The stages at White Oak Music Hall (WOMH), 2915 N. Main St., had been silent since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Heights-area business to close its doors.
Rhythmic sounds returned last Saturday when Deadeye, a Grateful Dead tribute band, played the hall’s first show since March.
“Our business relies on people coming together to enjoy live music, so we faced a lot of challenges when we had to close mid-March,” WOMH’s Mike Mauer said. “Like many other music venues, we had a lot of great people who make the show run — security, sound and lights, box office, etc. — that were out of work.”
As other Houston businesses reopened under the executive order of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Mauer said WOMH held off until the team felt its criteria for reopening was met, which was the government saying it was safe to do so, the musicians feeling safe enough to perform and the staff had to feel like they could provide a safe experience for guests, employees and performers.
“With regard to our safety guidelines, we really tried to be thorough so we felt confident going into Saturday’s show,” Mauer said. “We compiled the best practices set out by the municipality, TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission), health officials and the Event Safety Alliance and built an action plan. We also waited and watched how other venues and small businesses opened to give us time to feel really good about the plan.”
The basic safety guidelines outlined on WOMH’s website include washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer stations, using face masks, not using cash and keeping 6 feet apart from other people. The performance areas also have pre-spaced out seating for concert goers.
The capacity at a show also has been largely reduced. Originally, last Saturday’s show was scheduled for the upstairs stage, but it was moved downstairs because it’s bigger and could more easily accommodate safety guidelines. Mauer said the concert was held at about 5 percent capacity.
“Each table was spaced out from one another, we had cocktail servers instead of bar service, our staff had their temperature taken and wore PPE, and we rolled out our new cleaning measure,” Mauer said.
As for the fans, Mauer said they’ve been supportive. Last Saturday, he described the atmosphere as relaxed and said people were just happy to have the place open again.
“It’ll be really challenging for us, or any venue, to go back to how active we were before,” Mauer said. “In the short term, this means us giving extra effort to sanitize the venue, remind guests about our guidelines, and continuously stay on top of new info (and) best practices.”
WOMH is also attempting to normalize some of these new practices by making them a part of the experience. The next show is a burlesque show this Saturday June 27, and is cabaret-style, making the socially-distanced tables part of the vibe of the show.
The hall’s concert schedule is very different than is was pre-pandemic. The venue would host musicians daily, but with postponed shows and cancelled tours, it’s another challenge to overcome.
“We are still at the whims of artists and their schedules. To counterbalance that, we are focusing on more local and regional bands who don’t need to already be on tour,” Mauer said. “We’re also fairly lucky in that our space is flexible. We have three venues that are various sizes, including a fairly expansive outdoor lawn. We’re definitely looking at how we can use that space more effectively.”
During the time the venue was closed, WOMH kept active by hosting blood drives, distributing produce, supporting local bands through Spotify playlists, teaming up with the Cosmo Flamingo food truck to serve the community and more.
For the staff that was out of work and is still out of work, WOMH launched a GoFundMe page, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward the staff. So far, the support has almost reached $70,000. Contributors are able to receive different perks, like custom posters, architectural tours of the venue, behind-the-scenes tours and lifetime tickets.
The GoFundMe page can be found online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-white-oak-music-hall-staff.