COVID-19 Has Possibly Permanently Altered the New Orleans Music Scene


Ms. Mojo band at Tipitina's
Photo courtesy of Miss Mojo’s Facebook page

The New Orleans music industry was as strong as the roar of a trumpet, as steady as the beat of a drum, surviving through natural disasters and recessions, only to be altered, maybe forever, by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The city where music was always present, as ubiquitous as that constant tinge of hot-garbage-smell in the quarter, suddenly went quiet, becoming the Midwestern town from “Footloose” where music and dancing were banned. 

Reflecting on the state of the Big Easy’s famous music scene, this article features interviews with 3 local bands on how COVID-19 has impacted them, and what they think its lasting effects will be on New Orleans music. 

Bon Bon Vivant 

Captivating audiences with their bawdy New Orleans sound that blends indie rock and jazz, Bon Bon Vivant is known for their energetic live shows and frequent festival appearances. Big Easy Magazine interviewed the band’s singer Abigail Cosio and saxophonist Jeremy Kelley. 

Q: What was your band’s initial reaction to the COVID-19 crisis? 

Jeremy: When COVID initially hit, “We were on tour on the west coast… we had our entire 2020 mapped out for a whole bunch of things that never happened for us. We were in Reno and we started getting emails from all the venues we were supposed to be playing that there was a lockdown that was going to happen and we ended up getting stuck in a snowstorm in Reno Nevada. And instead of playing our gig, we ended up doing a live stream on one of our phones just because we had the feeling like we needed to do something. We did a live stream through one of our phones and then got this really, really beautiful feedback through our Facebook fans about that live stream which compelled us to move in that direction… and we just kept that up, every Sunday for months and months and months, like 9 months.” 

Q: Were there any benefits to live streaming shows? 

Abigail: “One of those perks was people finally had an opportunity to, you might forget the face at the bar that came up to you to say, “Hey I really loved that song,” but when their name is on the profile when they tag you and they like you and they send you messages it builds a personal relationship. We knew they were because we have followers and whatnot but I think because everyone was locked up it was an opportunity for us to start connecting in any way we could.”

Q: What kind of feedback did you get to your live stream shows? 

Jeremy: “We started getting messages like, “Thank you so much for the Sunday show we turn it on every Sunday during dinner and the whole family watches it on the TV while we have dinner and the kids dance around and it makes us feel more normal.” 

Q: Will you continue to do live streams after the pandemic? 

Jeremy: “We’ve kind of been forced into a new way to interact with people and yeah, that will definitely continue. We’ve talked about when we get to tour again bringing a live stream rig with us.” 

Q: Final comments? 

Abigail: “I don’t want to give the false impression that we are rocking it because we are definitely not. We are just reaching for the best state of mind to be musicians in this time and basically kinda knowing art lives in conflict. It will live wherever you plant it.” 

Bon Bon Vivant’s new album, which focuses on overcoming obstacles and being joyful through hard times, is titled Dancing in the Darkness. To celebrate its release, Bon Bon Vivant will be holding a release concert at the Broadside Theater on December 4th.

The Crooked Vines

Fusing funk-fueled jams and sweetly spacy spots in songs, The Crooked Vines has played at famous New Orleans venues including Tipitina’s, The Howlin’ Wolf, House of Blues, and Gasa Gasa. Big Easy Magazine interviewed the band’s keyboardist Steven Schwartz about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Q: What was The Crooked Vines’ initial reaction to the pandemic? 

Steven: “The pandemic in it of itself, the disruption to the music industry, was not as hugely adverse as I know it has been for so many other people. It did put a pause on some group activity but the funny thing was I had been hoping to work on a project for the band for a long time, so I made our third album.”

Q: How has the pandemic negatively affected your band? 

Steven: “We had all these things in the books for the Fall that people were like, “Oh no we can still have those.” but they ended up getting canceled too, so it’s been kind of a recurring cancellation for us.” 

Q: Have there been any positive effects from the pandemic for your band? 

Steven: “The pandemic has reoriented my goals, pursuits, and mindsets… There is no map for success but there are certainly precedents for how to succeed in the music business and you do feel like you have to take every opportunity and oh you’re not doing good if you’re not working all the time kind of mentality and I think everyone has had to reassess and you only get one currency and that’s time and you know where do I want to spend that. And for us, yes, the reality is the core people of this group have said, you know I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do a wedding band anymore I hate that, I want to do things that use my creativity. 

Q: What advice do you have for other bands? 

Steven: “If you’re in it to make money, you probably won’t make money, if you’re in it to not make money, you might make money.” 

The Crooked Vines recently replaced their lead singer Mikayla Braun with Faith Becnel. Their new album, Mostly Alive will be released early on Patreon. You can follow them on Instagram and Facebook for updates. 

Miss Mojo 

Miss Mojo famously blends modern souls and New Orleans funk to create original beats that captivate audiences. Bandmates Jenna Winston and Rob Kellner answer some of Big Easy’s questions on how the pandemic has affected their mojo. 

Q: When the pandemic initially started and live music was banned, how did you guys cope? What strategies did you come up with to keep making music/ performing? 

Rob: The optimistic view is that the circumstances force us to innovate.  The first thing we did was to film remote quarantine videos, where everyone records their part to a song one at a time, and then we put them together.  That ended up being a little bit too strenuous of a process to make music that would, under normal circumstances, come together as more of a living, breathing product when we play together in person. Then we started doing live streams when we determined that it was safe for us to be in the same room together. That’s a little closer to the real thing, but the difference in energy between hearing a live audience applauding and seeing some virtual fans commenting (after a few seconds of delay) is pretty substantial. 

Q: Have you been doing live stream/ porch/ outdoor concerts? What are some positives/negatives of these performance styles? 

Jenna: We’ve only done a couple of outdoor shows so far.  They’re lovely when they work, but there are certainly far more obstacles than positive aspects to doing them.  The city is currently requiring a $100 permit for any kind of porch show, and shows at outdoor venues have been tenuous due to risks of extreme weather and ensuring that the events are executed safely.  Needless to say, I can’t wait for the day I can safely walk onto an indoor stage again.

Rob: For the time being, outdoor shows seem to be the only option in terms of live performance.  I’m always so impressed by how this city is so dedicated to live music, and the ubiquity of porch concerts are one example of that.  But like Jenna said, the city recently made this harder by imposing pretty onerous permitting restrictions on porch shows… Eight months without a real live show is enough to drive some of us crazy.

Q: Do you believe that the New Orleans music scene has been forever altered by the pandemic? 

Rob: When it comes to the New Orleans music scene, so many of us were making a living by playing a substantial number of underpaid gigs every week, often relying on inconsistent tips for a majority of our income.  We attract billions of dollars in revenue to the city through its tourism industry, but we get paid so sporadically and often go without reliable access to health care.  And on a national scale, artists rarely get paid a livable compensation for their work–each time someone streams a Miss Mojo song on Spotify, for example, we earn only about $0.003.

The pandemic made these things so much clearer.  If we as a community truly care about our musicians, artists, and culture bearers, then we need to build better systems of institutional support to make their careers more sustainable. 

As for the future of how we make music – in my mind, the pandemic has kind of pushed along a process of change in the music industry, in general, that’s been taking place for years.  It’s cheaper than ever to make music nowadays, and with so many people investing in recording equipment for live streams and home productions, I think we’ll see even less of a need for large recording studios and record labels. Hopefully, we will see a growth in music industry infrastructure in this city that will help bring some of our local talent to listeners across the country and sustain them in the process.

Jenna Winston: If there’s one major change I’ve seen so far, it’s that musicians are starting to band together and organize.  We’ve formed a group called The Musicians Alliance, and are starting to develop a more collective understanding on what positive changes we want to see in our industry.  I think this will have a lasting, positive impact on the New Orleans music scene, because the ultimate goal is to protect the livelihood of local artists.

Miss Mojo will be releasing two EP’s, along with new music and videos, which you can access through following them on Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify.

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