More than three-quarters of people in the live events industry have lost all of their income since the COVID-19 shutdown, according to #WeMakeEvents, an advocacy group for people in the entertainment industry.
But even after the shutdown is over, the pain will continue, according to Sarah Craig, the executive director of the venerable Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs.
“90 percent of small music venues will not be able to survive,” she told Spectrum News. “I don’t think music is a top priority for this country.”
Craig went on to say the shutdown shows the country doesn’t value of the arts.
“It’s luxury item, it’s not essential,” she said. “But for those of us in the industry, it’s our lives.”
Caffe Lena, which has been operating continuously since 1960, and is widely considered to the longest running folk music venue in the country, helped launch the careers of dozens of well-known musicians including Bob Dylan, who first played in the intimate club in 1961.
Craig said she has mixed feelings about shutdown.
“It’s a mixture of pride in our response and frustration with the restrictions,” she said. “The pride comes from the fact that we really didn’t miss a beat. We went right into online programming the day the New York Pause started, and we haven’t stopped since.”
Caffe Lena has been promoting artists in two ways. The venue still has live performances on its stage, which are broadcast.
“Our broadcast has been deemed essential,” said Craig.
The broadcasts are certainly essential for the musicians who benefit financially from viewer donations.
“We have been the conduit for, at this point, a little more than $60,000 that will go into the pockets of regional musicians who would otherwise be unemployed and have no means of support,” Craig said.
Another piece of Caffe Lena’s pandemic strategy has been to provide group lessons for children. The so-called “Caffe Lena School of Music” was supposed to go live on March 10, but couldn’t because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Instead, by the next week, the 17th, we had converted it to Zoom lessons,” Craig said. “And all of the registered students stuck with it, and we picked up more students as well. We added more classes, we added more teachers, we added an adult track and that whole thing has just been booming because we will have created some kind of social and creative outlet. Time to explore new skills.”
It’s made Craig thoughtful about the kind of music that Caffe Lena has been providing for the last 60 years.
“Music that has withstood the test of time is really hitting the sweet spot for people right now,” she said.
But the shutdown has taken a mental toll on her and her staff.
“Oh my God. It’s a rollercoaster,” said Craig. “I feel like the job of leaders right now is to lead. You come to a door and you just kick it open. But there are days when I just, ahh. I look at the scope of damage that’s been done to the music industry. We have lost agencies, agents, and promoters.”