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As Restrictions Lift, Live Music Returns to Spokane

It’s been more than a year since most people in Washington have seen a live music performance. But with Spokane County now in phase three of the state’s reopening protocol, live music has returned to some venues in Spokane.

The past year has been challenging for small business owners, especially those that rely on live entertainment. Kim Coombs and her husband own Zola, a restaurant and live music bar in downtown Spokane. And even though they could have reopened at twenty-five percent capacity under phase two, they decided to wait.

“We didn’t open until we were in phase three, which allowed 50 percent and it did allow bands back. For us it was all about getting the music back in. So when we opened a month ago, we’ve had a full five days of bands ever since.”

Of course, some things look a little different. For example, dancing is not allowed. Still, it’s live music, and that’s a relief to Spokane musicians like Carter Hudson. Before playing his first show at Zola in April, he hadn’t performed for a live audience in more than a year.

“It was just such a good experience. I got to share the stage with three of my really good friends, so we had a full band. Man, words fall short, they really do. It was kind of magical to get to be in a room with people and share something so intimate and important.”

Even though he couldn’t play live shows, Hudson wasn’t idle all year. Like many musicians, he tried performing on virtual platforms including YouTube and Instagram. And the monotony of pandemic life affected his songwriting process as well.

“For me, creativity comes from experiences, but I wasn’t having any experiences other than going to work and coming home. And doing that again every day. Once I accepted the fact that life was like this for everyone, I was like ok, we're all this together. I gave myself more time to read and journal and think. Those became the experiences I was having. It wasn’t going to concerts or seeing people. It was just kind of spending time alone reading and writing.”

That solitude and reflection led to a new single, which Hudson recorded with the same group of musicians he now performs with at Zola. The track, titled “Some Days” is available now on most streaming music platforms.

While Carter Hudson is excited to release a new song, he says nothing compares to performing it for a live audience.

“Yeah, we’re in a room with people together. And when you strip all of the other contextual things away, you have this really great experience of sharing music in a room. And getting to see—at least part of—a person’s face enjoying that and experience that in their own way.”

Of course, this live music experience depends on Washington staying on course for reopening. On Thursday, Governor Jay Inslee announced that COVID case numbers are improving and that all counties will remain in phase three. He also announced that he expects all covid-related restrictions to be lifted by the end of June. That’s sure to be welcome news to business owners like Zola’s Kim Coombs, even if they’re limited to 50 percent capacity for now.

“Every Friday and Saturday night, we’ve had a line, but usually we can get everybody in as people leave. We’re doing the best we can do, but so far we’ve had no complaints. It’s been very smooth.”

And if you want to avoid that line, Coombs says try coming during a weekday. Zola hosts live music Tuesday through Saturday evenings beginning at 8 p.m. Their full schedule is online at Carter Hudson plays next on Friday, May 21st. You can find his new single, “Some Days,” on your favorite music streaming service.

Chris Maccini previously worked at SPR as Morning Edition host and producing arts and special programming such as The Bookshelf, Poetry Moment, Northwest Arts Review, special features and more.