While merchandisers struggle to keep shelves stocked and restaurants work on how they can still serve their customers in today’s world of COVID-19, the entertainment industry is dealing with what it’s future looks like, and Scottsbluff native Steve Koken offers a unique perspective.

Koken owns a small production company called Bright Lights of Kansas City, and makes his living off lighting systems for local venues, but also traveling with bands and doing stage lighting for acts such as Night Ranger and Sammy Hagar.

Recommendations from the CDC and WHO and even from President Donald Trump have all but shut down the touring world for the major artists.

“Right now, it’s just the fact that everything is being canceled,” Koken said from his Kansas City home. “You’re not even getting the chance to cancel it. We went and did a show in Greenville, Tennessee, Friday, and we were supposed to be in Indiana the next day, and the governor of the state canceled all performances there. We did the one show, which was surprisingly pretty well attended. Which kind of tells you that they have to do this because I think people will go out and become infected if you don’t shut it down.”

That Friday night show was in a 1,000-seat venue with probably 600-700 in attendance. Koken said he was recently talking with a colleague about how the coronavirus has impacted their world.

“We always talked about how we were fairly certain that our business was recession proof,” Koken said. “We’ve never really seen a dip in people going out to concerts in our lives. And I never considered a pandemic. But my industry is absolutely devastated. It’s demolished. It’s decimated, man.

"There’s nothing left. I have been canceled out of everything — and I mean everything as far as touring work, my company as far as local install work, I have certain number of companies and bars that I have gear in that I do a monthly service — all of those are shut down. I don’t have a single source of income.”

Koken said he’s fortunate that his wife, Connie, works, and is able to work from home. They don’t have a lot of debt and have some savings, but his year is based on a tour beginning in July with Sammy Hagar and Whitesnake. If that tour doesn’t go on the road, Koken’s year is done.

“I’m anticipating having to go get a job,” he said. “I’ve got enough to probably survive the next couple months, but if it goes much past that, I’ll probably have to go find honest work. Nobody ever saw this coming. I never even considered this as a possibility.”

As the state of things changes rapidly, Koken said he is trying to keep up with releases, and says his biggest concern is not that he would contract the virus, but that he didn’t bring it home to Connie, who struggles with an immune disorder.

“I still think there’s a lot of overblowing going on,” he said. “I’m definitely a person who thinks we need to listen to the scientists and do what we need to do, and if that means changing our mind tomorrow on what we did today, I think we should be able to do that and feel free to do that. But, man, I hope we don’t live in fear.”

While many people might only consider the artists, Koken said there are far more support people such as himself, vendors, stage hands and a multitude of jobs that are mostly overlooked that will be seeing the impact of lost tour dates.

“What’s on my mind first and foremost right now is what this is going to do to our industry,” Koken said. “I think a lot of people are thinking of the musicians, but there is a ton of ‘me’ out there that support the musicians, that people don’t even know who we are most of the time. They certainly don’t understand how a tour works where we’re always the first to get cut, last to get hired, and this is going to be hard on a lot of people. I have no doubt that we’re all gonna get back to our lives at some point, but in the meantime, a lot of people are not gonna make it.”

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Mark McCarthy is a reporter with the Star-Herald and oversees the Gering Courier as editor. He can be reached at 308-632-9049 or via email at mark.mccarthy@starherald.com.

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