Music, But No Dancing? New Orleans Eases Back into Live Music with Restrictions

AP Photo_Gerald Herbert

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The first glimmers of live music’s return go into effect in New Orleans on Friday, March 12. In response to a city-wide decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the New Orleans Health Department recommends progressing into a modified Phase Three

Concert and music halls will be allowed to reopen at 75% capacity, up to 250 people. Bars that host performers will be limited to 75 people and masks will still be required in public. Bars can now welcome live music back in their doors, but if anyone is singing or playing a wind instrument, capacity will be reduced from 75 percent to 50 percent, with a maximum half-capacity of 75.  

Performers of wind-blown instruments are required to wear a face mask with an opening to fit the mouthpiece of the instrument. The instruments also must have a bell cover or remain in an instrument bag. All performers must maintain six feet in all directions, except for wind-blown instruments, who must be nine feet from those in front of them. Live music events are permitted only by performers who are contracted or hired by the business.  Singing and performing by patrons—karaoke or open mic— is not permitted.

Additionally, live music’s return does not permit dancing. The new rules explain that patrons are prohibited from dancing and must refrain from cheering or singing along, especially while not wearing masks.

Artists and business owners alike are relieved by the extended opportunity after a year of hardship, but limited capacity, planning implications, and safety concerns have created hesitancy. 

“I don’t want to be the first one, because I don’t want to do it wrong,” Tipitina’s general manager Brian “Tank” Greenberg told The Associated Press“It’s not as simple as the city makes it seem.” 

Greenburg cites fine-print about adhering to specific guidelines for venues’ heating and air-conditioning systems, purchases of plexiglass, and other upgrades. The city health director Jennifer Avego emphasized that each business will “ have to look at those and then check with the state fire marshal. They’re not overly onerous. They can be done.”

It can be done, but just how quickly is still undetermined. It’s a walk-don’t-run situation for many venue owners, like Tipitina’s. 

“We have a floor plan that we’ve already mapped out,” Greenberg said. “We’re a big room, so we have that advantage.”

Tipitna’s, a legendary New Orleans venue with a recording studio, record label, and foundation supporting the local music community, has suffered this year, like similar establishments across the country. It’s primetime location became a threat as commercial real estate thrived amidst widespread economic downfall. Robert Mercurio, a member of Galactic—a New Orleans-based band—told American Songwriter that he had been approached by several people trying to buy the historic club. 

 “As one of them said to us, ‘Everything is now on sale,’” he shared back in August. “I hate to think about what will happen to sold places, and what the future of historic venues will look like if help doesn’t come.”

Some help is now arriving, though it’s unclear how much, and how it will help. The city is working on a grant program to help bar owners pay for upgrades they’ll need to make under the guidelines. Though, cost is not the only concern here. Safety remains a priority for many.

Tom Thayer, who owns d.b.a, told NOLA.com he’s in “no hurry to throw the doors open like everything’s back to normal. I’ll keep things as they’ve been for at least a couple weeks.”

For much of the entertainment sector, the damage is already done. Months of lag time between relief efforts executed by lawmakers left many desperate, hanging out their instruments and seeking employment elsewhere. The collapse of the live music industry has affected not only musicians, but thousands of music industry workers and culture bearers who work alongside them. The pandemic has triggered a “domino effect” in the music sector with cancelled music events–disrupting income for so many.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the non-profit organization that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, announced today that it has reopened applications for the Jazz & Heritage Music Relief Fund—a statewide relief fund to support Louisiana’s music community who have lost income amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The City of New Orleans’ Modified Phase 3 restrictions will be effective as of March 12, 2021 at 6 a.m.. 

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