First Their Side Hustle Disappeared. Then Their Main Jobs Did Too

When the restaurants closed and tours were cancelled after the coronavirus outbreak, some Philadelphians lost two jobs on the same day.
March 23, 2020, 9:26pm
Party Muscles
Party Muscles. Photo courtesy of Party Muscles  

Just over a week ago, Michael Sanzo had three steady gigs he could count on. He was a server at Lloyd Whiskey Bar in Philadelphia; a runner and barback at the International Bar not far down the road; and one half of the Philadelphia-based band the Dawn Drapes.

But by last Monday, all three jobs were gone. That day, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolfe announced that due to the coronavirus, all non-essential businesses had to close down. Bars and restaurants were restricted to takeout orders. Around the same time, all of Sanzo's shows on an upcoming two-week East Coast tour had been cancelled, too. In one fell swoop, Sanzo's livelihood had been ripped out from under him.

"I understand it, but I really can't imagine this going on for a month," Sanzo said. "It'd be rough."

Sanzo wasn't alone. His friend and bandmate, Daniel Rice, also lost his job as an employee at Foto Club, a Philadelphia members-only bar. (He is also a backup guitarist for the Philly native Ali Awan.) Many other people found themselves in a similar situation to both of them. In Philadelphia, the coronavirus has upended the lives of a network of artists who make up the city's uniquely intimate music scene, rapidly placing the future of their community into immediate question.

The Dawn Drapes

Right: Daniel Rice. Left: Michael Sanzo. Photo by Kelia Ideishi

Many of the largely indie-rock musicians lived in large part off of the money they made from a once-thriving restaurant scene. Colin McCarry, who sings and plays guitar in the band Party Muscles, said the vast majority of musicians in Philadelphia's music scene had at least some sort of job in a local restaurant or bar before the outbreak. Before coronavirus, it felt like there was just enough money to go around. Per capita, Philadelphia had more restaurants than even New York City, and the relatively low rents made it easier for musicians to survive there than in other American cities like New York and San Francisco.

The particulars of the restaurant scene also helped. Flexible shifts meant musicians could pick up work when they were in town and take off when they were on the road. More than that, the community helped one another get work where they could.

"It's incestuous," Rice said, describing the Philadelphia restaurant and music scene. "That's the word for it. We push each other in a healthy way. It's not competitive in a way New York or somewhere else might be. We're never trying to push people down."

But suddenly, musicians in the city are grappling with two industries shutting down at once. McCarry himself booked tours and worked at an upscale taco restaurant. But last Monday, he found out he lost his job at the restaurant when the manager texted him the news and asked that he pass it along to his co-workers in a group chat. The same day, McCarry had to send out emails postponing tours he had booked for his clients.

Party Muscles

Party Muscles. Photo courtesy of Party Muscles

Even though the local restaurant and music industries closed down so fast, it took a while for McCarry and others to realize just how long the social distancing measures might last. "Who has ever heard of a virus just completely disappearing in two weeks?" Sanzo asked. "I'm not delusional."

Jordan Caiola, who sings and plays guitar in Mo Lowda & the Humble, dealt with the same predicament as McCarry, Sanzo, and Rice. He had to drop his band's months-long national tour just days before they were set to take off because of the coronavirus. A few days later, the brewery where he worked for half the year when he wasn't performing shut its doors.

"We have another leg of our tour in the fall, so we're going to add our lost dates to that," Caiola said. "I just hope people are amped after being cooped up for so long. I expect them to be going wild. That's my dream."

Jordan C.

Jordan Caiola. Photo courtesy of Jordan Caiola

The weekend before Pennsylvania made the decision to close bars and restaurants, Sanzo could already tell "shit was about to hit the fan." It was St. Patrick's Day weekend, and people were still bar-hopping in celebration. The new precautions left him with mixed feelings, he said: "I thought, like, Fuck, I'm losing all this money. But you also don't want to serve someone food or play a show and expose yourself or other people."

Considering the situation, Sanzo and Rice said they were relieved that they had recently taken extra shifts so that they could have some additional spending money on the road. But even that will only keep them afloat for a few weeks before they have to find new ways to support themselves.

Josh Pannepacker wishes he even had that level of financial cushion. Pannepacker is the co-owner of the bar and venue Ortlieb's, located in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of the city. Once an old jazz bar attached to a brewery, Ortlieb's has transformed into a kind of incubator for up-and-coming artists around Philly over the past few years.


Right: Josh Pannepacker. Left: another co-owner of Ortlieb's. Photo courtesy of Josh Pannepacker

Since the shutdown, Pannepacker said customers have purchased the T-shirts that he and the other owners are designing to keep the business alive. However, he doesn't expect to turn any kind of profit at least until May 11, which he's heard people guess is when self-isolation will lift.

He just wants enough to pay the landlord and keep their liquor license active. But Pannepacker is already worried about whether he'll lose his venue, and what that would mean culturally for the city.

"Ortlieb's isn't a place run by a bunch of fucking old men," Pannepacker said. "It's run by a group of active musicians. We want bands to come use our bar—do a residency for a week, or try things that they might have been thinking about in their bedrooms."

The musicians themselves are thinking up creative ways to make money, too. Sanzo, Rice, McCarry, and Caiola are all considering livestreaming shows from their basements and maybe even from the venues themselves if they're allowed to perform without audiences. They're designing hats and other merchandise as well.

But for now, nobody is even really leaving their sofa. Already, Sanzo said that he already doesn't know what day is which.

"It's all weirdly felt like tour," he said. "Falling asleep at random times, being trapped in a small space. But one good thing about tour is that, eventually, it ends."

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.