This is the 11th installment of Rolling Stone’s Music in Crisis series, which looks at how people all across the music industry are coping with the coronavirus pandemic. This edition focuses on the CEO of an event company that, as reported in The Los Angeles Times, pivoted from outfitting music fests to building emergency medical facilities.
Ryan Choura usually spends festival season providing tents, furniture, and flooring for high-profile music, food, and sports gatherings. He was gearing up for this year’s Coachella when he realized that 2020 could be very different for him and his L.A.-based company, Choura Events. He’d heard about an event in Europe that was canceled due to the coronavirus, and immediately he started to worry.
“I Slacked my management team and said, ‘Hey, guys, we need to keep our eye on this,’” Choura recalls. “Somebody responded, ‘We have much bigger problems to deal with.’ I thought to myself, ‘No, we don’t. This is major.’”
In early March, he got word that a California tennis tournament he was working on, the BNP Paribas Open, was being called off. From there, his business — which has serviced festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, Stagecoach, and Panorama — went into free fall.
“Within 72 hours, we had almost a 100 percent cancellation rate on all March events,” Choura says. “I have never cried so much in my life — on behalf of my employees who are now out of work. I went through 9/11, the recession in ‘08. I’ve never encountered anything like this.”
As he listened to the reports pour in, he heard governors on the news calling for help with temporary medical facilities. An idea started to take shape in his mind about how Choura Events could step in to ease that burden.
“During those first 72 hours, I started thinking: Hospitals are going to need our help,” Choura says. “I was like, ‘I know how to build temporary facilities. I could do this.’ So, we started calling our local hospitals.”
Soon, the company was building field hospitals and triage tents for Fountain Valley Regional Medical Center and other local facilities in need of more space for coronavirus patients. For Choura, the transition from outfitting music fests to aiding hospitals felt surprisingly smooth.
“You really use the same skill set building hospital structures as you do event spaces,” he says. “The difference is that you’re creating something for a patient that will potentially help save their life. I saw the first structure the day that it opened. It was so intense. I came back and I told my team, ‘Listen, when you see this in person, you are going to be changed. When you see COVID in person, the way medical experts are treating it — you are going to think differently about it.’”
Right now, Choura says he isn’t counting on a return to the way things were. “Just like 9/11 changed going to an airport, I think COVID will change live events forever,” he says. “There’s nothing like live music. I just don’t think it’ll ever be the same.”
In the meantime, his company is continuing its emergency work. They’re charging reduced rates, but Choura says the payoff for him and his team has been clear. “It was awesome to watch our company fight for something good,” he says. “We’re still fighting.”