The pandemic has obviously created a worldwide health crisis and the ripples from that are being felt across the globe. Over the past two weeks, these ripples have made their way into Mobile Bay and across the Azalea City music scene. In a time when Mobile’s music scene was beginning to thrive, the mandated closings of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues has left both venues and musicians scrambling to adjust to this unfamiliar territory.
Venue closures have left locals without a physical platform for performances. And in a recent post on social media, SouthSounds Music Festival announced the pandemic has forced this annual event to be “postponed to a future date.” Even in all this silence, local venues and musicians are doing their best to make sure our music scene moves forward.
The past year has not been kind to the Saenger Theatre. Last summer, the Jewel on Joachim was forced to close, due to mold remediation. When they reopened their doors, this classic downtown venue announced a number of impressive live shows that featured Jason Isbell, Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Lake Street Dive. For Senior Marketing Manager Mary Lee Gay, the mold remediation closure was like a nightmare that was starting to fade. When the coronavirus began to fill the Saenger calendar with postponements and cancellations, Gay says it seemed like all their hard work during the remediation was in vain.
“[Director of Booking Chris Penton] used the time that the theater was shut down to pack our spring schedule full of great shows,” Gay explained. “There were several days when he would confirm multiple dates, so that kept our spirits up. We were on track to have what I thought would be a record-breaking spring. Just as we were preparing to be spending more time at the theater than at home, all hell broke loose. Months and months of hard work all disappeared in a matter of hours. That was and continues to be a hard pill to swallow.”
Even though Penton knows all local venues are feeling the effects of the coronavirus, his main concern is the production crew and venue staff, who will be left out of work throughout the crisis. However, Penton and his crew are working hard to make sure that the future is bright for both employees and patrons.
Besides “being wise to the virus,” Penton said the Saenger’s main goal is to reschedule spring performances and add shows to the fall months. So far, bands such as Wilco (April 16) and The Allman Betts Band (April 30) are still on the calendar. Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd have been rescheduled for November 16. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit have been rescheduled for December 4.
“The bands, management and our promoting partners all want to see the events take place,” Penton said. “The entire industry is working extremely hard to get new dates on the calendar and not have to cancel anything. So far, so good.”
“Definitely keeping everyone healthy until it’s safe to resume normal life is our top priority. For us, that unfortunately means closing, but we’ll keep working with our promoters and artists to make sure these shows that we’ve had to postpone happen when it’s safe,” she said. “I have no doubt that Chris will just use this as motivation to book even more shows. I think everyone will have a new appreciation for the things we sometimes take for granted once this is over and we’ll see more people than ever out doing things in the community. I hope I never hear another person say that there’s nothing to do in Mobile.”
Soul Kitchen is another longtime downtown venue feeling the effects of the coronavirus. Soul Kitchen co-owner Maggie Enyon summed up the vibe behind-the-scenes as being “weird.” When Enyon and her partner, Brad Young, first saw the fatal potential that the coronavirus could have on the venue’s lineup, the two owners’ main focus was to try and keep as many shows alive as possible while preparing to reschedule any shows that might get cancelled. However, Enyon and Young’s mindset changed after seeing the pandemic’s effect on venues in other cities.
“Once we started seeing how serious it was and venues in other cities closing down and the outpouring of musicians … Now, our stuff is getting postponed till the end of May and the end of June,” Enyon said. “We’re trying to get as many shows in the fall, but so far it’s been crisis control and trying to get people to give us dates for postponements so we can go ahead and announce those dates.”
Even though this longtime venue may not be open to public performances, Soul Kitchen is not staying silent during the pandemic. Last weekend, the venue hosted the “Band Together” live stream benefit. This online event featured local favorites such as The Red Clay Strays, Abe Partridge, Kristy Lee, Deluna and Ryan Dyer. This benefit focused on generating funds for the people working behind the scenes to make live music happen. Not only are musicians out of work, but a number of workers behind the scenes are in financial risk. This list includes bartenders, security, production, touring personnel and many others.
“I said, ‘Let’s do something positive,’” Enyon explained. “I called The Red Clay Strays, and they were automatically in, and Abe was in. They were like, ‘If it goes well, then maybe we can do this once a week until this is over and get some money for some people who depend on live music as their income.’”
As venues across the city remain silent or feature music behind closed doors, the local music scene is also taking an active role in providing live music for audiences across social media. Red & the Revelers, Grayson Capps, Handsome Scoundrels and many others have been taking to live streams across the internet.
At a private home in Midtown, Foxxy Records continued its “Showcase” series with a streamed musical performances featuring Barstow Revival, A Little Change, Satin Dogs, Patch, Ross Burroughs and local comic Heather Hughes. With each performance, these innovative local musicians have been posting links to “virtual tips jars.” These tip jars are accessed through cash app links featured throughout the streams.
Ultimately, the local music scene’s resilience through this surreal crisis is a testament to each artist’s dedication to his or her art and audience.
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