The live music industry has been devastated by COVID-19. Cyprus Avenue, The Roundy, Cork Opera House: They’ve all been shut since March, and the future is uncertain as phase four stretches into the future. With the law restricting indoor gatherings of fifty-plus (inclusive of staff and band), many venues are waiting it out or still trying to pivot towards the new normal—and some, like electro venue Dali, will be looking for a new home in latter-day 2020.
Which is what made the reopening of the Kino in the middle of July so interesting. The Cork music venue became one of the first, possibly the first, music venues in Ireland to open post-COVID and so far, it’s doing well. University Express talked to Joe Kelly, who manages the venue alongside Ed O’Leary, to find out more about what goes into a post-COVID venue.
The Kino has had a varied history, even before the Pandession: Once a pool hall, it became Munster’s only independent cinema, was closed by the Great Recession then reopened as a general events space, then shuttered once again two years ago. In August 2019 Kelly and O’Leary leased the space, and since September they’ve met success in revitalising the Cork mainstay. The pair have 25 years of management experience under their belt, most recently Cork Opera House’s Good Room and the Live At St. Luke’s slates. The lockdown put a damper on plans, but they’ve recovered by changing focus: From traditional gigs to socially-distanced table-serviced experiences, from a capacity of 200 people to 40.
University Express: So, how’s it been going?
Joe Kelly: “It’s all fine! Being honest with you, the interesting thing is that there are no guidelines for what we are, which is a theatre/music venue. We’ve scoured through gov.ie and there’s nothing up there, so what we have to do is patch together what we think is reasonable. We’re going two hours, that’s the figure they use, we clear the building before the first show’s over, we do the same with the second show, and we’ve got about 20 minutes in between just to clean the tables and do all that.”
“Being honest to you, between lockdown there’s nothing to be learned. Table service is a different thing, but you’re not stupid about it- you’re not going to put on bands where you’ll be sitting down after it […] you need to sit down for [the actual gig]. This weekend we’ve four Mary Wollopers shows, then Foxy P. Cox, so they’re all cabaret sit-down gigs anyway. Upcoming we’ve John Spillane, Underscore Orkestra, comedy nights—the whole point is when you’ve forty people to program it accordingly.”
The schedule of these gigs is like clockwork: 30 minutes after doors open to get everybody in and have the drinks ordered; between one-to-one and a half hours of music; the band’s merch guy comes around to your table; and you’re out, and the place is cleaned before the next gig. The bands play twice or thrice a night, and while there’s been a slight increase in cost to offset the reduced capacity, most people don’t mind – tickets are like gold dust for the big acts. “You still have to push it, but The Mary Wollopers sold 120 tickets in 10 minutes […] What you want to do is get started with a good hype, we’ve Junior Brothers sold out, we’ve four Mary Wollopers and they’re sold out, we’ve CoCo Comedy Club next Friday and that’s nearly sold out…” And the list goes on.
If the concept of attending a gig seems dangerous at the moment, don’t worry—every eventuality has been prepared for, “When you come in here, you sit down at the gig, you’re told that you stay seated during the gig, there’s table service, et cetera. Even the merch at the end, their guy walks around in a mask coming around to the tables.
“It’s just managing it and trying to be respectful to the staff and the patrons by trying to maintain a level of safety. Before you come in there are the contact tracing forms, you have to buy a table so we know everyone’s here, every single table that comes to the door is given a speech about the dos and don’ts […] Even in the bathroom, we have a system. We’ve thought about every permutation of ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’”
There’ve been a number of different approaches to getting arts venues back open. Other venues such as London’s Clapham Grand have attempted the sit-down method, while Gavin James tried an abortive drive-through concert experience. Most of them, however, have been deemed financially untenable. It’s difficult to run these events and stay financially solvent, but the Kino’s managing thanks to a combination of good programming, slightly raising ticket prices and adding an upscale cocktail menu. University Express asked if there was anything to learn for venues looking to reopen:
“What was a weakness can become a strength, and what I mean by that is, there are lots of places that have space outside and they didn’t know what to do with it—it’s the bars and venues that have loads of outdoor areas, so in other words, try to find a way.
“You see on Princes Street that all the bars are doing very well,” Joe says, reflecting a view recently shared by Cork City Councillors Oliver Moran and Lorna Bogue, “because they’ve lots of outside areas. If you walk into town, you’ll see Rearden’s and Dwyers, they’ve again captured the ground there and there are about 10 or 20 tables. So the thing is that, thankfully, the virus is not as contagious in external areas, so all we can do is wait and see going forward about will it open up again. I mean outside areas, if it went from 200 to 500, there could be arguments for saying, could you bring in big tents? I’d argue that it’s technically outdoors.”
With rising cases of COVID in Dublin, Laois, Kildare and Offaly, there’s still a long way to go before our venues are in the clear. For the moment, however, with sold-out shows in the past and more to come in the future, the Kino’s in good hands. If you can get to a gig, we’d recommend it—support our venues so that we still have them.
The full lineup can be found on the Kino’s Facebook page, with links to buy the tickets attached. Thanks to The Dagenham Yanks and @murphykie_ for the picture included in this piece.