Not To Be A Debbie Downer, But…

It’s been a while since I wrote a Mojo Mouth. I was hopeful and waiting for this virus thang to slack off, and was thinking by now, we would have seen the numbers going down and gertting back to “normal.”

Alas: not to be. In fact, it’s much worse than before because just recently I now have family members who are either sick or who are quarantined because they’ve been directly exposed to those with the virus (just happened within the past couple of weeks).

So, here we are again. We’re all running out of unemployment, PPP funds, and to be more basic about it, rent and food money.

Not to be a “Debbie Downer”—you know the Saturday Night Live character who was always pointing out negatives when everyone else was trying to be positive—but I am worried.

As you’ve probably noticed, OffBeat is no longer being distributed as a print publication in metro New Orleans. There aren’t too many people on the street to pick up any free print pubs, and there aren’t many restaurants or other retailers who are open and thriving. Bars have just been ordered closed. Live music is kaput. There’s very little advertising out there, and we’ve been around this long because our advertisers support what we do. But: our supporters are hurting, and we know it. We’re keeping afloat the only way we can: digitally, cutting our overhead, and bringing in a few dollars from our shop.

It was just announced that K-Paul’s, Paul Prudhomme’s signature restaurant on Conti Street, was closing permanently. This place was delightful, and I can remember talking to Paul one evening as he sat outside the place about food and music as integral parts of the city’s culture. Sadly, Chef Prudhomme passed away suddenly in late 2015. Now his namesake restaurant will also be laid to rest. Owners say it just can’t sustain “bleeding” money any more.

One must always be upbeat and hopeful in the light of such a devastating blow as the coronavirus. Yes, we’ve been through Katrina, and New Orleans bounced back, and we can do it again. But this catastrophe isn’t just affecting New Orleanians: it’s statewide, countrywide, worldwide. We’re all in the same boat, but in my mind the workers who are going to suffer a lot are musicians, bands and anyone who works in the live music field.

We all recognize that New Orleans’ stock-in-trade is food and music. Yes—at least for right now—you can still get some great food here, but to a much lesser extent than we could prior to the lockdown. But restaurants can’t operate at full capacity; locals are either afraid to go out (or don’t have the money to eat out as much as they used to). There’s a fraction of the visitors compared to those who used to come to New Orleans, even in the summer. New Orleans cannot possibly sustain the number of restaurants it used to have pre-Covid now. What’s even worse is that it’s going to take a long time before tourists come back in the numbers they used to. If you don’t think that New Orleans restaurants need tourism dollars to survive, well, you’re just wrong. But at least restaurants are able to make a little bit of money doing take-out. But how many of them can survive a long-term shutdown (now in its fourth month with no clear end in sight) and be in a financial position to wait for a resurgence of tourism? For that matter, how many hotels and hospitality industry-related businesses can either?

It’s worse for bars. They’ve been shut down almost totally in the last round of coronavirus lockdown. I always wondered how bars were going to reasonably require patrons to wear masks, especially after they had a drink or two. Not gonna happen.

But the worst off by far are the venues who present music and live performances. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, live music, theater, and festivals are done, over. Live music can’t be presented inside, or outside. I had a young musician tell me this morningthat he and other bands were dying to play—and I don’t think it’s just for the paycheck. When you’re an artist you need to play or perform. It’s part of your being.

So every single venue owner or festival producer I know (and I know a lot of them) are in limbo. Will they ever be able to re-open or present another live festival? Well, of course, that day is coming, but who among them can last that long. These are usually not businesses that have a huge bank account that can withstand months of having to pay rent, utilities, taxes and staff with no money coming in.

And of course, there are the musicians. When the lockdown first started in mid-March, many bands and musicians started performing via livestream. Those livestreams were going great guns for a bit, and it was putting some much-needed revenue into the pockets of musicians. But that’s kind of ended. The money’s not coming in like it was a few months ago.

So what are musicians who depend on live performances going to do? Will they be able to survive by playing music?

There are a few innovative ideas, like the C3/Voodoo Fest drive-in concerts at UNO’s parking lot. They been charging over $100 per car. But if you can only have maybe 150 cars at a concert, that equates to about $15,000. This isn’t enough to compensate a band or to aderquately pay everyone it takes to produce and promote a concert.

Are we going to be reduced to drive-in concerts, livestreaming and “virtual” festivals? It appears so, and it could continue for months to come. I was told by a local large promoter that no shows were in the works for them for at least another nine months to a year. I haven’t included the Saints, or Mardi Gras, or New Orleans’ other communal events.

And this isn’t just in New Orleans.

This is a whole new, strange world for anyone involved in live events, tourism, restaurants and music. It’s new and fraught with challenges we’ve never faced before. Will we be able to adjust to a completely different way of life…at least for the next six months to a year? Can we do it? Or will may businesses and individuals lose the battle?

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