'Save Archie' campaign spotlights a concert industry decimated by COVID-19

Andy Downing
Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females

As the coronavirus pandemic carried through most of 2020, largely obliterating the live music scene, Bobby Miller, founder of Columbus-based promotion company Archie Fox Live, started to gain an even greater perspective for the overwhelming scale of the concert industry.

“It’s not just a bar and a band,” Miller said by phone in late January. “There’s agents. There’s promoters. There’s PR people. There’s sound people. There’s door people. There’s bouncers. There’s tour drivers. I mean, it’s really this much bigger thing, and everyone has been affected.”

To raise awareness of the scale of the devastation, as well as to bring in at least some revenue for Archie Fox, which is now going on eight months of zero income, Miller launched a “Save Archie” drive in mid-December. The social media campaign, which has featureda continual stream of photographs of indie musicians wearing “Save Archie” T-shirts, including Nashville rocker Ron Gallo and Screaming Females shredder Marissa Paternoster, shares at least some spiritual DNA with beloved 1980s comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and its accidentally viral message to “Save Ferris.”

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“‘Save Archie,’ ‘Save Ferris,’ it really rolls off the tongue, and I was definitely hoping it would catch on and become this weird little happening,” said Miller, who isselling related merchandise via the Archie Fox Live website. “I like the idea of someone getting stopped on the street and being asked, ‘Who’s Archie?’ And that strikes up this conversation where they can say, ‘It’s a local promoter that puts on concerts by a lot of artists I love,’ but then it also speaks to the bigger issue. Music venues are hurting. Musicians are hurting. And so maybe through that conversation they start to get a bigger picture of what’s going on. ... That, to me, is a big part of this, whether it manifests the way I envisioned it or not. To me, it's about something bigger than Archie Fox. It's asking, 'What can we do to bring attention to the plight of the music industry at-large?'"

Drawing on this all-for-one idea, beginning in late November Miller started to reach out to musicians with whom Archie Fox had previously established a relationship, sending inquiries to somewhere between 75 and 100 artists, around 30 of whom agreed to take part. A couple of weeks later, on Dec. 14, Miller posted the first campaign image on the company’s Instagram page: a photo of Stephen McBean, frontman for Canadian psych-rock band Black Mountain, dressed in a “Save Archie” shirt, a picture McBean also shared onthe official Black Mountain account.

“There may now be a vaccine for our bodies, but the independent venues/basements are one of the bloodlines for being alive,” McBean wrote in a post accompanying the photo. “If you can buy a shirt to help Archie or your local club/venue please drop a dimebag’s worth to help save their butts.”

Subsequent posts have featured photos ofMac McCaughan, singer/guitarist of Superchunk and the founder and owner of Merge Records, Oliver Ackermanof A Place to Bury Strangers and, most recently, singer, songwriter and guitaristTorres, a post that also included a breaking bit of potential concert news. “If all goes well,” the accompanying message reads, “we will be bringing Torres through [Ace of Cups] in September.”

“In a weird way, everyone is just doing what they can to help one another, and even if that’s just putting a post up on social media, which a lot of artists have been willing to do, that’s super cool,” Miller said. “It’s something they clearly don’t have to do, but it’s also sort of validating.”

Longer term, Miller said that his company should gain some relief fromthe passage of the $15 billion Save Our Stages act, which is geared toward preserving the country’s live music industry and benefits everyone from independent music venues to promoters like Archie Fox. At this point, though, specifics about the application process, timeline and aid available haven't been released (Miller said he’s participated in one Zoom call that offered an outline of the program). Combined with the ongoing "Save Archie" campaign, though, this news has further buoyed Miller, who said part of his process the last six months or so has been trying to stop worrying about what has been lost and to resume planning for what he hopes will be a more promising future.

“I’ve sort of gotten to this point where I’m trying not to mourn the past anymore. What has happened happened, and now it’s time to focus on what I can do now and into the future to stick around,” Miller said. “For me, it’s never been about getting rich or status or anything. Music is a passion for me. It’s what drives me. To be in this industry is to be able to wake up every day and not dread what I’m doing with my life. [As the pandemic stretched on] I started to ask myself, ‘What else could I do that would feed my soul in the same way?’ and I never really got an answer. So I’ve just kept chugging along and trying my best to weather this storm.”

Ron Gallo