In the midst of a pandemic, local music venues look for next steps

Meredith Abdelnour, Arcade Editor

photo of local venue Tipitinas
Local music venue Tipitina’s, owned by the band Galactic, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. (Eva Hughes)

In the age of the coronavirus, live music has begun to seem like a relic from a past life. Crowded venues filled with sweaty strangers are a nightmare from a public safety perspective, and with no idea when they will be able to open their doors again, many independent music venues are facing difficult decisions.

Music venues have been described as “the first to close, the last to open” by Katie Tuten, the co-chair of the Chicago Independent Venue League. Although restaurants and stores have been allowed to open under state guidelines, it is difficult to imagine a way for a concert venue to comply with social distancing and safety guidelines.

Some venues have been unable to withstand the financial hardships brought on by COVID-19. Gasa Gasa, a music venue and bar located on Freret Street, is now up for sale, with co-owner Dane Peterson telling Gambit that it was difficult to shut down with no idea of when they would be able to reopen.

Popular Frenchmen Street venue d.b.a. is also for sale, though owner Tom Thayer was planning to sell it after celebrating its 20th anniversary during this year’s Jazz Fest. These plans changed due to the pandemic. Spring season is an especially lucrative one in New Orleans, and many businesses rely on the spring to get them through the slower summer months.

“If you don’t have a good, robust spring, summer is going to hurt you even more,” said Eva Hughes, a co-owner of Tipitina’s. “That was really hard. And now we’re facing October.”

According to a survey of National Independent Venue Association members, 90% of independent venues report that they will close within a few months without federal funding.

The ramifications of local venues closing reach far beyond the buildings themselves. “It’s gonna hurt the independent music scene,” Hughes said. Without small local venues to play in, upcoming bands and artists won’t have a place to showcase their talents. “If these types of music venues aren’t able to make it … you can’t just go out and play a Live Nation show or go play Voodoo fest,” Hughes said. “You have to start out in rooms like Gasa Gasa.”

In order to support local businesses and artists, people can donate directly to venues and artists, support ventures such as Tipitina’s new streaming service, Tipitina’s TV, and sign petitions such as those for the Save Our Stages Act.