Artwork by Spencer Radcliffe, who will join Water Witches playing synth and saxophone this Friday at The Union. (

Live Music Returns to The Union: Talking With Water Witches

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After a 17-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, live music returns to the iconic stage of The Union Friday, July 2 (Water Witches, The Wastemen, and DJ Johnny Clift) and Saturday, July 3 (Velvet Green and In Flow).

Water Witches
Water Witches (Photo by Scott Winland)

Water Witches’ last live performance was at The Smiling Skull on March 7, 2020, just as it was becoming clear to many of us that we were experiencing the final days of the world we had been so certain would never end. Matt Clouston, bassist for the band, and Ethan Bartman, lead vocalist and guitarist, said the sudden halt of what had been the band’s rigorous 2020 live performance schedule was “fast and hard.”

“You get in the habit of doing things and playing live music is an absolute adrenaline boost – and then all of a sudden you don’t have that anymore,” said Clouston. “There was definitely a period of depression for me. It was hard to pick up a guitar for a while in 2020 – because there wasn’t anything to play for. But, eventually I climbed out of that, and coming back to the live music is amazing. We’re playing three days a week again and writing songs and booking shows and having good, laughing kind of wins.”

Bartman said that he, as well as the band collectively, took advantage of the unprecedented opportunities for reflection and creative reinvigoration present over the course of the past 17 months.

“I think taking a break was really good. I started making ambient music, and I put out an ambient record last year – which is just the complete opposite of what we’ve been doing for like five years. We definitely pulled the brakes real hard and went in different direction. Earlier this spring, we got together a few times and it was all just for fun. I think it definitely reminded us that we just liked to be around each other and hang out and make music.”

Water Witches
Artwork by Spencer Radcliffe, who will join Water Witches playing synth and saxophone this Friday at The Union. (

During those spring 2021 get togethers, the band made a point to stay away from playing anything they’d played before, resulting in a free-flowing set of recording sessions over the course of a month. The band is working on cutting those recordings into individual demos for new songs they say feel more collaborative than anything they’ve created in the past.

2020 has also impacted the subject matter of the band’s new songs.

“We have a song about the living in a late capitalist society, and there’s another one about going to ‘80s Night (with DJ Barticus) at Casa while on hallucinogens,” said Clouston. “You know, all the things that are relevant to us.”

Clouston and Bartman said they are both honored and excited to be playing the first live music show at The Union since March 2020. During the performance the band will introduce a new member: synthesizer player, saxophonist, composer, and songwriter Spencer Radcliffe (who has also recorded and released music under the name Blithe Field).

After Friday’s show, Clouston and Bartman said Water Witches will begin work on their next release, most likely pausing live performances until later this year. The band is planning on returning to Off the Cuff Recording Studio to work on the new material with producer Jason Davis. Off the Cuff Recording Studio is where the band recorded part of their last release, 2019’s Most Likely to Succeed. Davis will be moving the studio this year, and Water Witches hopes to record part of the record in the old space and “christen” the new space by recording the rest of the new release.

Scott Winland, promoter at The Union and primary booking agent at Blackout Booking, likened the experience of finalizing this weekend’s performances on Facebook to the highly anticipated reopening of The Union in May 2016 after the bar was devastated by a fire in November 2014.

“It felt so strange and awesome to hit the ‘publish the event’ button,” Winland said. “I’m sure promoters all over can relate. It feels great. (…) We’re super excited to see lots of old friends this weekend!”

Winland said The Union has already booked upcoming shows from DANA, The Wingnuts, the Greg Ashley Band, Ernie Johnson From Detroit, Drift Mouth, DJ B-Funk, Jake Dunn & The Blackbirds, LUNG, DJ Barticus, Radattack, and more.

Doors for shows at The Union will now open earlier than they did pre-pandemic, at 7 p.m. and with music starting at 8 p.m. There will be an $8 cover at both the Friday, July 2 and Saturday, July 3 shows. The Union also now accepts cash and cards at the door.