Live music is returning to New Orleans, but with heavy restrictions in place for COVID-19 guidelines.
The new guidelines for New Orleans limit audiences to ten people inside, 25 outside. That’s with no singing or dancing, and all patrons must be seated and masked. No singers or wind-blown instruments can be used inside. Any violations of these guidelines can result in venue permits being revoked.
But many venue owners complain that the restrictions make live music impossible to be profitable. “It’s not really feasible because a lot of times, the type of gigs that we have, they’re based on the number of people that you bring in, so the math of it doesn’t work,” says Keith Frazier of the Rebirth Brass Band. “25 people at $20? it’s not going to really pay a whole lot of money or even that venue or a person, putting on the event.”
Some venue owners estimate that the restrictions will only bring in 45% of their former gross revenue. “Imagine any business saying you’re going to be closed for two years, and you still have to pay all your bills,” says Howlin’ Wolf owner Howie Kaplan.
“I like to use the phrase ‘cultural extinction,’” Kaplan says of the live music shutdown in New Orleans.
Musicians know the COVID-19 guidelines are there to help but are the restrictions helping? Frazier says he doesn’t think there is anything the city could do differently at this point.
“It’s not just about the city and the state restrictions,” he told WAFB in New Orleans. “It’s really about when people will feel comfortable again and as the vaccine is distributed more, as hospitals are better able to deal with folks.”
Kaplan says he is currently working with city and state officials on unique ways to keep his venue open. The restrictions prevent some classic New Orleans jazz bands from even operating. “A band that has eight horn players and you’re used to playing to two or three hundred people, it’s not really a whole lot of help,” Frazier says about the restrictions.
Meanwhile, several outdoor concerts in the UK have been cancelled. Coachella and Stagecoach were both cancelled for the third time in two years. SXSW didn’t even bother planning a local event this year. Instead, the Austin live show decided to go virtual-only.
Other live music events are tentatively eying their summer schedules and hoping the vaccine rollout reaches 75% before then. That’s the threshold Dr. Fauci says is necessary for live events to return.