I had a gig scheduled for tonight. I was feeling a little bit weird about it, before it was eventually canceled.
I’ve bowed out of exactly one gig since I moved to Buffalo, and that was in September 1990, a few weeks after I arrived here. Somehow, I’d managed to contract chicken pox at the age of 21. Sure, there were some freaky-looking people hanging out at the Continental, where I had a show scheduled that night with my band, the Tails. But no one needed to see what I looked like right then, and no one deserved to be potentially exposed to what I was suffering from. So I stayed home.
Tonight was different.
I’m feeling fine, as far as I can tell. I was not going to let down my fellow musicians, who happen to be close friends. I figure people who were planning on coming out to hear live music could use the uplift, the joy of forgetting, the distraction that such experiences can provide.
I came up the same way so many of my peers and colleagues of all ages did – with the belief the show must go on planted firmly as a cornerstone. Compromise the integrity of that cornerstone, and the whole damn thing collapses.
Yet, here we are, with a pandemic unfolding in real time, and the live music industry reacting by canceling tours and performances the world over, while in all of New York State, events with attendance in excess of 500 people have been canceled, and venues with a capacity of 500 people or less have been ordered to cut previous maximum capacity in half.
The infinitesimal portion of me that isn’t perpetually viewing the world through the lens of a musician was attempting to rise and take over. “Stay home, fool,” it tried to say, while I smother its cries by turning up the music. “It’s not worth it.”
“But … canceling a gig is heresy,” I declaimed to that beleaguered minority of my collective psyche. “The show must go on!”
As the effects of the pandemic have intensified over the past few days, I’ve watched fellow musicians in the Buffalo music scene for their reactions, via social media. Most of them have posted a variation on “Calm down, wash your hands and come out for some live music.”
I get it. Fear can lead to hysteria and blow things out of proportion, suggesting there’s a crisis where there isn’t necessarily one. Until there is, and then it’s too late.
I’m different than a lot of my area musician peers, in that music-making is not my main source of income. If I had bowed out of my gig tonight, I’d still be able to pay my bills.
For many of the musicians you encounter when you venture out on the scene, that evening’s gig is their workday. If they call in sick, they don’t get paid. Period. So they don’t call in sick.
That’s an admirable work ethic, in most instances. But this isn’t one of those instances.
An article published this week by Vox lays out the case for extreme social distancing, including the cancellation of concerts.
“Flattening the curve means that all the social distancing measures now being deployed in places like Italy and South Korea, and on a smaller scale in places like Seattle and Santa Clara County, California, aren’t so much about preventing illness but rather slowing down the rate at which people get sick.”
One of the most effective ways to “flatten the curve” is to cancel events and self-quarantine.
No one in our business wants to hear that, but it’s an uncomfortable truth. We’re going to have to take at least a temporary financial hit, in order to reduce the broader hit on humanity. It’s our responsibility to do so.
Yet, I had a gig tonight. The show must go on. Right?