Don’t expect live concerts back at Davenport’s Redstone Room until next summer. And don’t expect the staff and volunteers at the 16-year-old River Music Experience to sit on their hands until then, either.

Even though indoor live music has returned to some bars across the Quad-Cities, theater to Circa ’21 and The Speakeasy in Rock Island, and the Black Box and Spotlight theaters in Moline, and the Quad City Symphony returns this weekend to the Adler in Davenport, RME executive director Tyson Danner doesn’t expect live shows back in the Redstone Room (at 2nd and Main streets in Davenport) until next summer.

“Our number, by the time you spread everybody out would be like 50 to 80,” he said Tuesday of maximum capacity. “Our problem is, even local bands which are on the less expensive end, we try and pay them fairly. By the time you sell only about 50 tickets, especially because the concert model is so different. That model is, the band gets a split of the door, and then our financial makeup, the bar is what helps us break even with shows.”

Danner estimated The Speakeasy show costs are much lower than the Redstone, especially for touring acts.

“The touring bands, the regional bands, there’s not really any way we can do it,” he said. “There may be some we do late spring, because we want to get some things happening, but we do it knowing we’re going to lose money on it. That’s OK sometimes; that’s what we’re here for – we do stuff that’s not always commercially viable. Sometimes we can get sponsorships to make up the difference for shows.”

“We’re stuck in this weird spot where we don’t want to create situations that are dangerous or unsafe,” Danner said. “I know there’s plenty of people that don’t care, and we could probably sell all those tickets if we wanted to. But then our staff is there, too.”

When they stream concerts online, that gives people some connection to local bands, and offers them financial support.

“But at the same time, we don’t want people to forget that live music is better,” Danner said. “If we kill ourselves trying to convince ourselves that streaming is just as good, what’s gonna happen when we go back to live concerts? Why would they ever come back again?”

“It’s like watching a video of a stage play. Videos of stage plays are terrible,” he said. “It’s not the same experience; it’s the same with music. I think the longer this goes on, I think people will just say, ‘I’ll watch the video or I’ll watch it on streaming.’”

“Watching filmed stage shows is not a good representation of the live experience. Though a lot of theatre artists are being creative about new modes of filmed theatre,” he said.

“Here we are six months into it, and we’re probably not half way,” Danner said of the pandemic.

Like many Q-C artists and arts organizations, the nonprofit RME has had to completely pivot how it executes its mission, with a lot of content moved online. It recently launched a new $30,000 fall fundraising campaign to keep providing its programs.

As of Tuesday, $3,319 has been raised, according to https://givebutter.com/rivermusicexperience. The $30,000 goal is a lot more than a typical campaign, Danner said.

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Ben Schwind of RME attracts a young student at a school program.

“We’ve really built our fundraising ability and our support base the past couple years,” he said. “People are really willing to support what we’re doing, and if people learned more about our educational programs, they realize it’s important to support that.”

Not many people realize RME offers free programs in schools and the community, Danner said. In the last six months, fundraising has remained strong, he said.

“When this all happened at first, that was a big question in the nonprofit world,” Danner said. “Unemployment is high; people are nervous about the future. Are we gonna see donations drop off?”

“For the most part, people realized nonprofits still need support,” he said. “There are enough people willing to value that to give donations. Certainly, there’s still a lot of economic uncertainty for people.”

RME has seen both solid financial and public awareness support, Danner said.

New programs reaching thousands

RME’s fundraising site says it “will not only survive this incredible challenge: We will grow and thrive, having greater impact on our community than ever before.

Ben Schwind, left, and Bret Dale perform a weekday Music Lab show.

“A lot has changed in the past six months, but our mission hasn’t: The life-changing power of music is more important than ever.

  • Music brings people together when it seems like everything else is tearing us apart.
  • Music brings creative joy to young people, helping them find their voice.
  • Music teaches life skills: confidence, public speaking, self-expression.
  • Music builds our economy, creating jobs, generating tourism, and retaining a talented workforce.

Music improves our lives and our community. When music wins, we all win.”

In the midst of the pandemic, RME has continued to invent creative new ways to bring music to the community:

  • MUSIC LAB:Bringing education and creativity directly into homes through daily livestreams (weekdays at 10 a.m.) and Mediacom broadcasts, reaching more than 25,000 viewers since March. Viewers have tuned in from more than 25 states and the United Kingdom.
  • CURBSIDE CONCERTS:Employing local musicians to deliver live music to more than 5,000 audience members in neighborhoods throughout the Quad Cities since April.
  • STREAMING LIVE MUSIC:Popular free series like Solitary Sessions and J.A.M. Sessions have reached more than 4,000 and generated financial support for local musicians.

The J.A.M. sessions started Sept. 4 with the Avey Grouws Band, with free, high-quality livestreamed shows, recorded from Dustin Cobb’s Joy Avenue Media studio in Bettendorf.

“We think the most value in the streaming shows is helping build support for the bands,” Danner said. “We try to encourage the virtual tip jar for the bands, and that seems to be going really well for the bands. They’ve got their regular fans and they’re meeting new people online.”

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“People understand that bands are really in a bad spot right now,” he said. “Especially the bands that aren’t taking every gig they can find. There are bands that are doing a lot of bars, they’re comfortable with that, and that’s cool. There are plenty of bands that don’t want to take that level of risk, which is a tough decision to make when you’re making your living as a gigging musician and deciding not to take gigs.”

In the cold-weather months, many artists that prefer playing outdoors will face a challenge.

“Those are coming to an end, and unfortunately that may mean a slow, quiet winter,” Danner said. “There are some bars doing shows, which is great, that’s something the audience is comfortable with. There are certainly a lot fewer events going on now as the weather turns, than when the weather was nicer.”

Alan Sweet will perform Friday outside Galena Brewing Company.

The RME Curbside Concerts will end in October, he noted, since musicians won’t be sent into private homes.

A special curbside concert and separate J.A.M. session will both take place this Friday, Oct. 2.

On Friday at 5 p.m. will be a curbside fundraiser at Galena Brewing Company Ale House, 1534 River Drive, Moline. RME favorite Alan Sweet and Friends will perform until 7:30 p.m.

Thanks to the generosity of Bad Boyz Moline and Galena Brewing Company, RME will present an outdoor concert for the two neighbor businesses in downtown Moline. Each has a perfect outdoor patio to enjoy some food and beers, safely social distance, and savor some live music.

Donations made to RME at this event will support educational and live music programs throughout the Quad-Cities, including the new Music Lab children’s music show, Curbside Concerts, and school programs.

The Velies, a Q-C indie rock band, will perform Friday at 7:30 p.m., on the Joy Avenue Media Facebook page. The band features Mo Carter, Tom Swanson, Marty Reyhons and Alex Axup.

The Velies are the next act in the livestreamed J.A.M. Session this Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The Velies create “bittersweet songs with lonesome undertones that can both meander and maintain a sense of urgency, whether wrapped in a shiny, upbeat pop facade, a dirge-like interloper, or a bombastic, gritty rock & roll head banger,” according to its bio.

You can tune in at https://www.facebook.com/joyavenuemedia, and to view past streams, like and subscribe to the Joy Avenue Media YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-kcjWGxTQV8m2LZJOuOCUw.

For more on the Velies, visit www.facebook.com/thevelies or https://thevelies.bandcamp.com/.

There are six or seven more J.A.M. sessions scheduled over the next couple months, Danner said.

Education programs have different flavor

The RME’s education outreach programs in area schools have been put on hold pending changes.

“Teachers and administrators are still overwhelmed, understandably,” he said. “I can’t imagine being a teacher or principal now – the challenges they have to deal with, completely changing the way they work, must be overwhelming. We’re working with the schools in terms of taking some of the programs we have and be able to support their needs.”

A Kidstock performance from summer 2019.

“Supplemental music education programs are important; the question is, how do we do it effectively?” Danner said. “In most cases, that either means Zoom calls with classes or through their online learning platforms, or short videos they can share with their classes. We’ve got a bunch of stuff in the works as to how we’re going to maintain our connections with the schools.”

“Just like everything else, it’s an experimental process,” he said. That’s what happened with Music Lab and Curbside Concerts – they just tried them, and were successful.

“It taught us a lot about our mission and programs, to go through that process,” Danner said. “Here’s the situation, so how do we do our mission? It’s going to be the same thing with schools. Obviously, kids still need music education.”

The Kidstock summer program for students was scaled back, to just two weeks of two groups of five students each, spaced out in different rooms, and a showcase concert outside in the courtyard (instead of the Redstone Room).

“The two weeks we had were really awesome, just to give the teens a chance to do Kidstock this year,” he said. “Hopefully next year we’ll be able to come back with the full run of the program, which is usually four or five weeks.”

A Kidstock performance from summer 2019.

Held this past July, Kidstock gives young musicians (ages 8-18) the opportunity to participate in workshops led by professional musicians, form a band with fellow campers and typically put on a concert in the Redstone Room for friends and families.

Kidstock helps students learn about valuable life skills such as teamwork, compromise and determination – all while doing something they love, according to RME.

This summer’s Live@Five outdoor concert series, in the courtyard, also was shortened just to August and September, and capacity was limited to specifically marked areas, with masks required for entry and bar service.

“People were so appreciative to have the Live@Five there, even for half the summer,” Danner said. “We did have some people who showed up without masks, but we had a stack of them on the table. They’d put one on and once they sat in their little blocked-off area, they could take off their mask and enjoy the show, get a beer and all that. People were really cooperative and appreciative.”

RME sponsored one concert earlier this month at the Rock Island Schwiebert Park Thursday night series, with Class of ’82. “It worked out great, since Class of ’82 usually plays a Live@Five over the summer and we couldn’t have them this year ‘cause it got half way cancelled,” Danner said. “We were able to support their show over there.”

Longtime believers in the mission

Rusty and Doris Unterzuber of Davenport are longtime believers in RME’s mission. And now they’ve issued a challenge: pledging $7,000 in matching funds to this campaign.

“We all have seen the growth and impact of this organization for 16-plus years,” Rusty said in a new two-minute fundraising video. “The future is brighter than ever. And we believe there are opportunities well beyond what anyone imagined when they opened.

Rusty and Doris Unterzuber of Davenport, longtime supporters of RME.

In 2014, at RME’s 10th anniversary, he said they support the group partly because “of the unbelievable array and phenomenal quality of musical performances they provide the community at extremely low costs.”

The Unterzubers have been involved in RME strategic planning, but haven’t made a pledge of this size in the past, Danner said.

A few years ago, for Rusty’s 65th birthday, they matched 65 cents of every $1 donated to RME, with a party and concert at the end. This fall campaign will likely last about seven weeks, Danner said, noting there about a dozen small “friendraisers” planned, both in-person and virtually.

Together with former board member and longtime supporter KV Dahl, there is a total of $10,000 pledged in matching funds for the campaign.

This past spring, RME got Covid-19 emergency grants and forgivable loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which got it through the spring.

“Most importantly, they allowed us to take the time to thoughtfully consider where we were headed this year,” Danner said. “We didn’t have to make any rash judgments or panicked decisions, which was so valuable. Heading into this year, our finances obviously look very different than a normal year, because we don’t have activity of concerts going on; a lot of our programs have changed a lot.”

“We’re pleased with the position we’re in,” he said. “Things certainly aren’t all rosy, but we’ve built up enough stability of the past couple years, we’re in a really good place. We’re trying to take this year to think about the future.”

The priorities of their January 2020 strategic plan are still true; it’s just how they accomplish them are different, Danner said.

Don Gustofson performing an outdoor RME curbside concert.

“It’s about thinking of the places we really need to invest in, to grow the programs that are important to the community. Asking what the needs really are, because the needs have changed in the community.”

On Oct. 15 at 7 p.m., RME will hold a fundraiser at Great Revivalist Brew Lab in Geneseo.

GRB (formerly Great River Brewery) and the River Music Experience are longtime friends and partners. “Whether it’s special fundraisers, Wax Wednesdays, or helping each other fight the flood, we’ve been in it together through thick and thin,” according to RME.

They will celebrate GRB’s new name and location, as well as helping to support RME’s programs and educational opportunities.

Live music will be provided outside by Don Gustofson of Funktastic 5, who has done Curbside Concerts. Of each GRB pint sold on Oct. 15, $1 will be donated to RME.

For more information, visit www.rivermusicexprience.org.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.