Bug Jar Reopens Amid Uncertainty Routine | Musical features
The Bug Jar is a thin fragment of Rochester real estate. Four small bedrooms, if you count the two bathrooms, on the corner of Monroe Avenue and South Union Street.
Still, it’s a big deal on the Rochester music scene. I wrote it before, I’m going to rewrite it: Red Creek and The Penny Arcade are at the Rochester Music Hall of Fame. The Bug Jar, which reopens on Friday, is also expected to be there.
“We’re chomping on the brakes,” co-owner Bobby Teresa said of Bug Jar’s return, before adding a note of caution. “But now, with all this COVID stuff sort of coming back, popping its ugly head, it’s making us a little nervous.”
The Bug Jar stage has been silent since March 2020. After three decades, a long life for an independent music hall, it took the coronavirus pandemic to close the place.
The club is home to the city’s underground rock scene. Local groups are just getting started. Local bands that have been playing there for years. Internationally touring Rochester’s Joywave frequently played the Bug Jar as he recovered. Half of Atlanta’s Grammy-winning metal rockers, Mastodon, performed in the band of Rochester Lethargy, another Bug Jar regular.
And the Bug Jar has been a destination for independent bands that crisscross the country in vans, looking for a place to stop for the night and play. It’s a well-known local tradition that the club hosted major performers before most countries knew who they were: The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire and Lizzo.
Booking shows is a science. Doug Kelley, whose day job is a laser amplifier technician at the University of Rochester Laser Lab, takes care of the essentials for the Bug Jar. Friday night’s reopening party sells for 150 tickets – like we said it’s a small place – although some tickets are available at the door, if you get there early enough. And the range looks like the old days. Four loud Rochester garage rockers: Checks and Exes, Saint Free, Overhand Sam and Bad Weapon, and House Majority.
It will be local groups that will wear the Bug Jar for the next five weeks. The first national group to play at the club will be a very cool West Coast psych-pop outfit The Levitation Room on September 14th.
After that, like the rest of us, many nationwide touring groups try to read the COVID tea leaves.
“The Spits contacted us; The Queers, they were trying to put something in place for fall 2021, ”Teresa says. “And then there was back and forth and a lot of them decided, ‘Let’s wait until 2022.'”
The Bug Jar survived the pandemic thanks to a t-shirt scheme and online crowdfunding effort that easily surpassed its goal of $ 20,000. This covered the Bug Jar rent for 2020. It is the loyalty of a broadly specialized audience that values the club’s contribution to the Rochester arts scene.
But what about state and federal government money aimed at keeping entertainment venues alive as well? US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer showed up in March for a press conference touting the US Small Business Administration’s $ 16 billion Save Our Stages grant. There is also the Shuttered Venues Operators scholarship. And the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which seemed to suit the Bug Jar better, since most of its income comes from the sale of alcohol.
“Pretty hip place,” Schumer said, as he stood under the Bug Jar’s most remarkable interior decor: kitchen appliances and living room furniture, bolted upside down to the ceiling.
But the hip doesn’t pay the bills. Despite Schumer’s photoshoot, Teresa says the Bug Jar has yet to see any state or federal money.
“I heard there was going to be a second wave,” he said. “And I hope we get included in the second wave.”
Restaurants and clubs have responded to the pandemic with varying degrees of caution. Abilene Bar & Lounge, like the Bug Jar, has been closed during much of the pandemic. It reopened with a strict policy of only admitting people who can provide proof of vaccination. Two other clubs, Radio Social and Lux Lounge, added vaccination policies only this week.
Other places have remained open for vast swathes of the pandemic, without caring too much about vaccines and social distancing, and criticizing that choice is a bit too easy; some restaurant and club owners have invested their savings in their businesses.
Masks are also part of the debate.
“It seems like it’s becoming a matter of personal choice,” Teresa says.
At Bug Jar, “Don’t hesitate to hide yourself,” he said. “It’s your prerogative, isn’t it?” “
It’s more than that now. In this rapidly developing landscape, Monroe County Director Adam Bello highlighted the increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases and released a statement earlier this week that said, “In order to slow the spread, we strongly recommend all residents of Monroe County to wear a face mask indoors, where we know the virus is spreading even further. “
The pandemic has been a negotiating routine of uncertainty. It wasn’t that long ago that we washed our hands every hour and sprayed disinfectant on every flat surface within reach.
“Let’s follow Monroe County’s guidelines, whatever they are from Friday,” Teresa said. “Who knows, we might find something out on Friday, right?” “
Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life Editor and Journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]