Live venues need our love if not our attendance

“How long can New Orleans survive without live music? ” That’s the headline of a recent Slate article and it makes me wonder how we’re going to work through this in the long run. Cause, we’re gonna have to figure something out! This week’s Gumbo YaYa is dedicated to the venues and their operators around the country who are wondering if they will ever open again.

But first we take a trip to one of the more venerable of the New Orleans 130 plus music venues, Preservation Hall. Listener Sam Cagle shares his story of stumbling onto the place just off Bourbon Street just as it was getting established in the summer of 1961. Sam had just gotten out of training camp, preparing to a be an Air Force officer with six weeks to kill before he started his senior year in college. Taking a tip from a cadet who lived there, he decided to spend his last few free weeks in the August heat of New Orleans. His story is right after the first song and for mood setting, I throw in some Preservation Hall classics with George Lewis, Punch Miller, Sweet Emma, Percy Humphrey and others. By the way, I wrote up a longer piece on Preservation Hall a few years back.

The Slate article makes the point that New Orleans has a unique ecosystem for developing music artists and its large number of small music venues is an essential part of that biology. But the stickiness of COVID-19 is making it likely that many of the venue proprietors, who mostly do not earn much of a profit even when open, may not survive.

The same concerns hold for venues in my neck of the woods and anywhere else where COVID is keeping us mostly at home. I don’t have a solution other than we all should be thinking about how we can keep live music alive. And for inspiration, I play sets of music that were recorded live including songs by Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Mem Shannon, Debbie Davis and Josh Paxton, Rebirth Brass Band, Marla Dixon and the Shotgun Jazz Band, Professor Longhair, Billy Iuso, Kermit Ruffins, Sonny Landreth, the Roamin’ Jasmine and others.

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