Austin, Nashville, SF, NYC music post-Covid? Bring an umbrella, just in case

The SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Photo by David Brendan Hall

By Mike Burkert

On a recent Monday, the annual presidential holiday in fact, I took my son out for a golfing adventure. He and I would sample the good life and play 9 holes for $7 each. The morning started out wet, but after the early rain subsided, the day’s remaining forecast called for cloudy.  As we approached the golf course the rain returned, but the algorithms that drive my phone’s weather app insisted it was still cloudy.  My son being 13 and often somewhat literal, made the point that it WAS technically cloudy, so we came to agree that the forecast was more useless than wrong.  

That’s maybe a longer than necessary way of pointing out that it can be a reasonably tall order to be useful and correct in the present, so when someone speculates about what’s going to happen tomorrow and beyond you should probably grab an umbrella just in case.  Noone really knows what’s going to be mostly the same, or different, or better or worse when the big pause comes to an end, but I find the possibilities fascinating and I’d like to share my best guesses about how a few big time music cities just might look when it all gets going again.

John Wesley Coleman III

Austin: Likely to change, maybe not for the best

The techies are flocking to the Lone Star State’s capital with their stock options jinglin’ and a janglin’. Listen closely, or maybe not even that closely, and they will tell you all about them in excruciating detail, the stock options that is. There will be many clever conversations about, can you believe it, maybe actually buying cowboy boots (I mean, should I?); and there will be Friday night strolls down 6th Street in support of the Keep Austin Weird spirit.

But what they’re going to want more than taking in the impeccably disheveled stylings of John Wesley Coleman III at The Liberty are company sponsored happy hours. And the VP who picks up the tab with the corporate card needs to keep everyone happy. So swap out a pool table or two for ping-pong and maybe the open mic night becomes karaoke. But don’t freak out. Don’t ever freak out. Austin will still have more than its fair share of funky, rumbling sweatboxes, mostly east of 35, maybe just fewer of them.

Nashville: Pretty much the same

The musicians in Nashville are as good as you’re going to find anywhere around the globe.  Walk into any of the massive Honky Tonks on Broadway (yes, they really call them that in Nashville), and you’re going to see and hear the best musicians walking the planet, and they can play pretty much anything.  If you’re in town for your BFF’s bachelorette party, it’s just about perfect…but maybe not overly inspired. That’s not a shot at the musicians. For many of them, playing live to the weekend warriors at Tootsie’s is a way to supplement their budding career in the recording studio.  When things get going again, I’m guessing Nashville picks up right where it left off.

San Francisco: A little worse for a while, then maybe a little better and then who knows

At this very moment, San Francisco looks and feels very different than the last time you visited.   I assume downtown is empty, although I haven’t been there in quite a while or know anyone who has. The overall tone could best be described as gritty — visualize Scorcese’s “Mean Streets” or maybe Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt.”  Twitter and Salesforce told their employees they don’t need to come back to the office, so they’re currently chilling in Tahoe or they’ve picked up altogether and moved to Eagle, Idaho.

Now for the good news: the typical cycle in San Francisco entails a wave of youngish newcomers moving into the city, sticking around for a few years, and then eventually heading back from whence they came or moving north, south or east to the suburbs when their kids approach kindergarten. The allegedly accelerated mass exodus will hopefully keep rents in check, which should make it easier for the next batch of 20-somethings to move in, and ideally culminates in a new generation of bands like The French Cassettes, who find their voice at clubs like The Rickshaw Stop and the Bottom of The Hill.

Brooklyn Bowl. Photo by Scott Harris

New York City: Not worse, maybe better, hopefully different

Folk, Punk Rock, Disco, Hip-Hop all came from or came into their own in New York, although from different parts of the city and at different times. New York City, the Big Apple, the City That Never Sleeps — it doesn’t matter what you call it or how you slice it — New York is simply too big and too diverse to fail. As the Grateful Dead so aptly put it, New York’s got the ways AND the means. So chew on that, Jersey.

From colossal behemoths like Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, to majestic music halls like Radio City and hallowed holy ground that can define a neighborhood, just a good old watering hole like the former Wetlands Preserve in Tribeca or cutting edge Brooklyn Bowl, New York City never knows when to say enough, to pack it in and declare, “I’m going home before the sun comes up.” At the end of the day, or the end of the evening, which in New York City is typically the beginning of the next day, otherwise known as tomorrow, especially when it’s still last night, it’s safe to say one thing, and that is, who knows what’s next for New York, which might be the most intriguing and hope inspiring question of all.

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