

Do you plan to livestream any of the shows until you can get back to full capacity?
Well, you know, that’s one of the things that we’re thinking of doing on Zoom. Before, we were doing a song or two on Facebook Live.

Is there anything else you’d like to cover?
There are several restaurants and bars around town that can’t open now because this thing hit them so hard economically. If it wasn’t for the CARES Act and the other assistance, we might be in the same boat. It’s been a huge help and probably the main reason we’ve been able to reopen. Even though we’ve been closed for three months, and haven’t been making any money, we still had to pay rent, utilities, and insurance. It’s been a big drain. We’ve also been receiving great assistance from Gertrude’s loyal fans, and I think we’re going to be slammin’ on Thursday (June 4). It’ll be too bad if we have to turn people away. There’s been a great interest in the community to get back at it. They love the atmosphere here. It’s very welcoming.


Steve Roby is a music photojournalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Photos: Steve Roby

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