Tag Archives: Live Music

COVID, Tech & Cars

So Kiss cancels. Paul Stanley tests positive for COVID, then a few days later, Gene Simmons did, as well. Hard to rock and roll all nite when you have a severe respiratory illness.

BTS, quite possibly the biggest band in the world, has canceled the BTS Map of the Soul Tour, a world tour. Although the band is from the South, north of the 38th Parallel Kim Jung Un told the country’s Politburo last week that “tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance”—and it was announced that he was foregoing some vaccines being offered by the U.N.

Alan Parsons—admittedly, one of the musicians of days gone by that I had no idea still existed, which just goes to show that if you don’t think about things, for you, anyway, they don’t exist (no, not a gloss on Bishop Berkeley)—has canceled his U.S. tour.

Nine Inch Nails? Nope.

The Limited Last Minute Post Pandemic Popup Party Edition tour that Limp Bizkit was going to stage has been limited to nothing because we are no post-pandemic and consequently there is nothing much to party about.

A friend who drives from Detroit to New Orleans each year for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival told me the other day that he was set to go south, the room was booked and the car was ready for the 1,000-mile trip, that it had been canceled because of COVID. But then there was Hurricane Ida, and were it not the virus it would have certainly been the massive weather event. (He is still going down in October: he feels that it is important to support the New Orleans community with his tourist dollars.)

And speaking of Hurricane Ida, Bonnaroo was canceled due to the rain.

Plague. Rain. Whence come the locusts?

Continue reading COVID, Tech & Cars

Sitting in a Sewer

In 1722 Daniel Defoe—of Robinson Crusoe fame—published A Journal of the Plague Year: Being Observations or Memorials, Of the most Remarkable Occurrences, As well Publick and Private, which happened in London During the last Great Visitation in 1665.

The “Visitation” in question was the bubonic plague.

During that horrific event 68,596 people died. That was approximately 15% of the population of London.

According to Britannica (Wikipedia isn’t everything), “The disappearance of plague from London has been attributed to the Great Fire of London in September 1666. . . .”

There you have it. Burn the place down.

It isn’t like they were strangers to plagues. There was the Black Death of 1347 to 1350, which was a pandemic that infected much of the known world at the time. It killed an estimated 75-million to 200-million people. The bubonic plague debut, as it were. Ways people tried to cure themselves included cutting up pigeons and rubbing it on bodies; drinking vinegar (bleach, anyone?) and eating arsenic; sitting in sewers.

Just imagine if our ancestors had the opportunity to go to the local blood-letter, barber or apothecary for a couple of vaccinations.

How many of them do you think would have avoided the opportunity?

And we think we’re oh-so advanced.

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According to D. Allison Arwady, the Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner, Lollapalooza 2021 was not a “super-spreader” event. There were some 385,000 in attendance during the four-day event. Approximately two weeks later there were only 203 attendees who tested positive for COVID-19. That’s 0.05%. Of course, if you’re one of the 203 people and it turns out that you’re going to end up in an ICU, the statistics probably don’t matter much to you, any more than the people who were inflected by the bubonic plague. At least you won’t have to sit in a sewer.

While some people might think the stats from Lollapalooza are some sort of green flag for all manner of outdoor events, it is worth keeping in mind that the attendees had to follow protocols in order to attend the show:

“In accordance with City of Chicago requirements, full COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results will be required to attend Lollapalooza 2021.”

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Continue reading Sitting in a Sewer

There Is Always a “But”: Music in the Time of COVID

While I had thought that writing about the effects on the global pandemic on the music industry was done, that the folks from Pfizer and Moderna had put the proverbial pin in it with the remarkable release of their vaccines, here we are again.

On a seven-day rolling average, the number of COVID cases in the U.S. the last week of July 2021 was higher than the number during the same period in July 2020 according to the Centers for Disease Control, 72,790 vs. 68,700. That’s right. Even though vaccines didn’t become available until December 2020, there are more cases now than there were before that date.

Still, it seems as though it is over. Seems.

Last week I attended a business conference at which there were some 400 attendees who spent several hours in a large room. These were primarily mid- and upper-level managers; were someone to have walked into the room and shouted, “REO Speedwagon is playing in the casino down the street!” there would have been a stampede the likes of which would have made George Costanza seem like a fire marshal.

The number of masks on the attendees could have been counted on one hand. The size of the room and the number of participants offered reasonable distancing, but there were chairs setup such that you could sit as close to the person sitting next to you as you would like. The lunches—the organizers boasted that they were “plated” rather than buffets—were setup as though it was a large wedding circa 2019.

Maybe this is what could be described as “whistling past the ICU.”

It’s over, right?

See the second paragraph, above.

What got me thinking about this was news out of the UK this week that the Johnson government is establishing a £750-million insurance plan that will go into effect next month, the purpose of which is cover concert promoters should government restrictions cause the cancellation of concerts.

Good, right?

Not everyone agrees.

Continue reading There Is Always a “But”: Music in the Time of COVID

The Black Widow Effect

This is not about music. At least not directly.

It is about performance, pay and distribution. All things that are absolutely germane to those who make a living via musical performances.

The first goes to the lawsuit filed by Scarlett Johansson (or precisely, Periwinkle Entertainment, Inc., F/S/O [which means “for services of”] Scarlett Johansson) against the Walt Disney Company.

Quick: Where is the Walt Disney Company as a legal entity located?

1. California
2. Florida
3. Delaware

Yes, Delaware. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the entertainment business is big business so Disney, like a majority of Fortune 500 companies, incorporate in Delaware, largely because Delaware legislatively keeps its corporation statutes up-to-date regarding the world as it exists today, not at some hoary point in the past; it also operates a special court, the Court of Chancery, that rules on corporate law disputes sans juries.

(That said, the suit was filed in L.A.)

The opening line of the suit is worth pondering: “Over the past decade, Scarlett Johansson’s work has generated billions of dollars for Marvel Studios, and, by extension, its parent company, Disney.”

Billions of dollars over the past decade.

The lawsuit contends that her latest, Black Widow, would provide Johansson with money that would be based, in part, on box office receipts but the amount of those receipts was reduced because Disney didn’t just make Black Widow a “theatrical release” (i.e., in move theaters), but, on the day that it opened in theaters, made it available to subscribers of Disney+ (for $30).

Back in 2017 Johansson and Marvel Studios entered into an agreement in which “that guaranteed her a share of ‘box office receipts’” and “To protect her financial interests in these box office receipts, Ms. Johansson obtained from Marvel a valuable contractual promise that the release of the Picture would be a ‘wide theatrical release.’” The idea–remember, this is 2017–is that Black Widow would play in a whole bunch of cineplexes for what was an industry standard of 90 to 120 days, after which there could be other outlets.

In other words, she would make bank primarily during the time it was in theaters.

But because it was released on Disney+ as well, the number of people who would pay at the box office was reduced.

Continue reading The Black Widow Effect

No Filter

So what do you do?

The bank is full, regardless of how many ex-spouses that need to be paid, regardless of how many progenies are on the loose.

There is, of course, always the potential that things could go pear-shaped.

Perhaps a Bernie Madoff-type makes off with a sizeable chunk of doubloons. Perhaps there is an ever-increasing compulsion that results in an ever-decreasing amount hidden under the bed.

Things that could cause a need for more money.

What do you do?

Much of your life has been spent somewhere.

Sometimes you don’t even know where is there. Someone needs to tell you. Or at least remind you.

Things have gotten to the point where it is a different room and when you get up at night you’re not twigged to where in the suite the bathroom is located.

But that’s the life. And you remember when it was something where you were in a caravan and simply had to use the nearest tree or wall.

At one point it got old. Tired. Really old. And then you were young.

But like the sound barrier, you broke through and now you are on the other side.

Always on the other side.

At this point there is no going back.

And you ask yourself what exactly it might be that you’d be going back to.

Continue reading No Filter

The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

Of course it is like this. The Save Our Stages Act, S.4258, which allows the Small Business Administration “to make grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on certain live venues”—and we’re talking real money, an initial grant up to $12-million that can be supplemented by one equal to 50% of the initial grant—has been passed. Months ago.

But according to recent reporting in Variety, there is one non-trivial snag: the venues haven’t gotten any money.

The problem? Oh, probably the website.

A representative of the Small Business Administration is quoted by Variety saying, “the SBA is committed to quickly and efficiently delivering this pandemic relief to help our theatres, music venues, and more get the help they need. While there continues to be some fine-tuning of technical components of the program, we expect SVOG Priority 1 (90% revenue loss) awards to tentatively begin next week, kicking off a 14-day priority period. We will then move on to begin processing Priority 2 awards.”

Possibly by the time you read this some of the $16 billion (yes, with a “b”) will be making its way to a venue near you.

But think about that for a minute: a given operation has experienced a 90% revenue loss? This isn’t a short, one-time event, like having a lemonade stand: one day it is hot and the sales are brisk; the next day there are torrential storms and the stand gets no customers; the following day it is back to sweltering and the thirsty return. That middle day there is a 100% loss. But the pandemic has lasted for more than a day. Obviously.

Certainly things are opening with a feeling of freshness, like throwing open the windows after a long winter of dealing with steam heat.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that for far too many small businesses—such as bars and clubs—the winter has been too long, and what seemed as though it would be at least a way to recover somewhat so far isn’t helping. One wonders whether it will be able to help at all for some of these venues or the life preserver will be thrown in the water after the third time the operation has gone down.

Continue reading The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

TV, Movies & Concerts

With the exception of both (one always; one frequently) being staged in theaters, the movies and concerts have only slight crossover. Of course, one thing to be kept in mind that both are keenly entrenched in economics, as in “the film industry” and “the music business.” Pull at our emotions though the good ones do, it is still about making a return.

And there is undoubtedly going to be a return to something akin to what had been the case, though in the case of the film industry things may be somewhat different than will be the case vis-à-vis concerts.

After World War II, when life underwent a profound change, with people moving to new places that are now the familiar suburbs, a device that had been around since the late 30s but expensive and not particularly useful came onto its own: the television set. By 1948 there were multiple network broadcasts. Because the movie theaters tended to be in city downtowns and not in the suburbs, there was a decrease in the number of people who went to the movies. They could simply stay home and watch TV.

While television didn’t kill the film industry, as some had feared, there was at least a change in the nature of the execution of movies. There were new approaches to how movies were filmed and shown—as in things like Cinerama—and there were early “blockbusters,” like the Cecil B. DeMille movies that were “epic” in scope.

As time went on there was something of an entente between the two mediums.

In terms of technology, there were repeated efforts to make the movie “experience” more worth going to a building with screens, such as 3D and IMAX. But at the same time there was a huge growth in the number of consumers who were buying increasingly large and capable screens and sound systems that allow them to have something of a wide-screen filmic experience without having to pay $10 for popcorn. Channels like HBO and Showtime brought nearly new releases into homes.

Hollywood struck back with things like the Marvel-based films that are like those of DeMille: Seeing them on something that is measured in feet rather than inches is an experience onto itself.

But then there was COVID and suddenly Hollywood discovered that their outlets were shut down. People were sheltering at home with their massive TV screens. What could they do with their “product”? Disney+ had Hamilton in the can, so it came up with a plan to offer it exclusively on its channel, which led to a huge boost in subscriptions to the service. Then with Mulan it tried to do one better by adding an additional fee to watch it, a Disney+ subscription acting only as a means to get to the ticket window. Somehow they had to get as much ROI as the new prevailing conditions allowed.

Continue reading TV, Movies & Concerts

Everyone Into the Pool! (Except Songwriters)

According to the description of Cancun on TripAdvisor:

“The international capital of spring break

“‘Spring break forever’ could be Cancun’s motto. It’s all sun, sand, and good vibes. Here flip flops and board shorts count as “dressed,” and the club beats are thumping 24/7. Swim-up bars keep the cocktails coming to the twentysomething crowd. But families can find their own paradise at one of the many resorts with kids’ clubs and gigantic pools.”

So what do we have:

• Spring break. Which could include those ages 18 to 24, from high school seniors through undergraduates
• Twentysomething crowd that are partial to swim-up bars
• Families

Which makes me wonder about the potential crowd for “Playing in the Sand,” the three-day event that will feature Dead & Company.

Two points: (1) the name of the “destination concert experience” will be held in Cancun next January, a period when there isn’t a spring break; (2) the name of the event is a play on the title of a Grateful Dead tune that was released in 1971, making it 50 years old, which means that it was out 21 years before the oldest twentysomething was born.

Who’s coming?

The packages aren’t inexpensive. They start at $2,112.50 per person (yes, this includes a room at the Moon Palace Cancun Resort) and go up to $9,000. Starting prices.

Presumably, given that most people haven’t been vacationing much (except for thousands of springbreakers this year) due to COVID, by next January they’ll be ready for an event at a resort.

But one thing strikes me as a bit odd about this, and not that the Grateful Dead was a band that is more associated with grilled cheese sandwiches and drum circles than fine dining and a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

Continue reading Everyone Into the Pool! (Except Songwriters)

Four Things I Really Didn’t Write About

1.

I had thought about writing about the latest Morning Consult survey numbers regarding those who are thinking about concert going. It shows that 47% of those surveyed say it would be in more than six months and 26% that they don’t know or have no opinion. As you can see, that means it is a big “not good,” with 73% looking out at the future, or not looking much at all.

In addition to which, Morning Consult pollsters found that 22% of Republicans are ready to go to a concert right now, and just 11% of Democrats, so you might have to rethink your political orientation.

2.

Then I thought about some further bracing information that I read in Spiegel International with a German virologist, Christian Drosten. (No, I don’t know why I am reading Spiegel International, nor do I know why I read an interview with a German virologist whom I’ve never heard of, but I do know that there is something that I think is worth sharing, especially if you’re thinking about going to a concert in six months or more.)

Drosten said that he is “quite apprehensive” about what might happen in the spring and summer. Now while he was specifically talking about Germany, it isn’t too far a leap to apply some of this to the U.S. (which, I’m guessing, is where most of you who are reading this reside, and for those of you who are, say, in Germany, Schönen Tag):

“Once the elderly and maybe part of the risk groups have been vaccinated, there will be immense economic, social, political and perhaps also legal pressure to end the corona measures. And then, huge numbers of people will become infected within just a short amount of time, more than we can even imagine at the moment.”

Imagination is boundless. That’s clearly a big number.

Kicker #1: “It will, of course, be primarily younger people who are less likely than older people to have severe symptoms, but when a huge number of younger people get infected, then the intensive care units will fill up anyway and a lot of people will die. Just that it will be younger people.”

Youth may be wasted on the young, but COVID doesn’t care.

Kicker #2: When asked if he thought that as winter turns to spring and spring summer there would be a reduction in the number of cases (i.e., in about six months, when those people might be ready to attend concerts): “I am afraid that it will be more like in Spain, where case numbers climbed rapidly again after the lockdown was lifted, even though it was quite hot. In South Africa, too, where it is currently summer, case numbers are at a high level.”

Continue reading Four Things I Really Didn’t Write About

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

“Since 2016 we’ve had the privilege of booking and promoting over 3500 shows across Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston,” it says on the homepage of Margin Walker Presents. The company claims to be the “largest independent promotion company in Texas.” Or at least it was.

“Even with strategic changes in the business, painful staff cuts, and taking loans and grants, sadly, we at Margin Walker Presents have not been immune, and it breaks our hearts to announce that this wild ride has come to an end, and we are closing the business. . . .”

Another victim of COVID-19.

And one can only presume that there were all of the musicians that the company had booked over the past few years who are now facing huge difficulties. No gigs to play. Or no gigs that pay. Pay enough to pay the rent and get groceries. Musicians who had once had side hustles are now having to put those undertakings front and center—assuming that that is still a possibility.

Anyone who has spent any time in Austin knows that the music scene there—even with the ever-encroaching gentrification caused by the corporations that want to take advantage of the “Weirdness” of Austin, not realizing that their very presence works to normalize it—is robust. Venues from Austin City Limits to small bars in residential neighbors with backyard patios with stages provide a wide array of music.
Although now that could be in the past tense.

For now.

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Although the focus here is on rock and roll, the same day that I read about the closing of Margin Walker Presents there was a striking story in the New York Times. It was about professional musicians, organized musicians. As the story by Julia Jacobs opens, “When the coronavirus outbreak brought performances across the United States to a screeching halt, many of the nation’s leading orchestras, dance companies and opera houses temporarily cut the pay of their workers, and some stopped paying them at all.”

These are brand names, like the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera and the Kennedy Center.

Not all of the people that are being impacted are musicians. There are stage hands, as well.
Jacobs’ story notes that the New York Philharmonic is cutting the base pay of musicians by 25% through mid-2023, with a rise afterward, but still leaving the people making less in 2024, when the contract expires, than they are now.

At the Boston Symphony a three-year contract has been signed that includes a pay reduction of an average 37% the first year, then increasing subsequently “but only recovering fully if the orchestra meets at leas one of the three financial benchmarks.”

And the odds of that?

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But there are the vaccines. There is hope that they will have a significant effect on people’s willingness to go out and resume life that looks something like it did before March.

Continue reading Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow