The Coronavirus pandemic has sent shock waves through the live music business, and MACCNO has ideas about how to help New Orleans' musicians.
Two more shoes dropped in New Orleans as French Quarter Festival and the Buku Music + Art Project announced that they are postponing their events. Buku is moving the festival originally scheduled for March 20 and 21 at Mardi Gras World to the Labor Day weekend, according to a statement published on the Buku Web site. At this point, there’s no word on how much of the lineup that included Flume, Illiium, Charlie XCX, and Megan Thee Stallion will be part of the festival in September. Tickets that have already been purchased will be honored then, and refunds will be offered to those who can’t make the rescheduled date.
The letter from organizers should be a model to other festival organizers as it was on-brand, connected to its audience, and reasonably frank.
“The last 36 hours has been a rollercoaster of emotions and planning,” it reads. “From a ‘F*** Corona’ confidence that Buku and New Orleans were going to dodge this thing, then to a hopeful uncertainty while we planned for every possible scenario, then a sullen acceptance of the harsh reality of the situation last night, and now a calm understanding of our responsibility to do the right thing as curators of public gatherings.”
According to the statement, the Mayor’s Office told them that Buku couldn’t take place as planned, and that followed a similar cancellation of Hogs for the Cause earlier in the week. Hogs organizers announced that “ticket refunds will be processed immediately to the card used for purchase,” and that the barbecue cook-off/roots music festival will return in 2021.
At the moment, Ticketmaster is still selling tickets for WWE Smackdown at the New Orleans Arena on Friday, March 20, but the show—which broadcasts live weekly on Fridays on Fox—will originate this week from the WWE’s Performance Center in Florida and not Detroit, Michigan as originally scheduled. Considering the official and unofficial bans on large crowds nationwide, that show will likely move to Florida as well.
All of this points to the improbability that Jazz Fest will continue as scheduled. The local crowd caps, the country’s slow-but-growing embrace of social distancing, and the risks posed by travel have caused many acts to cancel tours. The Who are on Jazz Fest’s lineup, but they have canceled their upcoming British tour. That doesn’t mean they won’t make Jazz Fest if it happens, but it makes their appearance improbable. Other acts that have canceled tours include Billie Eiilish, Pearl Jam, Zac Brown Band, Santana, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and Pentatonix. None of those are scheduled to play Jazz Fest, but the ban on large crowds means almost all touring acts currently scheduled to appear will cancel because they won’t have dates on either side of the Jazz Fest appearances. The concert promotion business is so bleak right now that AEG and Live Nation have postponed concerts at least until the end of March, at which point they plan to review the situation with the hope that things will return to normal by summer. The postponement interrupts tours by Post Malone and Tool as well as those already named.
On Friday morning, French Quarter Festival announced that it too was postponing its event, moving to October 1-4. That means it will run opposite the ACL Festival in Austin, Texas, but that shouldn’t be a significant obstacle because French Quarter Festival focuses on Louisiana talent and draws fans of New Orleans and the city’s music, whereas ACL has a more conventional rock/pop focus aimed at a younger audience.
As the French Quarter Festival’s statement made clear, the financial impact of the festival was on organizers’ minds. “Since 1984, our nonprofit has been committed to its mission to deliver an economic impact to the community and showcase local talent,” its statement reads. “The 2019 French Quarter Festival generated an economic impact of nearly $200 million and hired over 1,700 local musicians. Visitor spending at French Quarter Festival creates or supports nearly 2,100 full-and part-time jobs for our community. Organizers thank fans for continued support and look forward to hosting them this October.”
At this point, it’s hard to imagine that Jazz Fest andd city government aren’t mulling over the role the festivals play in the economic lives of musicians and the city as well, and that an effort to find the best solution has delayed any Jazz Fest announcement. Obviously, the city’s health it an understandable priority, but in a city that has built its tourism economy on the backs of musicians, there has to be some thought as to how to mitigate the impact of Coronavirus-related shutdowns and slowdowns have on them.
On Thursday, the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans proposed that the city and tourism industry need to “work together and quickly reallocate surplus tourism tax revenue to create an emergency fund for musicians, service industry workers, and small businesses affected by COVID-19 related cancellations, loss of income, and health issues,” according to a statement published Thursday on Facebook. "The Convention Center is estimated to have an $18.7 million surplus in 2020, and even if cancellations lower that amount, as of September of last year, they still had $215 million in unrestricted reserves.”
Musicians are certainly not alone in their vulnerability and need for help to get through these difficult times, but they are particularly vulnerable since playing live music is an economically precarious livelihood under the best of circumstances. In New Orleans, COVID-19 is threatening the most lucrative time of year for musicians, and new, creative solutions need to be considered. After Hurricane Katrina, musicians could look to other cities and other music communities for support during a tough time. This time, the entire country is affected, so there’s no better place to go where musicians can perform.