by Stephen Hartsfield
The onset of Covid-19 in the United States of America, and the subsequent response, has affected a large portion of the population. Stay at home orders have forced many small businesses to alter their practices to accommodate the social distancing protocols that are intended to slow the spread of the virus and protect the general public. Small retail outlets, beauty salons and barber shops, restaurants, and bars have all felt the negative impacts of complying with state mandated guidelines that determine the degree of business they are allowed to conduct. As a result, there has been an adverse effect on another sector of the economy. The closing of restaurants and public houses have left musicians without venues to ply their trade.
Many amateur, semi-professional, and professional musicians depend on bars, restaurants, music halls, and festivals to earn a living or supplement their incomes. But the restaurants are only open for curbside pickup, the public houses are shuttered for the time being, music halls are not hosting shows, and festivals are canceled or rescheduled in order to comply with the novel and confusing regulations. The countless hours musicians spend behind closed doors writing and rehearsing often culminate in rousing performances at the aforementioned venues, providing patrons with much needed entertainment. Regular Joe’s fresh off a week of work that swill beer and whiskey, dance and sing along, yell “Free Bird!” at the top of their lungs, and shake hands with the artists at the end of the show are sitting at home binge watching Netflix. It is a strange time indeed, for listeners and musicians alike.
But like all dark clouds there is a silver lining within it, although thin and ethereal. Technology has allowed a workaround, a way for musician and listener alike to get their fix and pump the music into their veins. The beauty of the internet has allowed social distancing festivals and virtual open mic events to propagate. Musicians are live streaming from their homes; connecting to an audience they can’t see but is no less real. Smart phone Apps allow listeners to pay musicians for their art, to request the songs they would like to hear, and to virtually applaud the artists for their performances. These virtual festivals allow artists to reach a demographic that, perhaps, they would never have reached through conventional means. If Covid-19 was the lemon then these events are the proverbial lemonade.
In the coming weeks, assuming the spread of the novel coronavirus is stemmed and brought under control, it is likely that consumers will again patronize the businesses that they have been unable to access. It is also likely that musicians will again fill those halls with the sound of music. It will reverberate through the buildings, spill out on the streets, and float across the hills and plains; and when it does, thank a musician. Tip them. Shake their hand at the end of the show and congratulate them on a job well done. For without a musician there could be no music. And what a dull, drab world that would be.