A few hours after starting my new gig as features writer with The Spokesman-Review someone jokingly said, “Remember, it’s pronounced Spoke-ahn.”
It wasn’t my first time in town. I was familiar with the name of our fair city. I wasn’t about to make the mistake most of the country commits when pronouncing Spokane.
That evening, March 4, just nine-days before the pandemic changed our lives, I reviewed The Music of Cream at the Bing Crosby Theater. Toward the end of an energetic set, vocalist-guitarist Will Johns was belting out a version of his uncle Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine.”
However, the words were altered. “If you want to hang out, you got to take her out, Spoke-ane!.” The goofy Londoner’s eyes would bug out whenever he yelped Spoke-ane, and the crowd screamed along with him while loving every bit of the playful mispronunciation.
The show was a blast. The members of the band joked throughout the loose, action packed concert. Before delivering Cream’s “Badge,” Johns explained how the song was written by Clapton and his good friend George Harrison. While working on the bridge of the song, Ringo Starr walked in drunk and misinterpreted the name of the tune.
“Ringo thought what they wrote down wasn’t ‘Bridge’ but ‘Badge,’ Johns said. “That’s why I always said drummers can’t read.” Johns smiled at Music of Cream drummer Kofi Baker, who smirked back.
Afterward my son Milo and I chatted with some members of the audience, who were as energized as we were while walking into the chilly night.
Two days later, I reviewed the underrated and always entertaining Colin Hay, who impressed as much with his quirky and often amusing anecdotes at the Bing. Who knew that within a few days concerts would be on ice for more than a year and counting?
The last big show in town was Tool at the Spokane Arena. Maynard James Keenan enthralled the capacity crowd of 9,161.
That was it for big shows. The pandemic arrived the following weekend. Brian Posehn (The Sarah Silverman Program), understandably bailed on The Spokane Comedy Club. However Gabe Rutledge traveled across the state to fill in for Posehn. There was a palpable edge in the air as about 100 fans experienced Rutledge jokes about marriage and fatherhood.
“I remember speaking with you after the show about what was happening,” Rutledge recalled while calling from his Olympia home. “I remember we were talking about how weird things were getting and then this guy comes up and says, ‘Hey, I’m glad you made it out here. I know it’s going to be difficult with the weather.’ I remember saying, ‘The weather? There’s something else that’s going on that’s bigger than the weather. Don’t you watch television?’”
Nothing was bigger than the novel coronavirus, walloping the entertainment business, in 2020. The music industry was booming. Each year billions more were made and it appeared that another sales record, nearly $30 billion in worldwide revenue, according to industry publication Pollstar, was about to be shattered until the pandemic hit.
Just before Gov. Jay Inslee banned public gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it was boffo at the box office in Spokane. There were an array of events in Spokane the first two weeks of last March. More than 34,000 people checked out Tool, the Spokane Chiefs, state basketball games, “Chicago the Musical” and The Bachelor Live, said Matt Meyer, the director of entertainment at the Spokane Arena and the First Interstate Center For the Arts.
“It was going to be an amazing year,” Meyer said. A myriad of significant concerts were canceled or postponed, such as Weezer, a double bill of Wilco and Sleater-Kinney, Cher and the Flaming Lips.
“It was a drag we had to postpone our tour but what can you do,” Flaming Lips singer-songwriter Wayne Coyne said. “We’ll be back in Spokane when things get better.”
Meyer tried to make things work in 2020. “I’ve been on phone calls with (Los Angeles arena) the Staples Center and I’ll be on the phone with TicketsWest talking about what may happen,” Meyer said in April. Meyer talked about changing the configuration, social distancing and touchless exchanges nearly a year ago.
Those subjects remain relevant. All of those changes will likely have to be implemented in order to make concerts viable. It’s still uncertain when events, particularly those held indoors, will receive the green light in Washington.
“We can’t wait to get back on the road,” E Street Band guitarist Steve Van Zandt said from his Manhattan apartment. “People are talking about the summer of ‘21 but I think it’s going to be more like the summer of ‘22.”
No new tours have been announced for 2021. The Weeknd is scheduled to play the Spokane Arena at the end of April of 2022. Shows can always be pushed back. The industry has plenty of experience bumping concerts to another date.
“I can’t wait until we can start having shows again,” Meyer said. “We’re doing all that we can to prepare for when we’re allowed to open our doors. It’ll happen someday. I’m hoping for sooner rather than later.”
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