As more people are becoming fully vaccinated in Flagstaff, the downtown music scene is back and thriving more than ever. On Sept. 4, the band Tiny Bird played at Firecreek Coffee Company alongside up-and-coming artist Poni.
The artists and audience were full of life as they danced and enjoyed the presence of each other. The dim lights and decor, combined with the live music, allowed everyone there to let loose.
Bryce Thayer, a drummer for local band Breakfast 4 Breakfast, has been involved with the local music scene in Flagstaff since he arrived for school three years ago.
“I think the entire make-up of the scene changed during COVID,” Thayer said. “So many bands were forced to break up during quarantine, but it led to a lot of great new bands forming. I don’t think anyone will take live music for granted anymore.”
Without being able to meet regularly, some individuals lost touch with fellow band members. Due to this difficulty, groups such as Thayer’s old band felt the need to separate, whether temporarily or indefinitely.
Breakfast 4 Breakfast formed amid the pandemic and often practiced before it was safe to perform live. By the time vaccines hit Flagstaff, Thayer said the band was ready to hold live concerts.
The high-energy dynamic was visible on Friday as everyone danced, sang along and embraced each other for hours. Similar to other musical performances around the world, the crowd was full of people who missed out on live music for over a year.
Darby Wilson, a consistent attendee of downtown concerts, was happy to see the live music scene thriving again in Flagstaff.
“I haven’t seen this many people together in over a year,” Wilson said. “It’s just nice to see everyone having a good time.”
Before vaccines were available to the general public, the music scene in Flagstaff diminished because of venue closures. Shows were occasionally hosted outdoors with masks required, but with most of the venues in Flagstaff being small and indoors, the pandemic didn’t allow for many in-person performances.
Though the pandemic caused hardships for most, to musicians, there were some silver linings.
“All the free time I had during the first part of quarantine really allowed me to expand my musical horizons,” Thayer said. “I was able to practice drums a ton, but I also got the chance to improve my guitar and bass skills.”
Sammy Riddle, a bassist for band Sierra Bryan & the Kitchen Sink, said she couldn’t wait for live shows to begin again.
“Getting the vaccine here caused a sort of avalanche for live music,” Riddle said. “I think that everyone was really committed to building the scene back up, supporting each other and keeping our favorite venues afloat.”
During the pandemic, there were fundraisers held to keep local venues open, such as The Orpheum. Without live music to keep these businesses afloat, Riddle and other individuals worried their favorite venues would close.
As Riddle mentioned, local artists are grateful to still have access to venues like Firecreek Coffee or The Orpheum. For years, these places have been vessels of countless shared memories, and they are finally doing so again. As they cheer their friends’ names from the crowd, the support individuals have for each other is visible.
These shows created a sense of togetherness that Flagstaff missed for a while. Some concert regulars believe that for these shows to keep happening, the public should continue to care for the community.
Kate Kulchak, a regular attendee of local shows, is passionate about continuing to enforce COVID-19 protocols so the music scene can continue thriving.
“I think everyone is happy to see live music again,” Kulchak said. “But to continue this, we need to do whatever we can to keep our friends safe.”
With the delta variant spreading, there are some adjustments to live music that may prove vital to the safety of concert-goers. This could include the return of mask requirements or social distancing. As the shows continue, individuals like Kulchak encouraged attendees to be attentive to potential rule enforcements.
For now, the Flagstaff music community is thriving. As seen at the Tiny Bird show, and despite the difficulties of the past year, not much has changed. Many people are experiencing connections they missed out on for over a year, and hope to continue doing so.