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.
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.
|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.|
|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.