By Daniel Mills
I, Daniel Mills, am a full-time, local, working musician. I perform under the moniker Son of Brad, and also own and operate a talent booking agency, Inland Talent LLC, which provides musical entertainment for nearly a dozen restaurants and lounges across Spokane and North Idaho. My agency also provides work for approximately 25 local musicians.
It has come to my attention that Gov. Inslee released a memorandum on July 9, clarifying restaurant and tavern rules under proclamations 20 – 25 and 20 – 25.4. This memorandum states:
· Bar-style seating and live music are here by prohibited in Phase 2 and Phase 3.
My concern with this rule is that it unnecessarily ends paid work for dozens of musicians, individuals who rely on outdoor restaurant patios for most or much of their income each summer.
I say it unnecessarily ends work because it completely disregards the fact that live musical entertainment with single, solo-act performers on outdoor restaurant patios, where restaurants are enforcing all current health guidelines, will in no way increase the spread of COVID-19, more so than allowing that same restaurant to continue to serve food without live music.
If the governor deems a restaurant safe enough to operate because it complies with all regulations, then why doesn’t he deem it safe to host live music at these locations, as long as these restaurants continue to comply with all of the same regulations to the same effect?
As per Inslee’s July 9 memorandum, the Spokane City Council is currently ordering one of my clients, a restaurant called The Osprey Lounge, at The Ruby River Hotel on Division, to immediately end its outdoor patio live music program.
As interpreted by the Council, and being put forth to the restaurant, Inslee’s proclamation will allow the Osprey to keep its outdoor patio operating during Phase two and Phase three, but will under no circumstances allow live music during this time, even with all social distancing and health guidelines being met.
The live music program that is being forcibly shut down in this instance consists of a single nightly entertainer, usually a singer/guitarist, two nights per week.
The musician stands on an outdoor stage, a minimum of 10 feet from the nearest guest’s dining table. The guests are seated at tables, not standing, and the tables are set distanced apart according to current social distancing protocols.
If the musician follows all of the same safety measures that are laid out for the other staff working at the restaurant at this time – for example, wear a face mask while setting up and taking down gear and practice social distancing – where is the increased risk in the musician being allowed to continue working? Why is the musicians’ privilege to work and earn money being taken from them, while the rest of the restaurant staff is being allowed to continue working? Or why is a server, who approaches a guest’s table to take a dinner order, allowed to work, but a musician who sings from a distance has no other choice but to find another job?
Many of those who have lost all of their performance income due to the shutdowns do not qualify for unemployment benefits. They earn a small amount of secondary income from other sources, which puts them barely over the line and disqualifies them from unemployment benefits.
I believe that the restaurant and tavern rules, under proclamations 20 – 25, and 20 – 25.4, or the application of these rules, needs to be changed immediately. I am humbly asking that Mayor Nadine Woodward, on behalf of our local performers, who will suffer even more financial hardships as a result of the governor’s July 9 memorandum, should as city mayor contest the governor’s decision in this matter, and allow music in qualifying locations. If it is beyond the mayor’s authority to do this, and the decision lies solely with the governor, I ask that Woodward please present this letter to Gov. Inslee and ask him to re-evaluate the application of restaurant and tavern rules, under proclamations 20 – 25, and 20 – 25.4, with respect to the facts in this letter.
I thank The Spokesman Review, the editor, Woodward and Inslee for their attention to this urgent matter.
Daniel Mills performs music regionally and teaches guitar at Burt’s Music and Sound in Coeur d’Alene.
Restaurants that serve music are offering the first signs of post-shutdown life in the local live music scene.
When concerns about coronavirus began to close businesses and force us inside, one of the first things to go was live music. And while restrictions on businesses have started to ease up, most live music is still a no-go.
Standalone music venues and most bars aren't allowed to open quite yet, but restaurants that regularly book live music for entertaining their customers have started filling up their books again. It's usually small set-ups with solo performers and an acoustic guitar, 6 feet away from patrons; it's not a rock club, but it's a start.
The Spokane Valley saloon Stormin' Norman's has hosted weekly live music and karaoke since opening in 2018. The business was closed for three months, and it resumed a couple weeks ago with live music on Wednesday nights, with solo artists who are separated from the audience.
"We've had a crazy response," says Stormin' Norman's owner Carrie Thomson. "Musicians have checked in with me to see if we have any dates open, because that's a big part of their income that they're missing, and they're happy to be out, too."
In a normal year, Stormin' Norman's would be fencing off its parking lot for outdoor summer concerts with full bands. That hasn't happened yet, though Thomson hopes to resume that soon, spacing out tables and keeping things at half capacity. For now, the music will continue on a smaller scale.
"It's the way we want the bar to be. It's part of who we are," Thomson says. "It's important for me to get musicians back to work, because I know they're struggling. It's nice to see everyone being together and being social again, and they can do that with music in the background."
A recent survey from the National Independent Venue Association showed that 90 percent of indie clubs and venues have said they're in danger of closing permanently without dedicated federal aid, while a report courtesy of Americans for the Arts that 62 percent of artists are currently unemployed.
Daniel Mills, a local booker who also performs regular solo shows under the moniker Son of Brad, had a calendar full of gigs before coronavirus lockdowns took effect. He says that most of the artists he's talked to have struggled with the lack of gigs and are itching to get back to performing.
"They have been hit hard as far as losing work," Mills tells the Inlander via email. "For the musicians who have no day job, it's been very difficult, and many of them have had to find new jobs. I have also seen half a dozen performers who perhaps feel more financially secure literally give away dozens of gigs to performers who are in greater need."
Mills has recently started booking weekly shows at Osprey, the relatively new restaurant attached to Spokane's Ruby River Hotel. Throughout the week, the restaurant will host live music on its riverside patio; the business is still at half capacity, and the staff wears masks. But during his first gig since shutdowns were lifted, Mills says his audience hardly felt limited.
"Last night the crowd was very enthusiastic with cheers, singing along and an overall party feel," Mills says. "The people present seemed to be dying to resume their social activities and entertainment."
And hopefully that enthusiasm continues: For a lot of local businesses, Mills says, it's imperative that their customers be able to enjoy live music again at a safe distance.
"The relationship between restaurants/clubs and musicians is symbiotic," Mills writes. "For the venues who have chosen to build their ambiance or atmosphere around live music, music is not replaceable. ... The more the public gets out there and supports these venues, the faster our local music scene will begin to thrive." ♦
“Daniel Mills, under the moniker Son of Brad, plays many a coffee shop around the Inland Northwest, often cranking out heartfelt acoustic covers. But this time, it’s all about his work. This weekend, Mills releases a new album full of his original songs at the Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene, where Mills is from. He won’t be alone on stage; the talented Son of Brad Quartet will fill in the spaces. The music on Evergreen is mellow and laid-back, and pumped full of choice electric guitar licks (check out the band’s “UFO’s” music video to get a taste). There’s a faith element to the lyrics, but the album is mostly about relationships and love, and even moving to Portland. — Laura Johnson” - Laura Johnson
“Daniel Mills is walking in the musical footsteps of his Father. Mills a northern Idaho native, is the son of Brad Mills, a professional jazz musician who played with the likes of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, before a car accident left him severly brain damaged and unable to play. Brad died four years ago and Mills said he was trying to, come up with a moniker for his first venture outside of peforming as a solo artist. "I was throwing things out there on facebook and couldn't come up with anything", Mills said. I was talking to my mom on the phone one day and she said, "How about Son of Brad." I thought, "Whoa, that's pretty good mom." Thanks to the inspiration from his mom Patty, the new quartet had a name, "Son of Brad. Mills told the press, that after creating three albums of solo work, he had a strong desire to get away from sounding like an artist who heavily influenced him, Elliot Smith. According to Mills, his 3rd album sounded a lot like Smith's music, and he was depressed to realize that he had so much in commmon musically with the songwriter, who suffered from depression. "I decided I wanted to write something that brings a silver lining of hope without being cheesy", Mills said. "I don't want to be fake or pretentious in any way. I feel that every song on this album has some kind of underlying theme of hope". A good way to accomplish that fee Mills said was recording other local musicans and forming a band. "The sound of a full band", he added, "creates an energy that engages an audience." Son of Brad's debut album evergreen was born of that desire. Mills began the process of creating the album by writing 30-35 songs, which he narrowed down to his favorite eleven. Local producer and engineer Aaron Birdsall helped produce and edit the album, which Mills estimated took over 800 hours. "I hope they fall in love with it, and make a memory of it", Mills told the press, when asked how he hoped people would react when listening to the album. On Saturday at 7PM Son of Brad will hit the stage at the Kroc Center in Coeurdalene for a CD release concert. The Concert which costs $10, features other local acts and lasts until 9PM. "I wanted to have a show where people can feel that they are attending a performance, that feels like they are seeing a touring act in a major city. We are expecting hundreds of people to come out, so its going to feel like a big show. I also really wanted it to be a community event where other local artists have an opportunity to play in a theater." ” - Keith Cousins
— Coeurdalene Press
“ Daniel Mills' long fingers cradled the neck of the guitar as his eyes took in the faces around him. Let's try this again," he offered. Several hands came down on the strings of their guitars, left hands groping for chords. Through the painstaking minutes, Mills maintained his sea calm smile, coaxing out his students' confidence. One, two, three," he counted slowly, naming the chords. "...And back to D. Teaching in borrowed space at the Kroc Center is different from where Mills used to be. For years, his days were measured by itinerant stops at music venues across the West, performing with musicians whose names have appeared on mass produced CDs. Then the injury happened. His coast to stardom floundered - and was over forever, he thought for awhile. But after a paced recovery and an unexpected leg up from some Coeur d'Alene loyalists, the guitar came back in his hands last year. Settled again in the Lake City, Mills is focused on teaching, he said. He's looking for as many students as he can find, in fact, to teach them the love that has fueled his life. And from there, who knows? I'm a lifer," the 32-year-old said. "I'm going to die with a guitar in my hands. On Monday afternoon, he urged his students again. We'll do it one more time with counting, and then we'll try to add singing, which will be a whole new monster for us to tackle," he said. One student laughed. Except for you," the kid said. Mills knows all about life on the road. Like how searing hot a van gets on a road trip. Or how forced thriftiness can make a man shoplift at Walmart. Or how endless hours on the phone are necessary to book a gig. For a while, enduring the slings and arrows of touring was his whole life. My whole goal was if I stayed out long enough, I'd make it. Ani DiFranco style," Mills said. "I wanted to stay out there. He'd always figured that's where he was headed. Playing guitar has consumed his life since he was 14, he said. It was all he did, picking and strumming and losing himself for hours, taking lessons at North Idaho College. Much of his devotion stemmed from his father, Brad Mills, who had been a jazz musician in New Orleans jamming with the likes of Duke Ellington, before a brain injury from a car accident stunted his abilities and restricted him to small venues. I grew up listening to him playing in churches," said Mills, a California native raised in Spirit Lake. "To have him not be able to help me with that (learning guitar), because he had been a world class musician, felt like a loss. I was missing out on something. But Mills still honed his craft. Around 19 he moved to Coeur d'Alene and taught guitar at the Northwest Academy of Music. He tested his fingers playing with a local band that included Tom Rutley, the bass player for Carlos Santana and Ray Charles. I forget about time when I'm playing," he explained. "I can sit down for five hours and forget about the time that's passed. His efforts paid off. At 23, he was signed with Click Pop Records in Bellingham, Wash., and recorded his first CD. I'd say it was just his approach to it (is why we signed him)," said Dave Richards, co-owner of Click Pop. "What we look for is musically it's got to be interesting and engaging, and at the same time, he (Mills) is a hard worker and willing to tour. Mills recalls his first album as sophomoric. It was certainly my first," he said with a chuckle. But good enough, at least, to book him hundreds of tours. In the early to mid '00s, Mills' travels traced the route from Seattle to Phoenix to San Francisco to Salt Lake City, hitting the cities and all the hamlets in between. Roving in his roasting van, he performed at holes in the walls and cherished area venues alike. At every stop, he was on the phone to pin down where he headed next. It was my work ethic that drove the thing," he said. Money didn't come fast, he conceded. Sometimes he scraped barely enough from one show to get to the next town and keep food in his stomach. Meeting the right people and putting out his music brought success, though, like opening for '90s hit band Reel Big Fish in Arizona. It was tight financially, but I didn't need anything," Mills said. "I didn't need anything to entertain me, because everything was an adventure. Like a day in Seattle when he glimpsed Dave Matthews strolling by. He managed to snag an invitation to breakfast with the rock star, where Mills handed Matthews his CD and they munched on bacon and eggs and discussed how hard it is to find a shower on I-5. Absolutely nothing," Mills said with a chuckle of what came out of the meeting. "If I would've had a more mature album, maybe something would have happened. He had intended to stay on the road, he said. To try as long as he could to make it. Until one day in 2004, when he pulled up to a stoplight in Portland, and a car barreled into him from behind and broke his neck. The pain accumulated over time. Progressively debilitating, the nerve damage in his arms forced Mills to play mostly with his right hand. I knew I needed medical treatment," he said. Knowing that required a steady income, he took a job working at Starbucks in Portland in 2005. It earned him more than free coffee. There he met and befriended John Steup, regular coffee consumer as well as vice president of the independent music distributor CD Baby. Sensing Mills' ambition, Steup took a chance and hired him to consult with performers. There's something about Dan," Steup explained over the phone. "There's warmth to him, but a complexity. CD Baby opened up chances for Mills to perform in shows with big names, like Craig Montoya of Everclear. Hands down, he (Mills) is a talented guy," Steup said. "Music seemed to be the most important thing in his life. But that screeched to a halt. Mills' chronic pain eventually prevented him from playing at all, or even typing on his keyboard at work. Doctors were unable to find exactly what the problem was," Mills said. "I needed something that used my brain, not my body. That meant quitting guitar and heading back to school. Three years Mills devoted to studying math at community colleges in Portland and outside Denver, while living in his car. It was hard to watch, said Steup, who kept in touch with the young musician. I was really worried for him that he wouldn't keep playing music," he said. "I know what it's like as a musician to take a break because things come up. But when Mills visited Coeur d'Alene two winters back, he was in for a surprise. He was able to play again with local musicians. I was starting to heal," he said. He wanted to return to music, and to Coeur d'Alene. But what about finishing his degree? Mills sought out Sandy Hardin Clemons, a fellow artist and Coeur d'Alene resident who had proven a sagely advisor over the years. As always, Clemons said, she knew the right thing to say. I said, 'You know, if God gave you an ability for music, and that's where your heart is, why are you doing your back-up plan?'" recalled Clemons, owner of Ain't It Good Productions talent agency. He considered, then called her back. I have no place to live," she remembered him admitting. "Would you mind putting me up for awhile? She didn't. I already have four boys," she said with a laugh. "What's another one? Mills stayed with the Clemons clan for nine months. Between yard work and chores to earn his keep, he composed, hunted for students, worked with his new band, Daniel Abram (his new stage name) and the X'd Out. Now living on his own, he boasts an arsenal of 30 new songs. He is also composing for a client of Clemons'. His posters around town urge folks to call (503) 367-1462 to learn one-on-one with him. If his touring days are done, he said, fine. I know the guitar is my craft, my purpose," he said. "If nothing else, I'll make a living teaching guitar the rest of my life. Steup said he has observed a major change in Mills since his return to Coeur d'Alene. I don't think I've ever heard Dan so happy," he said. "That was really a homecoming for him. Mills knows he needs to be here, Clemons said. He's not saying 'When I get some phantom form of success, I'm going to be happy,'" she said. "He's enjoying what he's doing now. On Monday, Mills led his young students through another rendition of chords. As they strummed, following his fingers, he opened his mouth and released a quiet warble. Ama-zing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me-e," he sang. "I once was lo-ost, but no-ow am found, was blind, but now I see-e. He smiled at the group and nodded. Awesome. You guys are doing really well," he said. "Let's take it again. ” - Alicia Warren