Three bands formerly featured on Columbus’ Own spoke about their struggles in the face of a pandemic. Credit: Oliver Boch | Arts&Life Director

When vocalist Tony Casa and his bandmates paid the booking fees for 77 dates on their spring 2020 tour, they couldn’t foresee the national shutdown – or all the money that would go down the drain.

Casa’s band, Columbus, Ohio-based five-piece Zoo Trippin’, which played in The Lantern’s studio Sept. 26 for the Columbus’s Own series, is just one of many local bands facing new challenges and adjustments in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Lantern caught up with several groups that have appeared on Columbus’ Own to find out how they are staying afloat in a state under lockdown.

The group’s tour — the West Coast follow-up to their East Coast “Good Luck Gang” tour at the end of 2019 —  was shaping up to be an exciting one, with its first-ever appearances in California and Colorado. Added to the sheer disappointment was the fact that Zoo Trippin’ would not be getting back any of the estimated $4,000 to $5,000 in fees it paid, Casa said.

“We have to make money by playing shows. Now that we can’t, we’re having to reassess our entire lives, basically,” Casa said. “We’re a local band. We don’t have a lot of money. So that really was a big blow to the wallet, to the psyche, the general morale of the band.”

With the advent of streaming, most musicians now depend on live shows to make money, and for a band that makes its income primarily from performing, Casa said the pandemic has provided an overwhelming challenge.

“We had some internal conflict with the members themselves, with us deciding how much of the tour we should cancel,” Casa said. “We had that day of arguing and mourning or whatever, but now, we’re back on our feet. We’re figuring out what to do for ourselves. We’re figuring out what to do with the community at large.”

The community is what Casa said will keep the city’s music scene afloat.

“We’re always very taken back by the support of people and fans and things like that in general, but during these times, it’s the $5 that the people are donating online — or the shares to The Lantern — that are getting us all through this so we can continue to do it,” Casa said.

Though some Columbus musicians might not be experiencing the same financial hit as Zoo Trippin’, the uncertainty and disappointment remains the same, Colin Ward, half of Columbus hip-hop duo Dug and Happy Tooth, said. The pair performed for Columbus’ Own Feb. 28.

To celebrate the duo’s first album, Ward said Dug and Happy Tooth planned a CD release show for March 21 but ended up performing via livestream.

Ward said that trying to bring the full energy of a performance in front of his cellphone felt strange, but he found a few silver linings, such as the 1,400 views their stream had right off the bat.

“It was unfortunate, but more people saw our show — our set — than would have if we would have thrown the actual show,” Ward said. “It was bittersweet.”

Ward said the current situation is frustrating, especially because he recently purchased new equipment for the project.

“I just invested a ton of money and time into our live show to make it way better. I’ve been rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing. Like, we spent six months preparing for this show and for everything to just fall through, so it was hard. It was hard to deal with,” Ward said.

Metal rockers Grant DeCrane, Hayden Kissler and Reno Houston of Columbus outfit Pray for Sleep, which performed for Columbus’ Own Nov. 21, are trying to keep a positive outlook amid show cancellations and an uncertain future, drummer Houston said. He said they have had to get creative in the meantime.

“We’re still trying to do stuff as much as we can, but it’s a lot harder. A lot of the bigger bands have more resources as far as, like, being able to do online concerts and stuff, so we’re still trying to figure it out,” Houston said.

Guitarist Kissler said the group took some time to breathe and reset and is now having several brainstorming sessions about how to continue getting out their message of removing the mental health stigma, such as connecting with fans via video game livestreams and planning to release new music.

The band is considering writing songs inspired by the current times, vocalist DeCrane said, but do not want to be found onboard the wave of music written about the outbreak that’s soon to appear in a few months.

“I expect when this is all over, there’s going to be about a million songs about the virus and the pandemic and all of that different stuff, so trying to talk about it and the experience of it while also staying unique and kind of relevant with it is something that we’re considering,” DeCrane said.

Each group expressed that, whether they like it or not, they’re making do with what’s available.

“All we can really do is hope that it’ll all be quicker than not, and that’s it,” Ward said. “Everything is out of our control, so all we can do is wait.”