Shutdown of performance venues impacts Farmington-area musicians
Relief organization offers aid to struggling players
BLOOMFIELD — Corey Allison's timing is both perfect and perfectly awful.
The Farmington singer-songwriter is releasing a new single on March 20, a song he's been polishing for several months in anticipation of beginning an extensive tour of the East Coast to promote his work. Needless to say, those plans to hit the road have now been postponed with the coronavirus outbreak, but Allison still plans on releasing the new single later this week.
Its name? Seriously, it's called "Memory of Earth."
"Nope, that's what it's called," Allison said, chuckling ruefully and acknowledging the dark, but unintended, irony of that title as a pandemic sweeps around the world.
Allison suddenly finds himself in the same situation as every other working musician in the world. With every performance canceled and every venue shut down, his ability to make a living largely has been eliminated until the outbreak subsides. Until then, he has no choice but to hunker down and hope the pandemic doesn't continue for months and months.
"I kind of had a weird feeling (something was going to happen)," Allison said. "Something was telling me to hold back my release."
Farmington jazz musician Delbert Anderson, front man for the jazz quartet DDAT and president of the nonprofit San Juan Jazz Society, knows exactly how Allison feels. His group had approximately a dozen shows booked all over the country over the next several weeks, and each one of them has been postponed. Anderson estimated that's $35,000 to $40,000 worth of work that has been pushed back until sometime later in the year.
"It definitely affects us — more so for some members who depend on the band for their main income," he said.
But his group is better prepared than many groups are, Anderson said, explaining that a mentorship program DDAT was accepted into last year has helped the group understand the value of planning for a rainy day. The group had set aside funds from previous gigs for unexpected problems, and Anderson said most of the DDAT shows that have been postponed in recent days already have been rescheduled for later in the year because of the good relationships the band has been cultivating with club owners and booking agents. Group members also have been taking financial guidance classes.
"We do have a backup plan," he said. "And we all have backup jobs."
Anderson realizes how fortunate his group is. He knows dozens of other musicians in the area who have been caught flat footed by the shutdown.
"We're not necessarily hurting deeply," he said. "But I know some musicians who have all their eggs in just performing. I can't imagine how that would begin to feel."
Dyllon Drake, who plays guitar or bass for several local bands, including Old School Jenkins, Flatwater, Rev. Catfish and Alchemy Jack, is thankful he has a full-time job to fall back on, as he works for a local refrigeration and HVAC company. But the prospect of not being able to play any gigs for an extended period has got him down. Drake said every show his bands had scheduled through April has been scrapped in the last few days.
He worries about his bandmates who don't have income from a day job to rely on.
"Music is their business, and every gig counted for those guys," he said. "This is just my hobby, but it hurts my hobby, so I can't explore (that) at the moment."
Drake said that doesn't mean he blames club owners for canceling those shows.
"We understand perfectly it's nobody's fault," he said.
Anderson and Drake both said their bands continue to get together and rehearse in the interim. DDAT is preparing material for a planned new disc later in the year and trying to be prepared for whatever comes next.
"We kind of look at this time as a time to come up with creative ideas and plan the band's goals," Anderson said. "We're strategizing our next moves. This is all down time, and I hope bands around here can realize the value in this. I know it's a scary time, but it's a good time to start settling down and seeing what you can get done. We're looking at it as a time of rehearsals and practicing a lot more.
"The band has also been getting to know each other a lot better and developing a stronger relationship together," he continued. "It's nice to have some downtime and line out all of our ideas."
Allison said he sees a silver lining in the shutdown. He said he has had the feeling for a long time that much of the music that reaches the ears of listeners these days has a rushed quality to it, that the emphasis for too many artists is simply on meeting demand, not insuring quality.
He originally planned to release "Memory of Earth" in December, but he chose to let the song "marinate," as he calls it, and remastered it several times until it reached its sonic equilibrium. Even though the timing of the pandemic has spoiled his touring plans, he feels like he made the right decision, and he thinks the tune — and its message, which includes a mantra of "It's a beautiful day" — will resonate with listeners now more than ever.
He also thinks the inability to play before a live audience will help demonstrate to other musicians the value of developing home recording skills, as he did several years ago.
"I think recording is going to be more important," he said. "This is really going to boost (music) streaming because the only way to access things is going to be online."
Allison hopes serious musicians everywhere will use this down time to challenge, perhaps even reinvent themselves.
"I see a bright, bright future in music," he said. "As society and the economy get back to 'normal' and we can all convene again, I hope the musicians out there are taking their art and creativity seriously."
Drake said his bands are all working hard in the interim and will try to be prepared for what happens next.
"We all feel it is going to blow past at some point or another," he said. "When the time comes, we'll be ready and knocking at the front door for it."
When the shutdown does end, there seems to be a strong likelihood that there will be a good deal of pent-up demand for entertainment and diversions. If that comes to pass, the music business could be well positioned to reap the benefits of that.
"I didn't think of that, but that's a perfect way to think about it," Drake said. "We'll be there to deliver it when everybody's ready to get out."
As for the working musicians who are struggling financially right now, Anderson offered a bit of hope. He has been asked to serve as the northwest regional representative for an organization called the New Mexico Musicians Relief Fund, which is offering financial assistance to players who have seen their livelihood disappear.
In just a few days, an online fundraising drive initiated through Gofundme has raised nearly$12,000 of its $30,000 goal, and Anderson said fewer than two dozen applications for assistance have been received so far. He encouraged any musician who is facing financial problems right now to check out the Gofundme page and the NMMRF Facebook page, and consider applying for help.
"Any musicians who are really in need, we're trying to be there for them as much as possible," he said.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.