The drum beats. The bass rolls and the guitar rocks. Your toe taps and your body sways to the rhythm. Music has long been key to mental and emotional health and well-being. Studies have shown that attending live music performances decreases the release of cortisol and other stress hormones. Watching live music can result in a 25 percent increase in feelings of self-worth and a 75 percent improvement in mental stimulation. Regular concert attendance can add up to a decade to your life expectancy and dancing can help stave off dementia 70 percent more than crosswords or sudoku.
In Taos, we are spoiled in that regard. Taos has a history of bringing huge international acts to our small mountain town. We also boast a large and diverse pool of incredibly talented musicians who call Taos home.
As businesses and schools are re-opening, and as more people are inoculated against COVID-19, the question on many people's minds is when and how can we go see live music again?
Being some of the first businesses to shut down and the last to reopen, the live music industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. Pollstar, which tracks live music globally, estimated last September that the music realm will likely lose $9 billion in 2020 alone.
"It's been over a year since I've had a customer at the Alley Cantina," said co-owner Aaron Hiemenz. "And we are the place that prided ourselves on always being open, even on Christmas day, and hosting live music seven nights a week. But we're too small of a space and we won't make a go of it until we are open open. That's just how it is. We are going to wait for Turquoise [the lowest risk pandemic rate in New Mexico] with our designation as a bar."
Meanwhile, Jayson Wylie at Taos Mesa Brewing has been working with the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which was formed early in the pandemic as a support/lobbying group for independent venues and promoters.
"TMB joined early and since that time I have become the precinct captain for NIVA in New Mexico," Wylie said. "The group is one that has given me and over 3,000 other venues and promoters hope and direction during this perilous time."
NIVA was the driving force behind lobbying and grassroots efforts to pass the bipartisan Save Our Stages act (SOS), now officially named the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant program (SVOG), which was signed into law as part of the second COVID-19 Relief Bill on Dec. 27, 2020. The program will make $16.25 billion available to live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organization operators, museum operators, motion picture theater operators and talent representatives.
"This group has had a profound and lasting impact on the music scene in just a short amount of time. Since its inception last spring, NIVA has not only been instrumental in lobbying for the passage of SVOG, but they have also added the like of Quincy Jones and Dave Grohl to their advisory board, as well as being endorsed by Dolly Parton. Both Sen. Henrich and then Sen. Udall, as well as, then-Congressman Luján, co-sponsored the SVOG bill. Our leadership in New Mexico has been very helpful in getting the SOS bi-partisan legislation passed into law," Wylie continued.
Wylie says that for now TMB will be focusing more on local music at their outdoor amphitheater to start with. That is the consensus across the board. John Henderson of Roots and Wires and Arroyo Seco Live agreed, saying even though they were able to produce 50 live shows that streamed online last year, they've "been focused on the end since the beginning [of the pandemic]." While most international bands are not viable in the foreseeable future, Henderson said they would certainly bring a band in from Louisiana or Mississippi to play in Seco like they have in the past.
Mitch Miller, with the Town of Taos parks and rec department said town favorite, Taos Plaza Live, will not happen this summer because of the difficulty of enforcing physical distance guidelines, but they have green-lighted the Barn Dance, The Paseo and the wool festival for the fall. Miller said they are working diligently with the state about how to interpret and enforce health guidelines so they can ease into having shows at Kit Carson Park until 2018.
They are working to create 7-foot-by-7-foot pods of 10 people each for these shows, which he said could host up to 2,000 to 3,000 people. The town is keeping an eye on what could be a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Miller said they will err on the side of caution and try to make the best decisions that impact the health of our community. They are refocusing on a possible Fourth of July show in the park. Nothing is confirmed.
"It has been hard for tour promoters to actually make any plans and we want everyone to be comfortable and safe," Miller explained. "It just depends on the trajectory of inoculations. There is a great interest from promoters and we are very hopeful."
Lauren Green from local band, Tan Cologne, spoke to that very concern.
"We released our album, 'Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico,' in February 2020 and did a brief West Coast tour, which by the time that was over it was the lockdown," Green said. "We were pretty bummed to have to cancel a European tour we had been hoping for. Everyone's going to be very ready to get back on the road. But we also want to make sure things are copacetic. We are patiently eager and waiting, but certainly don't want to be a part of anything that would be detrimental to overall health. We need to make sure creative people and musicians are all taken care of and that there is funding for that."
Hiemenz at the Alley said his biggest fears through this whole thing is what would happen to the local musicians.
"[We] went from playing five nights a week to five times in a year," noted local singer-songwriter, Ry Taylor. "It's heart breaking, but there are so many people struggling way harder. So, I'm still very thankful for all I have,"
Greg Thum, AKA Lester Moore from the fab duo Vanilla Pop, remarked, "Once there is a crowd in front of us, we'll get back into the roll. I'm curious to see how things come back to normalcy. It's a very interesting time ... We could all really use a stiff drink."
Music producer and promoter, Joshua Cunningham AKA Kanizzle, posited, "There will be many hangovers." He laughed and continued, "The human desire to dance together as a community is about as primal of an urge as it gets, so let's just say that once that comes back into our daily lives, we will only appreciate it more."
Local legend Jimmy Stadler said he's looking forward to performing again. "It's all I did for 45 years and it means more now than ever. Don't take it for granted ever and play from the heart. I've got this great band and we haven't played together in a year. It'll be interesting to see what comes out of the ashes, but all in all I see it coming out swinging."