Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils, based in St. Clair Shores, have had many shows canceled since the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Facebook page “Playing in the Detroit area Tonight,” Westwood and Passenger Recovery are supporting local music makers struggling financially during the lockdowns.

Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils, based in St. Clair Shores, have had many shows canceled since the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Facebook page “Playing in the Detroit area Tonight,” Westwood and Passenger Recovery are supporting local music makers struggling financially during the lockdowns.

Photo provided by Jennifer Westwood


Music venues, musicians try to get by during pandemic

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published December 7, 2020

 The Diesel Concert Lounge in Chesterfield Township has only rocked out four concerts since March 15.

The Diesel Concert Lounge in Chesterfield Township has only rocked out four concerts since March 15.

Photo provided by Mike Scott

METRO DETROIT — Kicking back with a cold brew while watching live music at your favorite watering hole basically has been put on hold since March.

That’s when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shut down most entities — including bars, clubs and restaurants — across the state in an effort to decrease COVID-19 cases and flatten the curve of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The mandate relaxed for a while when, in June, bars and clubs opened at limited capacity. With music venues currently closed again because of an increase in COVID-19 cases, it has taken a toll financially on local club owners, their staff and the musicians that make their living playing in the tri-county area and throughout Michigan.

“Since March 15, we’ve done four shows,” said Mike Scott, owner of the Diesel Concert Lounge in Chesterfield Township. “Basically the last nine months we have been closed. It’s been tough for sure. That’s a far cry from the 120 shows we have (per year.)”

The Diesel Concert Lounge opened in 2012 and features national and local bands that play rock ‘n’ roll, heavy metal, pop and country. It has two rooms where bands perform live: one that holds 700 people and a second room with a 300-person capacity. It’s a favorite hangout for local residents to see live music. Several shows scheduled at the Diesel in 2020 were rescheduled for 2021.

Since it’s more costly to bring in national acts, Scott decided to stick with local acts when the lounge reopened in June. With national acts performing to a limited capacity, the Diesel would have been forced to double ticket prices.

“With no money coming in, it’s definitely a strain. I’m speaking on behalf of all venue owners across the country,” Scott said. “Your bills are still there. You pay out of pocket and hang on for dear life. I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for live music. If this goes on six months or more, there’s not going to be much left in the industry.”

Along with the musicians who are affected, Diesel staff members, including bartenders and sound personnel, have either filed for unemployment or found other jobs. Scott applied for grant money last spring but got nowhere as the state “reached the limit taking applications,” he said.

On a happier note, he opened the Motor Cafe Restaurant inside the Diesel Lounge June 8, which brought in plenty of business. Along with food items, the eatery had dinner shows that featured acoustic sets from various acts, including Mr. Big and Sponge.

“It went over great,” Scott said. “We were going to do more of those.”

However, the Motor Cafe closed because the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a new emergency COVID-19 order effective Nov. 18. The mandate — effective for three weeks with the possibility of an extension — is an effort to curb the increasing COVID-19 infection rates statewide. The restrictions included the closing of restaurants except for carry outs and outdoor dining.

“It’s definitely hurting. With less places to play, there’s less activity,” said Howie Herula, event coordinator/promoter at Hard Edge Entertainment. “I know of a few places that have had to close. They’re not opening back up.”

When things opened back up in June, Herula and others began bringing in live shows at the Hot Rock Sports Bar & Music Cafe in Warren at the mandated limited capacity.

“The people were so excited to see their friends again. Most of them hadn’t been to a concert since March,” said Herula, of Warren. “Music is so important to people. For a lot of people, music is the background to their life, especially now with the quarantine and lockdown. It’s a nice break to get out. People with real mental issues, they’re having a real hard time with this.”


The sound of silence
Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils, based in St. Clair Shores, are feeling the sting of the lockdowns.

“We’ve taken a hit. We’re not playing as much as we normally would,” Westwood said. “Just enough to keep the boat afloat. The option is really trying to keep doing things where we can when we can. We really haven’t played any indoor events in Michigan since January. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable going to those places.”

Currently, Westwood and her husband, Dylan Dunbar, are on a six-week tour in Florida where, at press time, there wasn’t a lockdown. Tampa has been their home base, and the pair are performing as an acoustic duo without the full band to keep down expenses and stay safe. This past summer — when bars and restaurants opened to limited capacity — Westwood performed at a number of private events in Michigan and upstate New York.

“That really saved us,” she said. “This is our career. This is our occupation.”

This summer, the musicians also played outdoor neighborhood gigs in Berkley, Royal Oak and Manchester, Michigan. One show, for example, was a driveway in Berkley in which the city shut down the street and everyone socially distanced. They also traveled a total of 6,000 miles on a six-date tour that took them as far away as northern Arizona. At some shows, emotions came over the fans.

“People are so grateful to see live music,” Westwood said. “People have cried. They’re missing a connection that live music brings. It makes me feel fantastic. We’re bringing something very important of value to people. To have that appreciation is very humbling.”

She also feels for her fellow musicians who can’t tour right now, are affected by COVID-19 lockdowns or are experiencing other health problems.

“I have found musicians that are in dire, dire need right now,” Westwood said.

Through a grassroots effort, Westwood and Passenger Recovery have partnered to financially support musicians, guitar technicians, bookies and others through the Facebook page “Playing in the Detroit area Tonight.” Monetary donations are being accepted via PayPal. Anyone can nominate somebody who could use a donation. Drawings are held every Sunday.

“What we have right now is each other,” Westwood said.