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COVID Couch Tour streams concerts on Facebook

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FARMINGTON — He may not be allowed to have customers lingering inside his business these days, but that hasn't prevented Lauter Haus Brewing Co. owner Brandon Beard from offering live music.

Beard kicked off the COVID Couch Tour concert series on April 10 with a performance by the hip-hop group Twisted Hand, and now concerts are planned every Friday night for the duration of the COVID-19 shutdown, he said.

The shows are streamed live on the Lauter Haus Facebook page and on the Facebook pages of the bands and artists who perform, but they do not feature an in-person audience because of social distancing restrictions.

"Yeah, as long as social distancing is going, we're going to keep doing this," he said. "It gives people something to do while sitting at home."

Beard came up with the idea himself. A friend of his who plays in a band in Albuquerque was streaming an old performance of his group at the Sunshine Theater on Facebook, and Beard wondered why the same thing couldn't be done live. After consulting with his partners, he decided it was an idea worth trying at Lauter Haus.

But it wasn't as simple as simply opening the doors to local bands, he said. Without the energy supplied by a live audience, Beard knew the visuals of the concerts would have to be interesting enough to attract viewers to the live streams. So he constructed a large stage and brought in full concert lighting for the performers, making for an eye-catching presentation.

There have been other challenges, as well, mostly figuring out how to tailor the audio for streaming and keeping the size of the groups who perform at three or fewer members. Beard said the social distancing requirements limit groups to five people, and since he already has a sound and lighting technician on hand for each show, no more than a trio can appear on stage.

In spite of those limits, he is pleased with how the series has gone. He said on April 24 the first two shows had drawn an average of 30 to 60 live viewers, and 1,800 people had viewed the Twisted Hand video, while 1,400 people had checked out the video of the second group to perform, the metal band Nil.

"I think that's a good number," Beard said. "I would take that any day of the week."

The April 24 concert featured Brandon Crandal and the Rexall Rangers — a group that normally performs as a quintet but which had trimmed its roster to a trio for that show.

The bands are permitted to promote their PayPal or Venmo accounts during the performances in case their fans want to tip them. But he said the main benefit to the groups is the exposure they gain during a time when they otherwise would be forced to remain idle.

"I don't know if they're making a lot of money, but they are able to vent and talk to the public," Beard said. "I think they're all about it. They've all been very appreciative and say, 'Thank you for getting us out there.'"

The series has served as a good exercise in thinking outside the box, Beard said, explaining that virtually everyone has been forced to re-examine how they do things during the shutdown.

"I think we're going to learn from all this," he said. "Everybody in the community is going to work together to make this OK. Everyone's going to have to do it together."

Beard has taken that lesson to heart, adopting a flexible attitude about how he sells his beer. The brewery can only offer its products on a take-out basis, and he said the first two to three weeks of the shutdown had a devastating effect on his sales.

"Our numbers were down 90 or 95 percent," he said.

The situation was complicated by the fact that breweries all over the country were competing for a limited supply of the cans and growlers they use for their take-out business, leading to shortages. Beard has had to adopt to several different sizes and styles, depending on availability, over the last few weeks. But his business had rebounded well since the initial steep drop, and he said his sales are now back to 40 percent of normal — far better than he anticipated.

"I am so shocked," Beard said of that turnaround.

A customer favorite has been the new four packs of 16-ounce cans that Lauter Haus is offering. Beard said he never considered selling his beer in containers that small before, but they have proven so popular he likely will continue to offer them even when the shutdown ends.

"The customers are loving it," he said. "It's actually been a really positive experience for us. We're still brewing. We've brewed five beers since this happened, and I thought our brewing was going to be halted."

Beard said he has learned that a willingness to adapt is the key to guiding a business through a challenge like this. And he is very optimistic about how he can apply that lesson even after social distancing restrictions are listed and he can return to a more traditional business model.

"When we get out of this crisis, we're going to have more beer for people to take home, and we're going to be better off than we were before we closed," he said.

The COVID Couch Tour continues May 1 with a performance by Dustin Moore. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. each week.

Call 505-326-2337 or visit lauterbrew.com for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com.

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