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Marion County live music venues look for ways to keep playing

With the arrival of warmer weather, venues with the necessary space are moving the entertainment outdoors.

INDIANAPOLIS — Live music venues like downtown's Slippery Noodle are back in play but still singing the blues, especially in Marion County where mask mandates and capacity limits remain in place. 

"We're looking for a big summer," said Josh Caplinger, a Slippery Noodle partner. "But you have to bring people in, and that's the main part."

With warmer weather here, the Slippery Noodle and others with the necessary space are moving the music outdoors when possible.

"The only way we can do anything of any size is outside," said Mike Quarto, who owns the Mousetrap Bar and Grill. "We can actually close down the parking lot and put up a stage."

But Quarto said with neighbors nearby, the music has to end by 10 p.m.

Like others, he's doing all he can to maximize business while hoping for some help from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. It's a $16 billion federal relief fund to help music and theater venues recover from the pandemic. The application website opened Thursday, but not for long. The online portal crashed after thousands rushed to apply. There's no word yet on when site will be operational.

"If there's money available, we're obviously going to go after it, but at the same time we want to make sure those suffering more get the help first," Quarto said. 

The owner of the Chatterbox Jazz Club on Massachusetts Avenue got all the pre-work done when he heard about the problems. David Andrichik said he received an email saying the site "wouldn't be open for a while."

Andrichik's music venue hasn't been open for nearly 13 months, since the pandemic forced him to close March 16, 2020, but he continues to engage with Chatterbox fans every day on Facebook.

"Hey Chatterboxers, it's 365 plus 24 days," since Chatterbox was last open he wrote Friday. 

His daily posts also include what's not happening, such as the musicians who had been scheduled to play. Thursday night it was the Steven Jones Trio.

The Chatterbox is small. Full capacity is 50 people, since it is designated as a bar. Marion County restrictions cap capacity at 50% or 25 people. As Andrichik said, enough for a band, a few bartenders and 20 customers.

The barstools have been put up at the Chatterbox on Mass Ave during the COVID-19 pandemic. (WTHR photo)

He decided early on with capacity limits, he couldn't allow enough people in to break even, so he's storing things in the bar and working on other projects until things change.

"I'm paying out of retirement to keep the doors closed but to keep everything moving so we can reopen," when Marion County loosens restrictions, Andrichik said.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine have said Indianapolis needs to reach herd immunity, 80 percent of residents vaccinated, before the mask mandate and other restrictions will be lifted.

Andrichik said he hopes to open by mid-summer but won't reopen until he's allowed to operate at full capacity, no matter how long it takes. He also wants to ensure all his employees are vaccinated.

"They want to be safe and truly, they don't want to police people coming in all the time and worrying about overcrowding and so on. There's going to be certainly pent-up demand for live music and that has to be managed," he said.

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