Weekend gigs have been hard to come by for musicians based in the Cy-Fair area since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Childres regularly played live music at local businesses, including Creekwood Grill, Murdoch’s Backyard Pub, Brew:30 Taphouse and Twisted Acre Brewery, before state and local officials began placing restrictions on businesses in March due to the spread of COVID-19.

Only one of these four businesses continued to host live musicians on the weekends this summer, so Childres said the number of events he has been able to book is down about 75% compared to how often he would perform in pre-pandemic conditions.

“It’s down considerably,” he said. “Some musicians are scaling back due to their own safety, and some are just playing outside now instead of inside. It’s personal preference, as far as what people are comfortable with.”

Cy-Fair-area music venues are primarily local breweries and restaurants with bars, including Mo’s Irish Pub, Hidden Cellar Wine Bar, Rosehill Beer Garden, Texas Tavern, Cypress Trail Hideout and the Barn at Frio Grill.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has mandated restaurants cannot exceed a 50% capacity limit. Additionally, bars and other establishments that receive more than 51% of revenue from alcoholic beverage sales are only authorized to offer delivery and takeout services.

Venues face challenges

Murdoch’s Backyard Pub, located on Mueschke Road in Cypress, used to host live music three times every week. Tonya Frye coordinates marketing and events at the local spot, and she said these events among others are on hold for now.

“There was no one to play to at first, and now, business is low,” she said in a phone interview Aug. 19. “If we don’t have many people there, then we can’t have music. And we still have the social distancing—music and social distancing usually don’t go hand in hand, unfortunately.”

Frye said she is used to overseeing a range of events in the property’s 3-acre backyard, but even a graduation party of 40 people earlier this summer took over the entire space, so holding events of any kind has become a challenge due to social distancing policies.

Murdoch’s continues to be open for outdoor dining and takeout, but Frye said she is hopeful about bringing some events back to the business in September.

The pandemic has resulted in added expenses for the business, including personal protective equipment for staff and the hiring of additional workers just to sanitize surfaces on the property throughout the day, Frye said.

Locally owned mom-and-pop businesses like Murdoch’s are struggling to stay afloat just like musicians are, she said.

Apart from his music career, Childres is a small business owner himself and said during the shutdown, he offered to play solely for tips despite decreased foot traffic at the venues that have supported him over time. Many full-time musicians are in a more difficult position, he said.

Childres said he is grateful he still has the ability and opportunity to perform during the pandemic. He recalled a friend who had to cancel a show after a band member was exposed to COVID-19.

“Since I’m a little bit older, we’re trying to play it safe because you never know,” Childres said. “You try to do the best you can do, but it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t end up getting sick.”

The staff at Creekwood Grill, where Childres continues to perform, has implemented many safety measures, including having staff and diners wear masks and sanitizing tables between visitors. The stage at the restaurant is elevated, so musicians are not in close contact with others during performances.

Childres said some of his peers have taken their talents to Facebook Live and found other ways to innovate with the limited resources they had in recent months.

Although he cannot predict how long the pandemic will last, Childres said he is hopeful about the future of Cy-Fair’s music industry.

“I’m concerned about it, but [I'm] being optimistic that the virus will get under control to where more musicians can go out and perform and show their talents,” he said.