HOUSTON - When was the last time you went to a concert? The pandemic put the brakes on live shows leaving us longing for them and causing quite a financial strain for many musicians but in this Positively Houston we talk with an artist who didn’t leave his band burdened.
That’s right the shows stopped but the checks didn’t. Americana Music singer Robert Earl Keen got creative in order to, not only, stay afloat himself but also pay his band when the whole world shut down due to COVID. "It was to make sure I wasn’t just running on the thinnest thread I could run on. I needed some backup," Keen smiles.
For more than 30 years the Houston native has taken to the stage until the pandemic pressed paused on performances around the globe. "I realized we were in hot water and thought about my options," Keen explains. So the singer secured a second mortgage on his home to continue to pay his four band members. "I felt like it was my moral obligation to do everything I could to keep everything going," says Keen.
As it turns out they needed every penny because the pandemic persisted longer than anyone expected. "In the last 20 years I would say we do an average of somewhere around 120 shows a year. We did 20 shows in 2020". Keen and his band have been able to do a few virtual shows as well. He’s picked up a podcast and wrote an article on Willie Nelson in Texas Monthly that’s now nominated for a national award. "It was the lead story in this particular issue," says Keen.
What Keen did to help his band certainly stands out but actually what he did decades ago was pretty peculiar as well. He set up his band like a business. Offering what most artists don’t. "Insurance and they had a regular salary that they could depend on. There were also bonuses and I had a retirement plan and those have all been in place about 20 years," Keen explains and all of those things continued even through COVID.
"It just felt like it was not just the right thing to do but the only thing to do". Now after a tough year and two months it appears, again, securing steady shows on stage isn’t far away. "You can certainly catch your breath. I don’t know if I can say 'hey it’s behind us' but you can certainly catch your breath," Keen smiles.
If you know someone who’s making a positive difference please email me at Damali.Keith@Fox.com. I would love to feature them on Positively Houston.