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The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a huge blow to the music industry. Large in-person concerts were among the first events to be cancelled and will likely be among the last to resume. And in a recent survey of small U.S. music clubs, 90 percent said they would have to close permanently without government support. But as Jeffrey Brown reports, there are also signs of musical life.
The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a huge blow to the music industry. Concerts as we knew them were one of the first things to be canceled and will be among the last to restart.
Jeffrey Brown has our look.
It's part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.
Derrick Jones, better known by his stage name, D-Nice, calls it Club Quarantine, a creative response born of necessity in March, when COVID-19 brought live music performances to a stop.
Derrick “D-Nice” Jones:
I'm used to interacting with people and feeling energy from people. I mean, you can drop a hot record, and you can watch the crowd go crazy. Well, how do you do that online?
A prominent hip-hop producer, rapper, and deejay who's used to playing live in clubs around the world, he now performed from home on Instagram Live, spinning records for hours, mixing in conversations with fellow artists.
I cannot believe this.
Watching the digital crowd swell from a few hundred to more than 100,000 around the world.
Oh, my gosh. Michelle Obama is in here. Michelle Obama is in here!
That includes celebrities as eager as everyone else for a dance party.
What does it do for you in terms of reaching an audience? Because it's really a totally different way of interacting with an audience, right?
Initially, it was strange. I just started reading the comments. I would just pay attention to what they were saying and the energy that they were feeling. And, also, there's a feature on Instagram where if someone is — if someone is appreciating what you're doing or saying or enjoying that conversation, they will constantly hit the heart button.
I just kept seeing hearts flying every time. I would play a song, hearts were just flying. And that was the energy that I was feeling. Honestly, it is one of the most exciting feelings that I have had recently in terms of deejaying.
The pandemic has devastated the world of the arts, with concert halls, clubs and theaters shut down, and forced a different kind of survival mode creativity.
More recently, live has returned in limited ways, including at some drive-in shows, the audience in or near their cars, distanced from one another.
The rock band Spafford was one of the first to try a drive-in concert in the U.S., in Mesa, Arizona, in May. COVID-19 had cut short the band's nationwide tour in March. In the months following, they held Zoom calls, practiced in their homes, and came up with plans for the drive-in show.
Brian Moss is Spafford's guitarist.
You were probably worried about when you would get up there at all, right? So, there you were. And what happened?
It felt totally new. I was playing a G, chord and I was like, man, this is just the best-sounding G chord I could ever play. Like, every note had a different feeling. It felt like I was relearning how to play in a band like all over again.
And it was totally vulnerable. And it's — that's kind of where I want to be when I'm on the stage, because that's where the risks happen and that's where the fun starts.
A magical moment, and maybe more to come.
Earlier this month, the global entertainment company Live Nation put on a three-city drive-in tour with big names like Brad Paisley and Nelly. But for bands like Spafford, is this a viable solution going forward?
No, this is not a way to keep the band financially stable. It won't break us, but the joy of playing music and the joy of bringing music to our fans is the most important part in something like this.
But artists aren't the only ones impacted by the lost revenue.
It feels like there's a death sentence hanging over our industry.
Dayna Frank is owner of First Avenue in Minneapolis, a legendary 50-year-old club where, among much else, Prince performed and filmed "Purple Rain."
Now it sits empty, its 500 employees dwindled to 20.
It doesn't surprise me that people are out there experimenting and trying to provide this service and value for their community, but it's not — it's not a revenue stream.
It's not a solve for the industry. It's like trying to fill a swimming pool with a drop of water. You know it's fun. And it provides some distractions and some meaningful experiences for people, but it doesn't make a business survive.
Frank is president of the National Independent Venue Association, which formed in April and hired a lobbying firm to press Congress for a lifeline.
The group now has nearly 2,000 member venues, including many that have made a mark in music history. She says clubs like hers have enormous economic impacts on their communities. She cites a study showing every dollar spent on a ticket generates $12 of economic activity for local businesses like restaurants, hotels and cabs.
But there's even more at stake than dollars.
What's lost if a club like yours or others go under?
I can't even — it's so hard to think about. You lose an entire subset of culture. You lose experiences that people maybe didn't even know they could have.
Our venues, our spaces are where people go to celebrate the best night of their lives. They meet their spouses there. They have these intense emotional and cultural experiences that can't be held anyplace else.
Where will the music go from here?
D-Nice is still spinning, but also wondering what's next.
This isn't a substitute for a live performance, is it? Do you continue on with Club Quarantine, or what happens?
So, I don't think this is a substitute at all, because there's nothing like being in front of a live audience. That energy is unmatched.
But I don't — I can't imagine me discontinuing any of these performances in the future, because I happen to like this, too. I think this is a great addition.
I know that the music is ultimately saving lives. I don't want to think of myself as an essential worker, but I know that there are people out here that truly needed this experience.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.
Watch the Full Episode
In his more than 30-year career with the NewsHour, Brown has served as co-anchor, studio moderator, and field reporter on a wide range of national and international issues, with work taking him around the country and to many parts of the globe. As arts correspondent he has profiled many of the world's leading writers, musicians, actors and other artists. Among his signature works at the NewsHour: a multi-year series, “Culture at Risk,” about threatened cultural heritage in the United States and abroad; the creation of the NewsHour’s online “Art Beat”; and hosting the monthly book club, “Now Read This,” a collaboration with The New York Times.
Sam Lane is reporter/producer in PBS NewsHour's segment unit.
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