DENTON, Texas -- The streets are quiet on the Denton Square, normally bustling during this Thursday lunch hour, and most businesses are operating on limited hours due to COVID-19, which has affected musicians and small business owners alike.
Marked by red framed doors and windows on a near empty Industrial Street is Steve’s Wine Bar, doing the same to limit the spread of novel virus COVID-19 and allowing only to-go orders of their selections of beer, wine, and cigars. On a normal night, glasses clinking and the smooth sounds of jazz would ring through the air. It’s a hotspot for jazz. Now, it’s dark inside, as it’s not yet open, dimly illuminated by the light falling through the windows.
At the back, a silver-haired man clad in khaki shorts and a light blue shirt arranges the patio seating. He’s the namesake of Steve's Wine Bar, Steve Severance. Before COVID-19 forced gatherings in public places to be reduced significantly or stopped completely, Steve had booked performances up until May for the bar. Though concerts can no longer be held with a live audience, Steve and his wife, Karen Severance, still find ways to accommodate the new changes and offer some sense of normalcy to customers and performers.
“I actually made an offer, just kind of a general public offer, to people out there if they’re looking for a piano to play on,” Steve said. “And they want to practice or play while we’re open, they’re more than welcome to do so.” Steve said there were no takers at the time, but wouldn’t mind having someone playing as customers come in to pick up their to-go orders.
Since then, Steve’s Wine Bar has streamed a couple of musicians playing live on Facebook. Karen, who Steve calls the face of Steve’s Wine Bar, said social distancing and not being able to sit and talk with customers has been hard for them since they’re sociable people.
“We’re like ‘that’s to-go, you can’t stay here.’ They want to stay and talk. We had a woman yesterday who just lost her sister, and I gave her a glass to-go,” Karen said. “She just wanted to talk a little bit, so keeping our distance, we let her talk. It's really hard on her because she’s not able to be around anybody.”
Staff have also had to deal with the effects of COVID-19, adhering to social distancing and limiting the amount of people in one space. Therefore, only one employee a day is scheduled to come in for a shift. For some of these employees, this is their sole source of income, and COVID-19 has brought unforeseen circumstances.
“We base everything on, not so much the wine, but coming in to enjoy your company, your friends, so that’s what makes it difficult,” Karen said. “I feel really bad for our staff. For them, we’re hoping that maybe we could come back and work out something if we
could get one of the loans that are available to us so that way we could take care of them in this time.”
Before the declared pandemic caused by coronavirus, Steve had a 12 hour workday that he spent the first half tending to the business’s social media page and website and other tasks related to the bar. The other half was spent servicing the bar and interacting with patrons. “I’m always working on something for the wine bar,” Steve said. “My day just kind of flows from about 8 or 9 in the morning until the time I get home about midnight. The morning is spent at home.”
But when Steve isn’t working on something for the wine bar, he’s playing his trumpet. Steve said he prefers big band jazz, and it has been in his life from an early age. He got his degree in music performance and really enjoys big band jazz, which brought him to L.A. after college. “That's kinda the background on jazz is I grew up with it by listening to lots of big bands,” Steve said. “Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, you name it.”
Steve is also plays trumpet for the First United Methodist Church in Denton with a group called Mosaic, which has been together 4 years and he sometimes has the band play at the wine bar. “I play at the First United Methodist Church, 9:45 service is called the Mosaic Service, and we’ve got a 13-piece band,” Steve said. “It’s got 6 horns in it, and I play trumpet. We do a fun variety of music that is written specifically for the band that we do at church. Then we also do other fun things, funk and blues, and lots of mixed stuff.”
Jeffry Eckels, a full time musician and friend of the Severances, met Steve around when the bar first opened in 2016, is another part of the Mosaic ensemble. Before COVID-19, they’d perform every Sunday. Prior to that, during their encounter in 2016, Steve saw Eckels playing at a coffee shop on Wednesday nights and wanted him on board as a jazz bassist at the wine bar. “The gentleman I knew who was performing every Wednesday night at a coffee shop, called the White House, when they shut down, he lost his Wednesday night gig,” Steve said. “When I approached him and said, ‘hey, i’m opening a wine bar, would you like to move your gig from there over to my place?’ that kind of kickstarted the idea of some jazz.”
Eckles describes Steve’s trumpet playing happily, remarking on his humbleness when it comes to trumpet. He said Steve is an incredible trumpet player and performer but won’t admit it. In regard to performing together, Eckels said he was discussing options for live streaming with Steve at the wine bar and giving the people something to enjoy. “We’re in the process of fixing, in fact, you beat me to the punch, I was gonna call him this morning trying to figure out the best way to get audio into the video and we’re thinking about doing the “COVID Sessions,” Eckels said. “We physically distance, of course. But he’s got a beautiful grand piano there. Maybe a duo or a trio and Steve and the engineer and we stream live from there.”
There are many musicians who want to play at the bar, and it has been a go-to spot for many UNT jazz professors. With a welcoming, familial atmosphere where locals flock, Eckels has described the bar as “Denton’s ‘Cheers." With the role Steve and Karen play in contributing to Denton’s noteworthy music scene, giving musicians a platform to perform is still important. While the music scene has gone quiet in Denton, as has much of the life here, jazz still finds a way at Steve’s Wine Bar.
Steve has always been a dreamer. In the future, he hopes to spice up the Denton Jazz scene even more, maybe introducing new events. Like many other small businesses in the area, he’s got big plans he wants to put into motion. “I’d love to come up with a little Industrial Street Jazz Fest,” Steve said. “I think that'd be a lot of fun.”
Jeffrey Eckles passed away in July of 2020. We all miss him very much. He was the driving force behind the musical experience people now have when visiting Steve's Wine Bar. Some of the most incredible music happens during the live performances and customers are always amazed at the talent and music they see and hear while enjoying their evening at Steve's.
The Mosaic Service continues at FUMC but is now at 9am.
Steve's Wine Bar is still hosting live music on a weekly basis. The schedule of events can be found on their webiste under Events or on their Facebook Events page.