WINCHESTER — The Bright Box’s small and cozy stage lit up for the first time in 16 months Friday night with a free public show hosted by local musicians.

The local performance venue in Winchester has not held a show since March 13, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a point in November, when Bright Box Owner Marilyn Finnemore thought its days as a public performance venue may be numbered without assistance.

Bright Box worried like many music venues during the peak of the pandemic if they could financially survive without holding shows. In fact, some indoor indie music venues did have to permanently shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions, including U Street Music Hall in Washington, D.C.

But as the crowd began dancing to the funky rock reggae jam band sounds of Atlantic Aesthetic, Friday night was a celebration of survival for the Bright Box.

Bill Rogers, who does marketing for Bright Box, said it’s been 16 months too many without local live music at the venue on the Loudoun Street Walking Mall.

“It is such a relief to be back,” Rogers said. “We’re just really excited to be the venue full of life again. To hear laughter, to see people smiling and dancing, just feeling all that amazing energy.”

Holding the free show with local artists The Sweet Life, Michael Perdew and Atlantic Aesthetic on Friday night was a way to thank the community for its patience and for backing the Bright Box throughout the pandemic, Rogers said.

The Bright Box created a GoFundMe in October with a goal to fundraise $50,000 to stay afloat. The venue gathered more than $8,000 in donations, and Rogers said it definitely helped. People also purchased gift certificates from Bright Box, to help it move forward, as well.

Since then, Bright Box also recently received financial assistance through the Shuttered Venue Operators grant, which provides emergency assistance for eligible venues affected by COVID-19.

Rogers did not say how much money Bright Box received from the grant funded through the federal dollars provided via the American Rescue Plan Act. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, eligible applicants may qualify for grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, with up to $10 million that could be awarded in one grant.

Since March of 2020, staffing was scaled back at the venue, licenses were suspended and energy usage was cut back drastically.

The Shuttered Venue Operators grant is enough money to help Bright Box reopen, Rogers said. All food and beverage supplies have to be reordered, more staff need to be hired, and licenses need to be renewed. Essentially, the federal grant is helping Bright Box pay for the same things it would need as if it was opening for the first time.

“It costs a lot to run a venue,” Rogers said.

Cody Fowler is the keyboardist and guitarist for the local psychedelic electronic-rock band, The Sweet Life. Before the show began Friday night, Fowler said it was his first time performing in Winchester since COVID-19 initially shut down public gatherings. That’s a big deal for him, having grown up in Frederick County.

“This place is awesome,” Fowler said. “It’s been supplying a place for us to have amazing nights for quite some time.”

The Bright Box is “pivotal” to local musicians, Fowler added. Particularly because there are so few venue spaces in the area for artists to perform.

“It would be terrible without it, everybody would just be house partying,” he said.

As Boyce residents Katie Foley and Andrew Hart waited for the local show to begin at the Bright Box on Friday, Hart noted that attending local shows at the Bright Box can feel like a spiritual experience.

Foley noted that several of the local music venues in Washington, D.C. she used to go to have closed due to the pandemic. Foley and Hart have been to the Bright Box several times before, and they’re very happy to be back, especially knowing it survived financially.

“It’s like an honor,” Foley said about being able to attend the first Bright Box show in 16 months. “It’s pretty speechless that they were able to hold it open.”

Winchester residents Melissa Christ, Maria Casey and Zack Thayer have all been regulars at the Bright Box prior to the pandemic.

“It’s just amazing to feel the music again,” Christ said during the Friday night show. “We made it through.”

For Casey, she said she could feel the love radiating throughout the venue by other local concertgoers on Friday night as the community reunited.

“How do you put into words seeing every single person you haven’t seen for a year and a half, and then put them all in one room and then be so excited to see every single one of them,” Thayer said. “That’s the feeling.”

— Contact Anna Merod

at amerod@winchesterstar.com

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