Thursday, April 15, 2021
Arts + Culture Music A year without live music—that still made a lot...

A year without live music—that still made a lot of noise

A music critic reflects on an era that heard local venues silenced and Black voices uplifted.

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At the end of February last year I got to cover Noise Pop for 48hills.

Helado Negro, Angelica Garcia, and Tre Burt performed at the Great American Music Hall, where a very young, brown, and queer coffee-sipping crowd dug in on a date night. It was such a sweet evening, most of the patrons getting intimate and sexy, in a very nerd-geek SF way. You just don’t see that in other parts of the country. Makes you really love San Francisco. We still got that uniqueness about us despite tech money influence. No robots here.

With half the bar staff sent home, it became very apparent sobriety was the new black for this engagement. Most of these patrons were ordering tea and other hot beverages. No booze. The head bartender went out of his way to alert me of this situation while I was ordered a beer and a shot. I got speedy service.

Oh yeah, there was not one mention of COVID all nite. Then, the beginning of March kicked off the weird phase… that has yet to cease.

As the week progressed, emails and text messages about SXSW and numerous cancellations start to pile up. When I stopped over at a buddy’s house for lunch—he books bands all across the states—I watched him deal with various acts and venues, on the phone for six hours, as they backed out of contracts all over Austin, TX that day. Dude was not happy. 

SXSW was canceled the next day. Then on March 16, San Francisco got different. Catastrophe-level different.

Six Bay Area counties, which account for a population of more than 6.7 million, received “shelter in place” orders for all its residents. Mayor London Breed directed everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible for the next three weeks in a desperate move to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus across the region. 

It was the strictest measure of its kind in the continental United States. Mayor Breed had been working with San Francisco hospitals and public health officials on a plan in advance of the announcement, calling on state and federal authorities for tools needed for the city to beat back the virus—and for residents to do their part and stay home. All venues were, rightly, closed. The local music scene would be facing another giant challenge.

In one year we collectively observed too many Americans die from COVID due to a White House Administration that put ego in front of service. We watched murals go up in SF and all over the world reflecting that travesty but also giving hope in seeing us all through in dark and uncertain times.

With numerous protests crying out rights for all, while half of the workforce was unemployed with no professional sports on television serving as a diversion, the ugly side of America—one that marginalized people live with and see daily—was exposed. Police brutality against the underrepresented, the voiceless, the ones with no recourse got played on MSNBC daily. Murder daily in time for the six o’clock news. It could no longer be ignored.

Conversations began, the real difficult ones. Matter of fact last July I was contacted by so many platforms, interested in my “Black Voice,” to discuss my journey as an African-American writer. Feeling fetishized, waist-deep in a white guilt moment, I held my tongue for a later day, when some of that guilt was pushed to the back burner.

Having difficult conversations about race is a continuum.

Understand, writing about all the good music still being released for a year straight, and seeing how musicians and labels have adapted to online life (and venues to GoFundMes and other desperate outreach), a dude is more than itchy to get out there and drop new vinyl wax jams—I’m traditional fool—on crowds more than ever. When this strident, soulful, freaky, tech-drunk, hustlers convention of a city opens back up like a lotus flower, y’all know what it is, I’m here for it. But we still got a long way to go. 

Get vaccinated. Mask up. Treat your corner store people like the gold that they are. Bring ’em a Christmas present in April. They earned it.

We still have a long way to go. Clubs globally are starting to ease up, which I’m not too sure about. Owners need money. I get it. Doing what I do, when I see publicists put touring dates for bands and DJs here and overseas on bios, when I see Outside Lands setting a date in October, I’m psyched and repulsed all at once. We are just now exiting the beginning phase of knocking out the virus. 

We all get it. Part of America is cocaine happy on Biden-Harris still (with what we suffered with, for four years, who can blame em). But we have to listen. Be grateful we have a President who knows when it’s International Women’s Day. Vibe on that for a second. I’m so thankful we have a beautiful woman holding down the Vice President position, with my skin complexion.

It’s a beacon of light. So until club-bar life is legit 100 percent back, keep on binge-watching “Bar Rescue” with John Taffer and his low-grade Anthony Bourdain energy. That’s all we got for now. 

But the end is coming, and the stage is warming up.

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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