Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Future of Live Music Still Uncertain

Musician David James outside his Mission District home on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Musicians and live music venues are truly hurting five months into the pandemic: With all benefits expired, and no sign of returning to work on the horizon, clubs and the players themselves have turned to crowdfunding, busking (at risk to themselves and others) and live streaming from home for a small fee. So far, the live streams have proven to be either substandard or just plain boring and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot on offer in the way of innovation or improved quality.  There are also the artists who won’t stay off the internet: broadcasting from their living rooms, hawking merch, doing what people have to do to survive. Yet art and music are important to a culture and to the well being of all people. Where is the support for it on a national, state and local level?  Where is the relief? It’s a sad state of things when the best option put forth at the highest levels of entertainment has been turning drive-in movie theaters into music venues. Ok, maybe. It’s a start (though do you know where there are still existing drive-ins? I don’t). Until there’s a real solution on offer, perhaps the best an artist can do while not drawing an income is to turn to woodshedding–the sharpening of skills, learning new tricks, deepening one’s artistry–and composing. 

San Francisco bandleader and guitarist David James finally got a break after years of hard work on the road and behind the counter: In addition to being a professional touring and recording musician (with Spearhead and The Coup), he’s held a day job as a record buyer for 35 years which means he could more easily claim unemployment than the average independent musician (there are also bands-as-corporations, like the Eagles and Pearl Jam who got gigantic PPP payouts, but this post isn’t about that, exactly). As for James, his bonus arrived just in time: An artist’s grant earmarked for the composition of a suite, based on the life of his father.  You can read the full story in my San Francisco Examiner column, SF Lives.

Photo of Henri Cash by Gilbert Trejo

During the pandemic season, I also visited (by phone) with young guitarist, Henri Cash of Starcrawler: He was set to visit the DMZ in Korea for a peace festival when live music and festival gathering came to a halt and the possibility of a long flight overseas was out of the question. Lucky for him, Cash had seen a good part of the world as a teenager with his band’s several tours of Europe and Asia before the world went awry.  Until further notice, he’s chillin’ at home with his family like the rest of us. His thoughts on pandemic life appeared in my column for Tourworthy.

And early in the breakdown of the nation’s health and welfare, I spoke to singer-songwriter, Betty Soo. She decided to come off the road early, out of precaution for herself and others, and immediately learned what she could about live stream production. As early as March, she was concerned about the future of the tiny folk clubs and coffeehouses where artists like herself are traditionally best heard and it was her aim to share her earnings with them. I also talked to Soo’s friend, singer-songwriter, Jaime Harris (the two paired up for some broadcasts). Read the full story about Soo and Harris here.

Everyday citizens and the people in congress who represent us don’t seem to understand the income streams and the way musicians earn their pay – If they did, the laws about music monopolies and online streaming would change. Nothing I or anyone else can say can will make it any more clear: There is no money to be made from streaming. Musicians earn money when they play on the road. The rest of the time, the pay pie is eaten up by everyone but the person who creates it. Please think about that the next time you pay nothing for a piece of music. Musicians are people trying to survive the pandemic too.

What in the world are we and the musicians of the world going to do about the future of live music? Rest assured, there is hope. Where there are artists, there is a solution in the works: Musicians have the insight and vision to imagine new realities for all of us. It’s just a matter of when.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, rock 'n' roll, Women in Rock, , , , , , ,

Surviving the Pandemic with Frisco Style

Since March, I’ve been devoting my SFLives column in the San Francisco Examiner to people who are taking the virus and caring for others seriously by living their lives responsibly and generously. They are people like Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, who tracks the health of people in Bayview-Hunters Point where airborne toxins put the community at risk of all kinds of respiratory ailments and cancers.  Or Leroy F. Moore Jr, an international disability rights activist who is leading fellow artists in a fight for increased visibility and against police violence. And then there is Ericka Scott, who takes an interest in society’s forgotten and neglected population  – the people who are incarcerated, including her husband – by facilitating discussions among families with loved ones in prison. And there are the small business owners like Tricia Principe of Cal’s Pet Supply, where they took precautions early so the store could remain open for the sake of employees, locals pets and the community. Every neighborhood has its leaders, people like the Cruz family, who not only run a cleaning business but a sewing workshop.  Victor and Ariana call their custom goods and embroidery business Sew Frisco and started turning out masks when they heard of the shortages.

I am so proud of my fellow citizens who are doing their own thing and getting the job done in a way that’s so Frisco in these most difficult times. If you’re interested, you may read all about them in this collection of columns about our SFLives.

If you’re much of a traveler, well, hopefully you haven’t been to San Francisco in awhile. You see, our city, known to locals as The City, is taking quite seriously the shelter-in-place orders during the pandemic, as well as the guidelines to WEAR A MASK (as you will see in the above photos, all by photographer Kevin Hume for the Examiner). Aside from the essentials, only a fraction of our businesses have reopened; cultural destinations like museums have not reopened. Services like salons and barbershops remain closed. Restaurants are take-out only, some have adapted to outdoor seating but many remain shuttered. Some, like historic legacy businesses Louis’s at Seal Rock and the Tadich Grill downtown are closed forever. Sure the orders to close or limit services have been a terrific let down for small businesses and tourism: Without government assistance and cooperation from lenders, our beloved site-specific and characteristic businesses aren’t making it. However, the compliance with the orders has meant that for those of us invested in controlling and eradicating the coronavirus, staying at home and wearing a mask remain the best options. These are confusing, terrifying and disappointing times.

Despite the illness in the air, we must celebrate and breathe in our lives, particularly the lives of folks making a difference. Their devotion to community wellness has a ripple effect: I invite you to be inspired by them to follow your calling and do what you can in your own home and in your own community to make these days a little brighter for someone else. Until next time, I send wishes for you to stay healthy. And if you can are able, stay at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: anti-capitalist, Arts and Culture, column, Environmental Justice, San Francisco News, Tales of the Gentrification City, , , , , , ,

Musical activism in the pandemic age: Betty Soo on safe distancing

Hello faithful family of friends and readers: First things first, I wish you health and safety in these troubling times. I’ve been keeping my head down, safe distancing and generally following the recommendation of my state and local leaders to shelter in place. Here in San Francisco, we went on the unfortunately termed “lockdown” at midnight on March 16 in an effort to “flatten the curve.” There is so much left to learn and know about this virus. I will continue to cover its impact from my usual arts and cultural perspective as long as necessary.

During early March when measures to control the coronavirus had still not widely limited performances at bars and nightclubs and elder states-players like Patti Smith and Elvis Costello carried on with gigs from the Fillmore in San Francisco to the Hammersmith Apollo in London, Austin-based singer-songwriter Betty Soo (pictured above) put the brakes on her live performance schedule to reflect on the potential hazards of proceeding with cramming people into confined spaces in the time of a pandemic.  I hope you’ll read my profile of Soo and the other musicians who led the way in the movement to seek alternatives to live performance in the time of the pandemic, not only to keep themselves healthy, but their fans, and you at home too.  Read the full column in this month’s edition of Tourworthy.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, Folk, Texas, Women in Rock, , , , , , , ,

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