If there is one thing that is well known it is that Americans like to eat. They may not always eat the best of foods (predicated on the proliferation fast-food restaurants), but be that as it may, they go out to do it. Yes, there is an explosion in delivery service demand, but there is the reopening—and reclosing—of restaurants across the country.
The researchers at Morning Consult asked a statistically valid group of Americans about when they’d feel comfortable doing certain things.
And when it comes to “Going out to eat,” the number of Americans is robust.
That is, 30% of those answered “Next month.” And the information is as fresh as July 20-22.
In addition to which, 18% said next two or three months, 9% next six months, and just 28% said more than six months. Only 14% didn’t have an opinion.
But when it comes to concerts, things are not as robust. A full 46% said it would be more than six months. Eleven percent said within the next six months. Twenty-four percent had no opinion. The remainder is split between next and the next two to three months. Doing the math, that says 55% are looking at early next year and if we add the uncertain 24%, that means that there is only 21% who are saying they’ll go soon.
So this means about a fifth of those surveyed are ready to go. That should be contrasted with the 38% of the hungry who are going to be served within the next three months.
(In case you’re wondering, going to the movies is slightly less challenged, with 52% saying six or more months before buying a seat and a bucket of popcorn.)
Perhaps what some music promoters ought to do is to bring back dinner theater.
Admittedly a cringeworthy idea, but they’re going to need more than 21% to make their nut. So maybe they need to forget the whole concerts at drive-ins and setup concerts at restaurants.
In both economics and philosophy there is an interest in the notion of altruism, doing something selflessly for someone else.
As it is described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Behavior is normally described as altruistic when it is motivated by a desire to benefit someone other than oneself for that person’s sake. The term is used as the contrary of ‘self-interested’ or ‘selfish’ or ‘egoistic’—words applied to behavior that is motivated solely by the desire to benefit oneself.”
It goes on to say that there is a question of whether that is ever really the case that one behaves in such a manner: “According to a doctrine called ‘psychological egoism’, all human action is ultimately motivated by self-interest. The psychological egoist can agree with the idea, endorsed by common sense, that we often seek to benefit others besides ourselves; but he says that when we do so, that is because we regard helping others as a mere means to our own good.”
In other words, if you have $5 in your pocket and are on the way to Starbucks to buy a beverage but then see someone who is evidently needy and panhandling, by giving that person your $5 are you being selfless and altruistic—forgoing that delicious drink—or is the act of giving that person the money even more satisfying to you than the beverage, therefore providing a benefit to yourself?
“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”
“The Mourning Bride”, William Congreve, 1697
It may be hard to conceive, but there was actually legislation presented in the US Senate this week to help keep the spotlights on and the amps operating at small music venues.
Why is what is literally named the “Save Our Stages” act so surprising is because it is sponsored by two people who seemingly have nothing more in common than the fact that they work in the same building.
One of the sponsors is Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the woman who had been running for the Democratic presidential nomination with the message that a bit of common sense and decency (contrasted with the ways and means of the current resident of 1600) are in order.
The other is John Cornyn (R-TX), the man who is generally seen only standing behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, positioned in such a way that you have the sense that he would take a bullet for Mitch, the senator who has proven to be as craven as is conceivable.
The word from Klobuchar is “Minnesota’s concert halls, theatres, and places of entertainment, like First Avenue in Minneapolis, where Prince famously performed, have inspired generations with the best of local music, art, and education. This legislation would help ensure that small entertainment venues can continue to operate, and serve our communities for generations to come.”
Which has a sense of Midwestern practicality and forthrightness about it: she evidently understands that the arts are not superfluous to the education of people of all ages.
Cornyn said, “Texas is home to a number of historic and world-class small entertainment venues, many of which remain shuttered after being the first businesses to close. The culture around Texas dance halls and live music has shaped generations, and this legislation would give them the resources to reopen their doors and continue educating and inspiring Texans beyond the coronavirus pandemic.”
Given that the reopening of Texas—based on the explosion in the number of cases of COVID-19—occurred a bit too soon thanks to Governor Greg Abbott’s evident fealty to the King Who Is Wearing No Clothes, one hopes that this means that the reopening Cornyn is referring to is something that will happen only after there is control of the virus.
Cornyn strikes me as the kind of politician that only Hunter S. Thompson could have adequately described.
What is interesting (and laudable) about the act is that it would provide six months of financial support to venues (including paying employees; it would allow the Small Business Administration to make grants that are equal to the lesser of either 45% of operation costs from calendar year 2019—you need to base the amount on a normal year—or $12 million) that are not arms of giant organizations.
As Disney+ has brought Hamilton to screens across the country, there is one character who has a standout performance and he is the guy who, presumably, we are supposed to love to hate: King George III. Here’s a guy who got the throne in 1760 and before too long, the ornery Americans started acting up and caused him all manner of trouble. In 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, and then in the following year, the Treaties of Paris were signed, thereby putting an end to the UK in America, at least until February 7, 1964, when the Beatles landed in a Pan Am flight from Heathrow at JFK. Since then, British musicians have pretty much taken back what Cornwallis lost.
COVID-19 has had an effect on the UK. just as it has on other countries. In fact, the UK government has done a particularly poor job of addressing the pandemic (well, not as bad as the U.S. government, but that is a whole mess onto itself), and even Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized, having contracted the virus.
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center the UK is seventh on the list of countries with confirmed cases and third on the list of deaths from the virus. (Yes, the U.S. tops both of those lists by a considerable number: as this is being written the number of deaths in the U.S. is 129,438, which is more than double that of Brazil, at 61,884. What was that about “Great Again”?)
As can be readily imagined, the music industry in the UK has been hammered by the virus. So a campaign has been established named “Let the Music Play” and it is arguing that it needs “the Government to help the music industry, which contributes £5.2 billion to the economy annually and sustains almost 200,000 jobs to ensure it remains world-leading following the damage caused by this pandemic.”
George III would certainly like that “world-leading” bit.
When you hear people say, “The world has certainly changed since—” the timeframe is generally more than 20 years. But things—even though as we endure the seemingly endless COVID-19 conditions, which make one day seem pretty much like another and so time takes on a different dynamic from our personal perspectives—are accelerating such that what is arguably recent history at most seems like a quainter period of time.
Case in point: in London, on March 10, 2003, Natalie Maines, lead singer of the band then known as the Dixie Chicks, said to a concert crowd, “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
The war she referred to was the Iraq War, which overthrew Saddam Hussein. It was the war that was part of the search for WMD. It was the war that included pronouncements from Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf that were so absurd and disconnected from reality that he became known as “Baghdad Bob.”
Here we are 17 years later, when the current president says things—at home and abroad—about his political foes, people from other countries, the media, judges, elected officials, and others that make Maines’ comment a case study in “Why was that a big deal?” Who talks about things like the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that makes what Baghdad Bob was saying seem as though it was sage, thoughtful commentary.
Maines’ comment in 2003 pretty much tanked the band’s career for a number of years because it was taken to be the height of insult, something that just wasn’t said, especially when one was in a different country. (Maines was born in Lubbock: one would imagine that proud Texans would have vociferously stood up for one of their own. After all, George W. Bush may have moved to Texas, but he was born in New Haven, Connecticut.)
Last week, more than 600 musicians and comedians signed a letter sent to Congress on behalf of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). In this letter, asking for aid, there is the following sentence: “We will know America is ‘back’ when our music venues are filled with fans enjoying concerts safely.”
Given what is happening out there, it seems as though America is not going to be back any time soon.
And according to the NIVA, “Due to the national routing of most tours, this industry will not recover until the entire country is open at 100% capacity.”
Again, 100% is a lot to shoot for unless you’re a craven politician who cares nothing about health and just adulation.
So what does the NIVA ask for? Things like the RESTART Act (S. 3814), which does things like provide money to businesses that is equal to six months’ payroll, benefits, and fixed operating costs. Up to 90% loan forgiveness for businesses that have fewer than 500 FTE (full-time equivalencies, as in people with jobs), and a 7-year payback period for the loans. Tax credit relief for a percentage of refunded tickets. Rent/mortgage tax credit (as in the Keeping the Lights on Act (H.R. 6799). An employee retention tax credit for shuttered businesses that have obtained PPP loans that runs until the business is back and at 100% capacity. And tax credits as described in the Clean Start Act (H.R. 7079) for cleaning businesses and providing PPE for employees and customers.
All of which is to say that (1) the independent venues that the NIVA represents are looking to the federal government for money to stay in business and (2) the NIVA is clearly somewhat optimistic about a 100% return of patrons to their venues in a foreseeable future.
Music and entertainment venues are not the only facilities that are on the brink of partial extinction.
Although you may have missed it, there was a boxing match on Tuesday, June 9, at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Although Vegas is generally thought of in the context of gambling and of performing artists who have passed their prime and are looking for a place where they can considerably cash in without having to do too much in the way of heavy lifting (i.e., odds are that if they are performing at Caesar’s or The Bellagio or wherever, they are comped a room such that they don’t need to worry about doing too much in the way of traveling, outside of an elevator ride), the Strip is all about boxing (which goes along with the whole gaming experience but which doesn’t go to the point of tired acts because old boxers aren’t in the game).
While I’ve never been to a bout live, I’ve seen some televised events and the thing that always puzzled me is why the people who are dressed to the proverbial nines have seats closest to the ring, given that the boxers tend to throw off as much perspiration as they do punches, so even in a world that doesn’t have a pandemic, that effluvium doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that one would like to be doused with: Wouldn’t they be better off, say, in row 10?
Tuesday’s card was organized by a company named Top Rank that has been in existence since 1966 and has been behind 9,000 fights and 1,500 cards. Bob Arum, Top Rank founder, was early in the closed-circuit and pay-per-view models for fights. Presently it has a contract with ESPN to provide free boxing (well, at least free for those who have ESPN as part of their cable package, presumably).
In its self-definition, the company states flat-out: “Las Vegas-based Top Rank stands as the country’s premiere boxing promotions company for one reason: We take care of our fighters and our fans.”
And that “take care of” is more essential now than ever before.
To pull off the event, there was a comprehensive COVID-19 protocol for all those invited. According to ESPN, “Once fighters land in Vegas, teams are transported in a sanitized vehicle to take a PCR test, the results of which will take six hours. If a fighter or anyone on their team tests positive either at this test or at the test following the weigh-in, he or she is immediately quarantined, and the fight is off.”
If they are OK, “They’ll be taken up a back elevator to a designated floor in the hotel for Top Rank. No access will be granted by elevators for other hotel guests, and all movement to and from the floor will come from a back-of-house elevator.”
Then there is regular testing and isolation from the outside world.
The bouts took place with without fans. The people calling the fights were not in the immediate space of the ring. The fighters were, in effect, in a “bubble.”
A bigger bubble is planned to be inflated next month at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando: this for some 1,500 people associated with the National Basketball League.
The tentative schedule is for the players, coaches, etc. to arrive July 7 and then playoffs starting on August 17. Families and others will be permitted to arrive on August 30. The NBA Finals is expected on September 30.
During this time there will be, not surprisingly, comprehensive testing of everyone.
There will be no fans in attendance.
One consequence of this is that the phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” may end up having a whole new, somewhat dystopian, edge to it.
The point of all this is to consider the future of concerts. Coachella and Lollapalooza, both outside events, unlike boxing or pro ball, have been cancelled.
Nowadays* when you go to a concert at a stadium or an arena, there are invariably large LED video displays of the performers in action. On the one hand, these are highly beneficial to those who are sitting in the higher tiers of seats where otherwise there are only tiny animated objects visible on stage. On the other hand, I know that when I am confronted with said screens, particularly when the setup is one where the displays are immediately adjacent to the stage, even with a reasonably good seat and sight-line, I have a tendency to opt for watching the image.
Part of being at a concert is the environment. It goes beyond the performance. It goes to being there. Being there with other people. Being part of something bigger than one’s self. Being part of a community (even if some members of that community are highly annoying under the circumstances: why is it that the people who sing along the loudest are those who can’t sing—and doesn’t it occur to them that the reason that they bought the ticket was so that they can hear the performers, not themselves, and that if their personal-but-public performances are so essential, there are karaoke bars?).
But let’s get back to the LED screens.
Some of my friends are journalists. Some cover politics. Some cover motor sports. In the cases of both, there are instances where they are on-site where something is happening, but they are not there.
To explain: sometimes if there is a speech being made by a politician there isn’t a sufficient amount of space in the room where the speech is being made to accommodate all of the reporters. Consequently, there is an overflow room nearby where there are screens that the reporters can see and hear the speech.
For big motor sports events, there is a pressroom that is typically located so as to overlook the start-finish line. But within the pressroom there are also video monitors that display other portions of the track that aren’t in plain sight that the reporters can watch. If there is a crash, say, in turn 3, they can see it. As pretty much the entire racetrack is covered with cameras, it is sometimes more useful to watch the feeds rather than to look out the windows.
So here’s the question: Let’s say someone throws a shoe at the person making the speech. Is the reporter in the other room who sees it “there”?
Let’s say that the aforementioned crash in turn 3 is the causal factor for the outcome of the race. Can the reporter describe the crash as though she actually saw it happen?
In either case, are the reporters in attendance or in adjacence?
“. . . the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”
–Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
The theater where I saw the Faces—with Ronnie Wood and Stewart hiding behind the amps–, the Birmingham Palladium, no longer exists.
The Grande Ballroom, where I saw the original Fleetwood Mac—the one with Peter Green—is gone.
The Eastown Theater, where I saw Derek and the Dominos, is a memory. As are Derek and the Dominos.
What is important: the building or the memories? One could point out that were it not for the building there wouldn’t be the memories, which is absolutely true. But were I to drive down Grand River and see the sad remains of the Grande (if you’re interested in seeing it, the address if 8952 Grand River, Detroit; Google Maps has an image of the remaining structure), would it make much of a difference with the exception of a brief wave of nostalgia? If the Grande was purchased by some corporation and transformed into some faux-hip venue, would that make my memories any better?
Two miles southeast of the Grande on Grand River, the Olympia Stadium once existed. There is now an Army National Guard facility on the site and most of the property appears to be a shitty parking lot. Olympia was opened in 1927 (the Grande opened as a dance hall in 1928), closed in 1980 and was torn down in 1987.
I saw the Rolling Stones there. That band apparently continues to exist. I have no interest in seeing the present incarnation of the Stones. That the site where I saw one of the best concerts of my life is now something entirely different doesn’t much matter.
Right now we are in the midst of a plague. A plague that is burning through our lives, leaving charred and devastated rubble in many cases. Things that we did, places that we went to, activities that we were a part of are in all-too-many instances irrevocably changed. They won’t come back.
In a letter sent to Congress in efforts to get financial assistance for the ~800 operations that are members of NIVA, assistance in the form of loans, tax relief, insurance, and other measures, Dayna Frank, board president and owner of First Avenue & 7th St Entry in Minneapolis, writes, “Our stages give artists like Adele, U2, Keith Urban, Prince, Lizzo, the Eagles, Wu-Tang Clan and Foo Fighters their start. The world could be without the next Lady Gaga, Kenny Chesney, Chance the Rapper or Bruce Springsteen if we cease to exist.”
The letter is addressed to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Kevin McCarthy, and Mitch McConnell.
Does anyone think McConnell would be convinced by that argument?
To her credit, Frank also points out, “While we are small businesses”—and aren’t the Republicans the bulwarks of small business?—“the estimated direct annual economic impact we bring to our local communities is nearly $10 billion.”
This was our first year at Summer Camp, and there were a bunch of bands I was excited to see. So my expectations were high. I got to see most of the bands on my list, and all that I did see were as good or better than I was expecting. But, Christ… the heat? Almost unbearable. It practically drained the life from me. But, once again, I was saved by rock n roll… plus some new strategies for staying cool when you’re spending entire days out in unshaded, 90+ degree heat. Here are some of the bands and artists that made Summer Camp a special musical experience for me.
Keller Williams is a one man show, like no other. He plays guitar, bass, and brings digital programming and loops into the mix, including layers of harmony vocals he’s built in advance. I’ve enjoyed every show I’ve seen him play. He’s incredibly interesting to watch – especially considering it’s just one dude, and he doesn’t even bite a bat’s head off or anything to keep the crowd entertained.
You can listen to the whole set over at the Live Music Archive by clicking the link above. My two personal favorites were “Freaker By The Speaker” and “Doobie In My Pocket”, both of which I’ve seen him play before. They both brought smiles to my face.
It was during Keller’s set that our strategy for staying cool and properly enjoying the festival came together. Which is odd, because we’ve done this before. My theory is that the sheer number of stages threw us off. There were just so many fuckin’ stages at this festival. In fact, it’s one of the things Summer Camp promotes – how many bands and how many stages they have. It was a little overwhelming, to be honest. Way too much movement required.
In any event, our strategy became: Whenever we decamped and headed for a stage, we brought our lawn chairs, a small cooler, our camera gear, and set up camp at every stage, before the show we were there to see. Then I would head up to the photo pit, take a few shots, while Sab kept the new base camp under control. So we didn’t exactly do this for Keller, but we found the shadiest spot to kick it, far back from the stage, but still with good sight lines and audio coverage. [More photos of Keller Williams at Summer Camp]
Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. And the should-be-more-famous Jackie Greene. Now touring together as an acoustic trio. I hadn’t seen them together before, so they were high on my list of bands to see. They started things off with “Truckin'”, a common and loved show starter for the Grateful Dead and the bands that have come after – Furthur, RatDog, Phil and Friends, etc.
The rest of the set – all hour and a half – was a mix of songs that I would have killed to see at a Ratdog or Furthur. “West LA Fadeaway” was one of the highlights for me. They creep into the song. On “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, Greene plays mandolin. Outstanding.
The idea for the trio likely grew out of the Furthur and Friends show for Phil’s 70th birthday, which saw Greene and Robinson joining Furthur to amp up the celebration. In fact, I saw them do New Speedway Boogie at both shows. An acoustic Boogie was a treat. Jackie Greene is the multi instrumentalist in the band. In addition to rhythm and lead guitar, he plays mandolin and the occasional harmonica. Weir and Robinson stick to acoustic guitar. And, obviously, they all do vocals – harmonies on the choruses, and they mostly take turns on singing the verses. This one is also available on the Live Music Archive (link above). [More photos of Weir, Robinson, Greene Acoustic Trio at Summer Camp]
MathGames, Saturday, May 26, Starshine Stage, 12:00 – 1:00
I’d seen MathGames once before. The first time was at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. They had Ray White with them then, and they covered Frank Zappa’s “City of Tiny Lights”. They had the same uniforms on – some sort of white coveralls that couldn’t have been comfortable to be playing in the Chillicothe heat. My son had his tonsils out the other day, and now I’m pretty sure they’re wearing the same thing my son’s mom wore to observe the beginning of the surgery – at least until the boy was sedated. Anyway, maybe one of them is a surgeon in his day job?
I don’t know quite how to classify MathGames’ music. There’s jazz in there, a hefty dose of progressive rock, minus the choruses and verses. Space age jazz rock? No, four words is too many… Space jazz? Not quite right, either. I give up. For now, I’ll just describe the band. Fareed Haque is the driving force behind the band. He’s a unique and respected jazz guitar player, steeped in the 80s jazz fusion, and now a music professor in Illinois. Two younger Chicago musicians making up the rhythm section – Alex Austin on bass, and Greg Fundis on drums. And a new, permanent (?) addition to the band, Jesse Clayton on keyboards, coming to the band from Ann Arbor’s own Macpodz.
The good news is that I found a video of MathGames at Summer Camp. Prepare yourself for some, um, space prog…? Yeah, that doesn’t work either. Just watch the video!
JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, Saturday, May 26, Starshine Stage, 1:30 – 2:30
For both MathGames and JC Brooks, we managed to score the best seats in the house. A gracious beer vendor had set up a sun shelter, and since no one was using it, we set up camp there for a couple of hours. The chairs, the beer cooler, etc. Plus shade in the noonday sun. Which was brutal! Brutal, I say!
But it was all worth it. Brooks is a charismatic frontman, and The Uptown Sound is a tight, accomplished band. Brooks has some stories to tell, and he weaves them through the songs in their set list. “I Got High”, for example.
Their Wilco cover – “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” is outstanding. They turn the song in a completely different direction. And it was the song I was really looking forward to hearing (we highlighted a version in our Summer Camp Music Sampler, you might recall). JC and the band funk it up a bit, and JC pulls the heartache in the song fully to the surface (the Wilco version hides it behind a lot of thrashing guitar riffs and noise).
Unfortunately, I can’t find a recording of their set, which is very frustrating. They have a liberal taping policy, so I kind of expected it out there. No YouTube videos, either! They are a band you’ll want to see if they come to your neck of the woods. [More photos of JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound at Summer Camp]
Common, Saturday, May 26, Sunshine Stage, 4:15 – 5:15
Common was at the top of my list of bands to see. I don’t get to see enough live hip hop, and I thought a festival would be the perfect environment for it. And I’ve been a huge fan of Common’s since I saw him with Kanye West on the Dave Chappelle show. His new record, The Believer/The Dreamer, is great. He played a few songs from that, but otherwise wove through catalogue highlights from the last 10 years or so of his work. He had a drummer, a keyboard player, and a DJ on stage with him.
Common used the length of the stage to engage the audience and drive his verses home. And the crowd loved him! There were enough hardcore Common fans to pack the stage area, from the soundboard forward. I was amazed at all the people spitting out the verses with Common, too. I mean, I know parts of verses from the Common records I have. But even if I knew them by heart, I don’t think I could get my mouth to move that fast, and if I did, I’d run out of breath before I got through a single verse. But it was really cool to see the crowd rocking with Common like that. I vote for more hip hop artists at festivals.
PS: Towards the end of the set, he said “lookout for the new album, coming soon” and he rattles off some of the people involved, starting off with Kanye West. Which could be good.
Another bonus from the YouTubes. Here’s Common doing a freestyle over a slice of the beat for “Otis” from Watch The Throne.
Anders Osborne, Saturday, May 26, Campfire Stage, 5:00 – 6:00
I’d only heard of Anders Osborne recently, via Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and their work together recreating The Rolling Stones‘ Sticky Fingers. So I didn’t know any of his solo work going in, but the Sticky Fingers work impressed me enough that I circled him on my festival schedule. I’m glad I did, because he was the best discovery of the festival for me.
Osborne played right after Common over at the Campfire Stage, so we had to decamp and move quickly to catch his set. What we heard was just great rock n roll. Well crafted songs writ large by a three piece band, with extended soloing over a rugged rock n roll terrain. Neil Young through the filter of New Orleans. Sort of. What was interesting is that he just released a new album at the beginning of May – Black Eye Galaxy – and he didn’t play a single song from it. Just one song from his album before that, American Patchwork. The song was “I Got Your Heart”, my personal favorite from that album (which I bought, along with the new one, when I got back from Summer Camp). He introduced it this way:
“Alright. Here’s a little song I wrote for my wife when I was in rehab last.”
Lucky for us, someone captured a few songs from their set on video, and posted it to YouTube. Here’s one, for the song “Burning On The Inside”. About 4:20 into the clip, Osborne starts playing this riff that builds into a nice solo, with good support from Eric Bolivar (drums) and Carl Dufrene (bass).