COVID-19 one year later: Entertainment industry looks for a comeback

Posted at 6:35 AM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 07:35:38-04

One year after the start of shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

The entertainment industry, specifically live entertainment, was one of the first businesses to shut down.

In Milwaukee, the Pabst Theater Group runs multiple venues downtown, including The Pabst Theater, The Riverside Theater, and Turner Ballroom.

Owner Gary Witt says it has been tough.

“We’ve lost a year and a half or almost two years of the ability to create revenue in our business,” said Witt.

The group estimates their 2019 sales at $26 million but says that their 2020 revenue fell 97% because of pandemic-induced closures.

Musician Chris Porterfield of Milwaukee based “Field Report” says his band had just released an album in the weeks before the pandemic set in.

They were poised to travel the country and perform when it all came to a sudden halt.

“I found myself instead of being a touring musician, a distance learning K-4 facilitator,” says Porterfield. That sudden stop in touring had a massive effect on his livelihood.

“Touring was the way that we made any money… I’d say probably 9 dollars out of 10 probably came from touring.”

But now in 2021 as a vaccine rollout is underway, both see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Witt says he looks to Summerfest as a barometer for live shows in Milwaukee.

The festival was moved later in the summer to September because of the pandemic. Witt says if the vaccine rollouts continue at the same pace and Summerfest is a success, he sees live shows this year.

"I think we have the ability to put people in our venues in October or so perhaps earlier,” he said.

Porterfield hopes to get back in front of a crowd as soon as it’s safe.

“All of the agents and promoters and artists and tour managers and everybody, everybody is just kind of waiting for somebody to say it’s actually happening,” he said.

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