When The Music’s Over: The Death of Live Music

Long overdue
I exhale you
I opened up to you
Venom in mania

Now, contagion
I exhale you

The deceiver says, he says
You belong to me
You don’t wanna breathe the light of the others
Fear the light
Fear the breath
Fear the others for eternity
But I hear them now inhale the clarity
Hear the venom, the venom in
What you say inoculated
Bless this immunity
Bless this immunity
Bless this immunity…”
Fear Inoculum lyrics by M.Keenan and Tool(Artwork by Alex Grey)

Shit got real on March 12th when I found out that Governor Brown of Oregon issued a ban on all events over 250 people on the evening of March 11th due to the coronavirus. I was supposed to go to Tool along with my partner and his two kids later the very next evening. Their subsequent cancellation felt like a punch in the stomach. Tool had just played in Portland on the evening of March 11th. Ironically the title and vibe of the album, Fear Inoculum is about “immunization” to the polarizing effects of news and its perpetualization of fear and mania . However, one does not have to stray too far off topic to see a more literal translation of the title playing out in this current, virulent and violent climate. The album Fear Inoculum feels eerily prophetic in that sense. The US lockdown that accompanied the cancellation, effectively ended all live music events for the year 2020 and possibly beyond.

The effects of the coronavirus have been widespread amongst the most vulnerable and least likely of the U.S. population, musicians. Case in point, Coachella, Bonnaroo, SXSW, Firefly, and Governors Ball of which all are multi million dollar events were cancelled for the year 2020. This pandemic has been especially hard on working musicians. A lot of musicians I know typically have to work a day job to make ends meet. Musicians often work as waiters/waitresses, cooks,bartenders, hair stylists, massage therapists, and other jobs associated with customer service and food service. Most of these jobs have also been shut down or significantly reduced. Unemployment benefits defined by the CARES Act end July 31st. And for many struggling musicians that are out of work this will be a difficult week. Worse yet two months after that, the eviction moratorium in Oregon is set to expire on October 1st. The fear of homelessness is real for a lot of musicians. Unfortunately, the running joke that type casts couchsurfing drummers as typically being unemployed and living in their cars will have to be expanded to include their fellow guitarists, bass players, and singers of the bands as well. From a recent article in Rolling Stone Magazine, “Until the crisis hit, the live-music business was on track to generate $12.2 billion in box-office revenue in 2020, according to Pollstar. If concerts manage to start up in late August, Pollstar estimates that the industry will lose about $5.2 billion in potential revenue for the year — but if venues end up shuttered through December, losses could spiral up to $8.9 billion.”

It’s not just the musicians being affected either. The thousands of roadies,security guards,promoters, and other behind-the-scenes and venue personal have all seen their entire incomes dry up instantly overnight. Add in the fierce reduction of side gigs like teaching also being halted and suddenly being a musician has become synonymous with being out of work. Unemployment rates are currently at decades highs, a whopping 16% by conservative measures and is most likely around 20%. These rates are higher in major music minded cities and states like New York, Nevada,and California. When the pandemic first started there was growing optimism that by the Fall the crisis would eventually end and the industry would bounce back. But now with the latest surge taking place on the West Coast all hope of any paying gigs for audiences of greater than ten people in attendance has all but been extinguished for the year 2020. Even if venues were able to open the restrictions of social distancing and facial coverings will certainly diminish the experience of live music and keep a lot of folks away. Moreover, if the dust of the pandemic does eventually blow over, will there be any music venues left? (PHOTO Credit: Charles Reagan Hackleman for ‘Rolling Stone’)

Iconic live music venues like the Scoot Inn and the Continental Club in Austin remain empty spaces where a once vibrant and happening music scene existed. In Eugene, Oregon small independently owned music clubs like Old Nicks, Sam Bonds, and the legendary WOW Hall are under threat of being closed. One of the primary reasons I moved to Eugene was the existence of a robust music scene. I have been in bands and know other musicians in town that play in these local music scenes . I found an online petition from the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) asking for federal relief. NIVA represents nearly 2000 independent music venues in all 50 states. From their about us tab on their website, Saveourstages.com:

What is NIVA (National Independent Venue Association)?

  • We are a group of nearly 2,000 independent venues in 50 states that are banding together to ask Washington for targeted legislation to help us survive.
  • We were the first to close. We will be the last to open.
  • We are 100% shut down for an indefinite period of time.
  • We have zero revenue.
  • We are small businesses who are in danger.

What are we asking our Senators and Representatives for?

We are in urgent need of federal assistance. We need modifications to current legislation for businesses that are completely shuttered like ours.

  • Modifications to Small Business loans and the Payroll Protection Program, Tax Relief,
    Continued Unemployment Insurance, Mortgage and Rent Forbearance

With your help, we will survive this, and when it’s safe we can bring people back to work, and bring you the live music you love.

Check out our full letter to Congressional Leadership here: 

Not having a means to generate income is a travesty. I find it quite telling that the US can find the money unilaterally between both parties of Congress to fund banks,multinational corporations, CEO’s and the like. However there is little mention of bailing out these music venues or the musicians. I’d encourage you to sign their online saveourstages petition as I have.

My first live show happened when I was a teenager. I was a starry-eyed, bouncy sixteen year old when I had bought my first dimestore bass guitar and a small practice amp with the humble earnings of two newspaper route jobs. I joined a death metal band with some of my friends called Morbid Death in 1985 in Cheyenne, WY. Looking back music was undoubtedly a major factor in my political and philosophical development. I lived for my next gig. As evinced throughout the 33 years of playing in original local bands in form or another spanning four different cities, I’ve put in a great deal of my creativity and time to making music. If our foreseeable future continues down this dearth of live music shows and funless dystopia, I might very well go insane. I’m sorry but it’s not the same thing to play in front of a grainy webcam and the silent applause that goes with it. I am skeptical that the live experience will not be coming back to “normal” for quite some time. Our future may very well be like the Temple of Syrinx as described by a personal hero of mine in Neil Peart. In the song The Priests of Syrinx, the priests hoard and control all the music and singing of the people within their walls. I empathize and can scarcely imagine what it would be like to be a kid and not have an upcoming gig to look forward to either playing or seeing. Gigs provided me much of my reason to cut my fingernails, pine for the formations of calluses on my fingertips, and the motivation to practice everyday. To me very little compares to the high of playing music to a roomful of eager listeners. I have read recent reports of online concert viewing spiking to all time levels. But to me there is little comparison both as a listener and a performer to the experience of being there live and not through a pair of cheap Amazon speakers. However if it can generate income for the industry and keep food on the table for the artists in the interim, I am all for it.

I worry however that things could theoretically get worse and last much longer than anticipated. There will most likely be more virus and influenza strains or mutations of existing ones that could elongate the absence of live music. Our future for live shows will just have to learn to coexist in a world of viruses. One can take as many safety precautions as they want via social distancing and mask coverings, but there will almost always be a risk of infection at a live music show. Just like riding a motorcycle. We can mandate helmets and safety protocols for getting on a motorcycle but there is always a risk of accident. And statistically a much greater risk of death than say the current death rate of the coronavirus. The key difference is that we didn’t ban motorcycle riding. And to me the same logic should apply to concert going. There are inherent risks to the simple act of just existing. There will always be risk of death and getting sick in any worthwhile endeavor. Best thing we can do is enjoy what we can whilst we can. One should definitely take stock of their health and strive to get healthy and fit. It is in just this current dangerous and fear based climate that Maynard wrote about in the song, Fear Inoculum,
“Hear the venom,
the venom in what you say inoculated
Bless this immunity
Bless this immunity
Bless this immunity…”

Published by subversopus

I am a loveable and squeezable poet and writer. I live in beautiful Oregon with my cat. I love long distance hiking and have completed the entire lengths of the Appalachian Trail (2002, 2014) The Pacific Crest Trail (2012) and the Continental Divide Trail in (2013). Please check out my blog, ThetigressAwakens.wordpress.com and my poetry only blog, Everydayoneironaut.wordpress.com. Cheers and have a kick ass day!!!

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