Friday, 09 October 2020 17:47

COLUMN: The live music industry and COVID-19

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John Martin performs with Jonathan Robinson at the 2018 Rockin' for Veterans concert. John Martin performs with Jonathan Robinson at the 2018 Rockin' for Veterans concert. William R. Toler

Just after the March 10 concert honoring the music of the Allman Brothers Band at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the country literally shut down in so many ways. 

This concert was a sell-out and fans came from all over to honor this music — and the next day, the lights were turned off.

Our industry was the first industry to stop and the last to return. 

The live music industry, as we all know, has been hit quite hard — as many other businesses also have — and continues to take severe hits due to the current pandemic. 

As many of you know, I am involved in this industry and I have seen from the inside just how devastating it has been, to not only musicians. 

But let’s dig deeper into the facts. 

The concert halls, theatres and venues in general have not had the lights on for months now and, sad to say, no incoming revenue. Along with this are a lot of lighting and sound engineers, bartenders and general custodians who make a live music experience for so many fans the escape it is for a couple of hours, listening and watching a performance. Trying to keep the lease payments, mortgage payments and staff paid without revenue has literally put many out of business and has pushed a lot of the support staff into the unemployment line. Not many small businesses can withstand huge and continued losses in revenue and stay in business and that is just a simple fact. 

The rules vary from state to state and in the immediate area. For example, in North Carolina the rules are very tight, meaning live music venues have been shut down. The rules for restaurants are a little more lenient to allow more capacity and even some — mostly acoustic — live music. Some of this occurs outdoors on a patio, which isn’t as confining as being indoors. 

Just a few weeks ago, the band I travel with was in concert in Virginia Beach. It was very well controlled and the interior was laid out according to the state’s rules of spacing tables, pods, seating and social distancing. It was very much a success as the fans played by all the rules. Every ticket was sold for the event and believe me, our fans were more than ready for the live music experience and they got what they paid for as we delivered. 

We have more on the calendar in Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina that are abiding by the current rules of social distancing and limited-capacity seating and pods for general admission, etc. Referring again to North Carolina, we were just part of an outdoor concert series in Durham, and it was well organized by selling tents and pods. It was held in a large outdoor area and social distancing wasn’t an issue and it was a picture-perfect day for  such an event. 

The fans and the performers of all genres are certainly ready to get back on stage and for many  of us, we are ready to get back on the road — but our health and safe practices are at the top of our list. We are all optimistic that soon we will all be able to get back to some sense of normalcy again.

John Martin, of Hamlet, is a drummer/percussionist for Idlewild South, an Allman Brothers tribute band, and for guitarist Jonathan Robinson.