Warmer weather in the weeks ahead may see more than spring vegetation growing as two Baylor University-area venues use their outdoor space to nurture live music.
Capacity limits and social distancing, community measures taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, have reduced live music at Waco restaurants, bars and other venues over the last year, shuttering some places where musicians and bands once entertained audiences.
Some venues, however, are finding room in current guidelines and an abiding interest in live performance to start adding it to their food, drink and entertainment offerings.
The outdoor area at Freight Bar, which opened in October 2019 several blocks from the Baylor campus, allows up to 40 tables spaced according to COVID-19 guidelines. Coupled with a current 50% capacity limit, that makes live music on Friday and Saturday nights a workable option, said Kendall Cockrell, a co-owner with partner Joey Oglesby.
“There’s plenty of room to seat and be socially distanced,” he said. Wait staff also run food and drink orders to the tables, minimizing clustering at order counters and the bar.
With students returning to campus, Freight Bar is making live music a regular option in its weekly schedule with performers penciled in for Friday and Saturday nights.
Cockrell said the mix of regional and local musicians and musical styles is intentional. “I love not having a particular genre . . . We can pick country, Americana or rock ’n’ roll,” he said.
Earlier this month, Nashville Americana duo My One and Only played Freight as did local band Brazos Brothers. This Friday, Alex Francisco Caruthers will play with singer-songwriter John Buckley scheduled for Feb. 12.
Freight Bar also is testing comedy. Last week, Waco comic Terry Bluez hosted an open mic comedy night and that will return on alternate Thursday nights.
While Baylor students make up a good part of Freight’s customers, Cockrell has a broader view of its intended clientele, one that includes young professionals and families. “We love our college kids, but we consider ourselves a Waco bar near Baylor,” Cockrell said.
Route 77 Food Park, also near the Baylor campus, also is adding music to the food offerings of its six food trucks. Waco singer-songwriter Mike Stanley played at the park on Jan. 15, part of plans to introduce live performances there. “We’re going to do live music on a selected basis. We’re trying to stay in tune with the pandemic,” explained owner David Mercer.
Pre-pandemic, the park could accommodate an audience up to 100 people, but current capacity limits would cap that at about 50. As a result, Route 77 is looking for performers suited for small audiences. “We’re not a big venue, but we’re good for smaller, more intimate gatherings,” he said.
As the weather warms, the food park likely would add music on Fridays, Saturdays or slow days earlier in the week, he said, with an eye — or ear — open to local talent. “Anywhere from country to classic rock. Right now, we’re compiling a list,” Mercer said.
Live music won’t be coming back this spring at other Baylor-area venues. Popular coffeehouse Common Grounds, which for years regularly brought touring bands and musicians to its open backyard stage, has been quiet since last spring’s pandemic shutdowns. Live events coordinator Hayden Smith said that likely will continue until next fall, although a postponed October show by Christian singer-songwriter John Mark McMillan is presently on Common Grounds’ April calendar.
The Backyard Brew & Chew, owned and operated by the same crew behind restaurant and concert venue The Backyard on the other side of the interstate, reopens for business on Thursday. Co-owner Brian Brown said its stage has been converted to support more of the bar operations, though there’s still the option to do the occasional single show. The longtime leader of the band Sloppy Joe, Brown noted that college audiences are just as likely to turn out for DJs and solo rappers as local bands. “College bands are a thing of the past. There’s not enough (support) to sustain a live music venue for us,” he said.