Saving our stages means keeping afloat places where people can hear the magic of live music.
On one of my last voyages out before the lockdown last spring, I went to New York City for a couple of days to give a talk. New York is one of my favorite places and I had one night free, all to myself. I wanted to hear some jazz and I wound up downstairs at Birdland, one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world, listening to a talented cabaret singer named Marissa Mulder. She did a really nice set of Lennon and McCartney songs backed by guitar, bass, piano, and drums. The crowd was knowledgeable, appreciative, and responded really well.
Just a few weeks later Birdland was closed. I felt like I’d been on the last plane out of Casablanca.
In a grim cascade from coast to coast, all music venues great and small closed within a few days. The group I play with here had a gig cancelled on March 12 and there’s been no place to play since. I would like people to understand that places that host live music represent a crucial piece of the art scene in any town, from Waco to New York City; and, beginning last spring, the question quickly became how, and if,
these places will survive. It’s still the question.
The Austin American-Statesman, a paper that knows a thing or two about live music, cited a recent study that said more than half of that city’s music venues are at risk of closing for good by Halloween without some sort of further assistance.
For a while it looked like maybe the Federal government would be part of that assistance. There was hope that Congress would acknowledge the importance of the country’s cultural sector, understand what was facing the world of live music, and step in with financial aid to help keep venues afloat—to keep our stages intact for when we can all go back out again and play, listen, and be enriched. In the Senate, a bill called the “Save Our Stages Act,” co-sponsored by Amy Klobuchar and Texas’s own John Cornyn, provided $10 billion to music venues across the country. In speaking on behalf of her bill, Klobuchar told the Senate “if you’re willing to put all that money into the airline industry because they’re uniquely affected, you’ve got to start looking at the music industry. That is a huge, huge part of our economy.” Sadly, those hopes looked dashed when the Senate went on recess earlier this month before the bill was passed, but just last week Chuck Schumer appeared outside a music venue in Brooklyn saying No, the idea wasn’t dead and trying to keep the focus on it. “I will use whatever muscle I have to get this passed,” he said.
When this is all behind us, promise me that you’ll go out and try to hear some live local music because when you do, you’ll be part of rebuilding something that is crucial to the culture.