Live music – it’s a tricky one

Winston Watusi
Music Plus

As I write this we are about to end level 3; as you read this we will have just entered level 2.

Things are changing. Many of us – including at the Watusi Country Club and Sanitarium - just spent 50 days in lockdown and there are, not to put too fine a point on it, a few things we'd like to do.

Folk would like to go fishing, to eat in a restaurant, to get the bloody kids out of the house at last, all things that are now possible, and high on that list for many is once again hearing and seeing live music.

In recent weeks I have seen some truly jaw-dropping music delivered on YouTube, Facebook and other digital platforms, but there is something about a real band playing on a real stage in a real venue that a video feed can't recreate.

And, as with other activities which will see the rules evolve and change over time, live music is still a bit of an unknown. No one really understands what is going to happen.

Over the next few weeks I'll be talking to venue operators in the Bay and bands, but it's hard to predict right now what the oft-mentioned new normal will be.

Distancing

The big question, and it's not rocket surgery to spot this, is what social distancing means to venues.

It's all very well allowing 100 people at an event, which I think (and, please forgive me if I have misunderstood some of the messaging) is the current plan. I do slightly mix concerts in my mind with church services, which can only have 10 people as they are classed as “social gatherings”. But concerts are – I think - instead grouped with restaurants: if you're sitting down they should be OK.

And this is where social distancing becomes an issue. If we take for instance the Jam Factory, it is a venue that, if you pile people in a bit, will hold around 50 or 60. But if those people have to be socially distanced I can't imagine you'd get more than 20 or so, making it unlikely to be an economically sound proposition for the performer.

That is assuming, of course, that people are comfortable enough to get back on the social bandwagon. From my recent conversations there are a lot of nervous folk out there, particularly in Tauranga where the population includes many people who left spring-chickenhood behind long ago. Artists whose audience includes the 65 plus age group, and there are more than a few of those here, might find a distinct reluctance from older folk towards attending crowded, or even any concerts.

Katikati

I notice the Katikati Folk Club have just cancelled their concert this month and are now planning to restart on June 26 with a show by The Company. They have their get-togethers at the Arts Junction in Katikati which can hold about 100 if you pack in the chairs. But with social distancing I can't see that room holding more than 40 or 50, again straining the financial calculations.

There are several conundrums here. If a band needs, for instance, 100 paying punters to make a decent whack from a show they would need a venue that holds possibly 200. Maybe more. And venues charge money. Venues are also cash-strapped and can't afford to lower their prices. So a band has to hire a venue where they can only attract half the number of people they'd like – nobody wins.

Baycourt is surely in this position right now. It's not cheap to hire and most acts would need around 60 per cent seat sales to break even. How does that work if maximum attendance is 50 per cent of the audience capacity?

Ironically, my first thought was churches. Bands could play in churches. They're big, quite cheap to hire and have convenient seating. When number restrictions lift you could easily seat 300 in the Holy Trinity while social distancing. But there does seem something unusually weird about allowing concerts in churches while church services for more than 10 are still outlawed.

We shall see...

watusi@thesun.co.nz



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