HUDSON VALLEY, N.Y. - Unable to perform due to the coronavirus pandemic, local musicians are singing the blues these days.
Many musicians are feeling the sting of lost income when New York on Pause went into effect in mid-March. Tours and shows were canceled, and venues closed down. Now, with summer here at last and COVID-19 numbers flattening, concert opportunities may once again emerge. However, for theaters and music halls and other venues, their fates remain unknown.
Musicians with upcoming shows and tours remain in limbo, many are still unsure if their shows are postponed or canceled altogether.
Members of the Somers band Trillium, Rick Melen, Colleen Casale, and Lauren Beachak, said that they had about four gigs planned prior to pandemic but were “corona canceled.”
“Obviously, like everybody else, the coronavirus shot a hole through everyone’s plans,” Melen said.
Full-time folk-rock singer and songwriter Dan Zlotnick from Somers said he had to cancel multiple gigs which especially hurts full-time musicians like him.
“Musicians at my independent level [spend] so much time with the booking it’s just so frustrating to see hours and hours and months and months of planning go down the drain. That was kind of an initial shock,” Zlotnick said. “I was supposed to go to the Midwest. I was going to the Northeast. I was going to do a New England tour and it just immediately became ‘everything is canceled until further notice.’ So, that’s obviously quite disappointing.”
Petey Hop, a blues and rock guitarist, and songwriter, as well as an instructor at the Putnam Music Center in Mahopac, said that he suffered financially due to the pandemic, losing two to three tours in Europe and possibly hundreds of gigs.
Steve Massa, a full-time musician, and independent guitar teacher who also teaches at Putnam Music Center, said that for musicians who tour for a living, the cancelation of shows has caused issues when it comes to rescheduling.
“Everything that’s on the books for this year is most definitely not going to happen,” Massa said.
Massa said that he and his band had multiple dates scheduled for this year but due to the pandemic all shows were either canceled or put on hold. That creates a backup in acts that were scheduled before the mandatory shutdown.
“You see that with a venue that’s booking shows way out in advance,” he said. “When you have to basically pull the plug on everything long-term for many months or upwards of a year, there’s going to be a lot of those acts that have to be rescheduled. You have to basically start from scratch
“Let’s say that Elvis Costello was coming to the Paramount in Peekskill and he had to have his date rescheduled,’ he continued. ‘When he finally goes back out on the road next year, maybe with two or three of his band members there’s going to be a conflict with and now he’s got to go out and hire subs and alternates. There’s a lot of micromanagement stuff that will have to be handled within each act. But even if that’s not the case, as you can see, it’s not like you could just [schedule] a gig and then play it in another two months. A lot of it’s out of your hands and it’s out of your control.”
Not only had the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the players but also the businesses that support local musicians have hit a sour note.
North Salem musician and radio-host George Mallas said that not only has his band, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, had to cancel gigs and a fundraiser in Danbury, his radio show “The Songwriters Block” on Pawling Public Radio he hosts with Melanie Berti, has been postponed since the beginning of the shutdown.
“We’ve been on hiatus since this pandemic broke out. They closed the station,” Mallas said. “I had a ton of guests scheduled to come in and play live and I’ve had to cancel everything. I do have a full-time job. I’m not somebody who uses my music income to support myself. I would be living in a cardboard box somewhere if I did.”
Mike Burns, a Purdys resident and owner of the Westchester Bluegrass Club in Lake Purdy, said that the pandemic has shut down the club completely, and while they do have dates in the future, that future does not look bright.
“Our last show was the first Sunday in March,” he said. ‘We’ve been trying to run two shows a month, and we’ve had to cancel everyone up until this point. Our next show is scheduled for Nov. 8 and I’m thinking that might not happen either.”
Burns said that the venue is a small space that holds about 70 people, and they have to fill the space or it to be economically feasible, something future social distancing guidelines may not allow.
“If we were to cut it to about 20 or 30 people, the band wouldn’t make a whole lot of money,’ he said. “It wouldn’t be worth their while at that point.”
He said that he’s hopeful once the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic no longer looms, the club can start up again next year.
Many musicians have begun streaming online to fill the creative void.
Guitar and electric bass player, as well as Putnam Music Center instructor Mike Seminara, said that he has been live-streaming to try to bring others joy.
“I would spend my Friday evenings doing a live stream acoustic show on Facebook, not only to keep myself from losing practice but also to help other people who were affected by [the pandemic],” he said. “Hopefully, it would give them some happiness.”
To make up for financial losses, some performers play online shows to try to gather donations from fans.
Northern Westchester resident Elisa Zuckerberg, who hosts the website HearItThere.com, a live-show locator and marketing tool that finds live music in the area, said that many of the bands she promotes had switched to Zoom or YouTube and set up GoFundMe pages to get through the financial struggle.
“I can’t imagine that artists and musicians really had any income the last few months even though I’ve been trying to help them get the word out using the marketing tools I have,” Zuckerberg said. “Until they can play live again, I think it’s going to be a challenge.”
While many performers have live-streamed music for their followers, even practicing has become a challenge.
Trillium members said that while they initially tried to practice over Zoom, it became difficult with internet lag. However, the Zoom meetings gave them time to be creative and write music.
“One of the important things about getting together with Zoom is that being in a band isn’t just about music, there’s also a social component to it,” Melen said.
Beachak said that they hope to be able to get the new songs ready for the next gig since COVID restrictions have eased, and they have finally been able to practice together outside Melen’s garage.
Zlotnick said he has used the time to be creative, a sentiment also echoed by Petey Hop.
“I happened to have just bought myself a home recording set-up right before the pandemic,” Hop said. “So lucky! [The shutdown] gave me all the time in the world to figure it out and record, basically what is an album’s worth of material plus some.”
With the state in Phase 4 of reopening, some outdoor patios have opened for shows and things have begun to look up for some musicians
“I have played places that are doing outdoor kinds of patio gigs, but at the same time restaurants are hurting and the small businesses where we make our living are hurting, so it’s not really easy for them to hire live music,” Zlotnick said. “I went from playing four or five times a week to now it’s an exciting thing if I have one gig on the weekend. So, it is starting up but it’s slow and for good reason. But it’s just not quite where we would consider normal to be.”
Hop said that he was able to play his first show outdoors on the Fourth of July overlooking Windham Mountain and has some other outdoor gigs scheduled as well.
And while many others continue to play outdoor shows this summer, questions loom for music venues in for the cooler fall months. Many said it’s too soon to predict.
“There are some open mics now that are being run outdoors,” Mallas said. “But I would say come the fall, we’re going to be back in the same situation that we were in before. I think it’s all going to shut down again until there is a vaccine.”