Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Transitioning from Outdoor Music to Indoor Music

As 2020 approaches its finish, the robust live music scene in New York City is a total upheaval from the more traditional model of only a year earlier. Following the closure of all the venerated music venues eight months ago, live music refused to die. Instead, the musical landscape adapted to a new reality. It then altered frequently and often radically. Additional modifications appear to be imminent.

In mid-March 2020, the hallowed live music industry suddenly shuttered due to COVID lockdowns and curfews. By mid-June, however, many adventurous musicians came out of hibernation and started performing for tips in parks and other public spaces. Numerous bars and restaurants then began hosting live music, often with musicians playing indoors through open windows to audiences seated at tables outdoors.

For the most part, the venues that hosted live music a year ago are no longer booking live entertainment. Most of the live music in New York City is being played in restaurants that never before hosted live music. This came about because musicians simply asked restaurant owners if they could play for tips.

Pictured above, from top to bottom, Christian Dryden and the Ritualists,
Karl Schwarz and Rob Mastrianni at Marshall Stack,
a venue where the musicians play indoors by a window
to an audience seated outdoors.
Governmental restrictions initially allowed solely for "incidental music" and prohibited establishments from advertising or charging for entertainment; while this restriction was overturned in court a few weeks later, most establishments continue this policy. Travel restrictions, where outsiders from many states and countries entering New York State must quarantine for 14 days, makes touring unreasonable. Hence, only local musicians are playing for live audiences, although the public often does not know where or when.

As of this writing, restaurants are allowed outdoor seating plus 25% indoor capacity. The speculated increase to 50% capacity has not yet happened, and is unlikely to happen for several more months. With outdoor dining more maintainable than indoor dining in smaller restaurants, many eateries have hired carpenters to construct contained seating areas both on sidewalks and in what were formerly parking spaces in the streets. Many establishments recently increased their investment by weatherproofing their outdoor spaces and purchasing outdoor heating fixtures. Despite these snowballing investments, recent spikes in certain communities threaten to close indoor dining again in the near future.

Gina Healy (above) and the Mad NoMad Trio (below) at Nomad,
where most performances are now indoors after a summer outdoors.
Many other impacts have been more drastic. The current long-term state of affairs proves ominous for venues with outstanding leases, creating alliances among independent music club owners that are soliciting the federal government for across-the-board bail-out funds. Individual venues initiated fundraisers. Blackthorn 51 and Max Fish are among the latest local music venues that have surrendered and closed their doors, hoping to sign leases in new locations at a future time when bars and restaurants can operate at 100% capacity. The Bowery Electric has become a pay-per-view livestream-only venue. Two nights each week, City Winery requires patrons to pay for a mandatory COVID test on premises before entry. Hermana NYC is temporarily closed because someone tested positive for the virus. All of this is a context that even a clairvoyant could not have envisioned.
Above, the Typsy Gypsy Girls at the Anyway Café.
Below, the Benny Benack Band at Rue-B,
At both locations, performers play indoors
for audiences seated both indoors and outdoors

The newest changes are a result of colder weather. Many restaurants recently began closing on Mondays and Tuesdays, and those that remain open are seeing light attendance, as these are nights when lower numbers of diners eat out. The owners of sidewalk cafes that have attracted clientele with live music are strategizing how to transition from outdoor music to indoor music.

The Gil Schwartz Duo performed outdoors at Caravan of Dreams.
Dozens of bars and restaurants will continue presenting live musicians well into the winter, barring any new governmental restrictions. City Winery features live music indoors on Thursdays through Sundays, and the massive size of the venue allows for tables to be set far apart; many other safety protocols also are in place. Dröm and the Red Lion have discontinued the outdoor music in favor of indoor music only. Café Wha? has separate indoor concerts and outdoor concerts. Caravan of Dreams and Nomad are alternating between indoor and outdoor music, as the weather dictates where the bulk of the audience will sit. The Anyway Café, which in milder weather had its musicians perform in its window, has shifted the staging further indoors in order to accommodate both indoor and outdoor audiences. Rue-B similarly has its musicians play for both indoor and outdoor audiences. Marshall Stack and Groove continue featuring music acts in its window, so far playing to outdoor patrons exclusively. At Pinky's Space, musicians play in the covered outdoor dining area or on the sidewalk. Musicians at David's Café and the Terremoto Coffee Room continue to perform on the sidewalk. Numerous other cafes are exploring how to continue presenting live music in colder weather.
Allen Gogarty at the Red Lion, where performers
played outdoors in the summer but now play indoors.

The good news is that dozens of local musicians are performing to live audiences every night. Knowing in advance who is performing and where is information that remains difficult to attain.

Above, Black Coffee Blues Band performed on pavement outside the Waterfront Ale House.
Below, Greg Lewis performed on the sidewalk outside the Terremoto Coffee Room.
Both photographs are courtesy of Seth Okrend.

Monday, November 23, 2020

City Winery's COVID Test: Clearing Half Truths and Misconceptions

The new City Winery on a Hudson River pier is the flagship
for a national chain of restaurants and music venues

Alarmed musicians and music lovers reacted immediately and strongly to the news last week that City Winery would begin conducting mandatory Covid tests on its customers and charging them $50. While this basic information is true, it lacks the details that explain that the test is a pilot program and will be enforced on two out of seven days each week, and perhaps only for a limited time.

Starting tomorrow, diners at the new City Winery must test for Covid-19 upon entry on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A certified health professional will administer a shallow nasal swab, and customers will pay $50. All City Winery employees also will take this test before entering in order to ensure that everyone on the premises is tested on those days. This rapid-test policy will continue on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only through the remainder of 2020.

Temperature checks are mandatory every day, but COVID tests
will be enforced on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only
"We believe that hospitality is all about making our customers comfortable and, given the pandemic, that starts with feeling safe," reads the announcement posted on the venue's website. "With the change of the seasons, finding the next level of safety for people to dine indoors is critical. With that in mind, we are launching a pilot program of rapid Covid-19 testing."

Customers will wait in the reception area for the test results, and the City Winery staff will serve the guests a glass of City Winery Bubbles. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the health professional will reveal the results. If the result is negative, the guest will enter the dining area, mask in place, and continue to practice all proper socially-distanced protocols. If the result is positive, City Winery will offer a PCR test sent to a partnered CLIA lab and 24 hours to validate the results, but the individual will not be permitted to enter the premises.

At 25% capacity, all tables are very far apart

Since the initial announcement a week ago, City Winery's new rapid-test policy has been a frequent topic of conversation within live music circles. Many musicians and music lovers are not objecting to being tested but rather to the cost of the test. City Winery's announcement assures its patrons that 100% of the fee will go to the testing company.

"The testing kits, machines, and certified nurse is costing us about $60 per person and yet, we are charging $50," Michael Dorf, CEO and founder of the City Winery chain of restaurants and music venues, explained to this reporter. "Add to that, my 40 staff members will be testing on Tuesday morning. That is $2000 out of pocket. I really wish these tests were $10 each or free or, even better, paid for by our insurance company, New York State or the federal government, someone other than me and our customers."

Joseph Arthur performed on November 17

At City Winery, the mandatory rapid test on customers is a pilot program, which explains why it is being conducted on only two days at the present time. A later review will determine whether to expand or abandon the program in 2021.

"We have sold out totally for all our dinner reservations this week, which is the first time since opening," add Dorf. "Clearly, this has been a home-run for some people. It sucks that some people cannot afford the test and I am very torn about that. On balance, this might be indicative of a solution to balancing out safety with doing business from now until the vaccine is in enough people’s arms that we get societal herd immunity and it is safe out and restrictions are lifted.

"If we can bridge between now and then, ideally bringing the cost of testing down a lot, it is the best solution to moving forward. So, we are testing this week. Let us hope a philanthropist steps in and under rights it for the bridge or prices come down soon," concluded Dorf. "We need to stay open, we need to stop the spread, and we need to find a way to get the microeconomy of the live entertainment world working again. We are trying."

Hollis Brown performed on November 15

City Winery has enforced other safety protocols since its mid-October opening on Pier 57 (25 11th Avenue and West 15th Street). The welcoming staff, always masked, takes the temperature and conducts a wellness survey on all patrons upon entry. Once inside, masked staff members escort the patrons to tables which are set a minimum of eight feet apart. All wait staff wear masks and gloves. These safety practices will continue every day.

Jimmy & Immy (James Maddock & David Immergluck)
performed on November 13

Neither the musicians, their crews, nor the audiences that come to see the concert performances at City Winery will be impacted by the new rapid test requirement, and will not incur the $50 surcharge. Live music is presented on Thursday through Sunday evenings. The rapid test is not being administered on these nights.

Ethan Eubanks with Marcus Milius and Tony Scherr performed on November 12

The larger question, which remains unanswered, is whether rapid testing will become the new normal. Will other establishments, from sidewalk cafes to sports arenas, adopt a similar policy?

The Detroit Greeks performed on November 13

Monday, November 16, 2020

City Winery to Debut Musicians' Art Gallery

Joseph Arthur displayed one of his paintings outside Kavasutra Kava Bar last week.
This painting is not among those to be exhibited at City Winery.
Although little celebrated, numerous music artists have moonlighted as visual artists, from Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Fiona Apple and Swizz Beats. Never before, however, has there been a dedicated venue for the exhibition of this body of work by musicians.

This Tuesday, November 17, the new City Winery at Pier 57 will open a second floor gallery to showcase visual art created by musicians. The first installation will be a collection of paintings by Joseph Arthur.

A massive Joseph Arthur painting hangs behind the elevated light and sound platform
in the mezzanine of the new City Winery's balcony.

Michael Dorf, CEO and founder of City Winery, a national chain of restaurants and live music venues that began in New York City in 2008, conceived the idea and is making it a reality in the newest City Winery, which opened unofficially in October 2020. Dorf saw the potential in converting a second floor passageway into much more than a hallway.

"This is a public gallery where we hope to change artists every three or four months," Dorf told this reporter. He is already contacting numerous musician/artists regarding future installations. "We are thrilled to start with our good friend and very talented friend, Joseph Arthur."

The gallery will debut to the public this Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. Afterwards, Arthur will perform a concert from 8 to 9:30 p.m. in the venue's main space.

"The public is invited, albeit in reduced capacity because of Covid," Dorf said.

"Painting has saved me during the lockdown," Arthur told this reporter. "It has given me a place to focus my energy and drive." 

"Michael decided to create a gallery space in this new location," said Arthur. "It is actually really great for seeing this work -- plenty of walls and plenty of wine."

"This art show is a culmination of the work I did all last year, from my residency at Fotografiska New York to the flowers I painted over quarantine at Michele Mack’s gallery," Arthur added. "It is a very New York City art show. "

"This installation is happening at City Winery because they had me paint a giant 20-by-10-foot piece for permanent display, which will be up in time for the show," said Arthur. "I also have a couple of giant paintings on permanent display in their Chicago location."

The possibilities for this gallery are endless. The music artists over the years who also applied paint brush to canvas or ink to drawing paper include Ani Difranco, Bernie Taupin, Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, Courtney Love, David Bowie, Devendra Banhart, Elvis Costello, Fiona Apple, Frank Sinatra, Freddie Mercury, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, John Lennon, John Lurie, John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, Kim Gordon, M.I.A., Marilyn Manson, Michael Jackson, Mika, Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Robyn Hitchcock, Ron Wood, Ryan Adams, Stevie Nicks, Swizz Beatz, Tony Bennett, Tyler, the Creator, and Yoko Ono. No doubt, Dorf will strive to bring much of this work to the new gallery.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Music Acts Stage Performances without a Stage

The traditional model of live music presentation has toppled in recent months. Many standard venues remain shuttered and show no signs of reopening in 2020. The more adventurous and resilient local musicians are finding alternative ways to perform before live audiences. All this music and more happened in downtown Manhattan in the past week at an outdoor flea market, an art gallery, on the back of a pickup truck, and in a park.
Daddy Long Legs at Avenue B Flea
Pleasure Motel at Avenue B Flea
Gass Wild at Avenue B Flea
The Crow Family Trio at Avenue B Flea
The Bowery Boys at Chinatown Soup
PLM Music Revue
SoulCake at Tompkins Square Park
Scott Stenten at Tompkins Square Park
Sister Grim at Tompkins Square Park

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Music Is Alive in Tompkins Square Park

In early November, nightfall begins at 4:45 p.m., and the leaves and temperatures are falling as well. Fewer live bands are playing in Tompkins Square Park than during the summer months. Nevertheless, for many local musicians, the park continues to be their center of gravity. These are some of the musicians who performed inside the park or just outside on the sidewalk during the first 10 days of November.

The Eric Paulin Quartet
The Meetles
Leo Coltrane
David Russell
The [Insert Name Here] Trio
Frank London and Deep Singh
Nora Balaban and Chris Dingman
JOff WilsOn
The BZ's