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With Live Music on Hold, Musicians & Venues Struggle

For jazz musician Aaron Myers, life and livelihood depend upon togetherness. Myers performs for crowds at Mr. Henry’s as the restaurant’s resident artist. He also serves as a Minister of Music at Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ. However, the pandemic, which has closed music venues across the District, put Myer’s livelihood on hold.

“It’s something so out of my control that impacts not just me as an artist, but the entire industry,” Myers said. “All the avenues through which you traditionally make a living are somewhat taken away from you. It’s been devastating.”

are also struggling to stay open as revenues fizzle. Jeremy Kittrell, who is a co-owner of the Vegas Lounge in Logan Circle, said the 49-year-old, storied blues club has not yet been permitted to reopen. It is nearly impossible for tightly packed performances such as his, he points, to enforce social distancing protocol.

Bureaucratic hurdles have prevented Kittrell from securing federal and city grants and loans. Under current District guidelines, entertainment venues will likely be the last businesses to reopen. The pandemic, he fears, may permanently alter the District’s music scene.

“A lot of people have just said forget it and folded up their books,” Kittrell said. “They’re just like, we’re done.”

DMV venues are pursuing strategies to save live music. Some are creating digital content. Others are encouraging fans to fund venues and bands. A few are hosting small, outdoor concerts. Here is a guide to supporting local music during the pandemic.

 DC JazzFest

 Presented by Live from Our Living Rooms, DC JazzFest’s nine days of musical performances and programming are going online. Performances, “Meet the Artist” interviews and masterclasses began June 21 and run through June 29. Among featured artists are Dee Bridgewater, Regina Carter and John Clayton. Visit DC JazzFest for more information.

Though the festival is free, GoFundMe donations will benefit DC-area musicians who have lost their primary source of income. The virtual festival helps artists “make their ends meet” while connecting viewers with talent, said DC JazzFest Executive Director Sunny Sumter.

“The whole series is only as good as the talent we are able to present and we’ve got some of the top names in jazz,” Sumter said.


The pandemic forced Songbyrd Music House & Record Café, 2475 18th St NW, to temporarily close its 220-person live music venue. However, Songbyrd is holding both digital and socially distanced events.

Songbyrd’s Facebook page offers include performances and discussions of classic albums. The Adams Morgan venue also hosts virtual music trivia every first and third Monday.

Songbyrd’s restaurant reopened for takeout in May. Customers can order pick-up and carry-out online Thursday through Sundays from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. The record store, also now open, is donating all proceeds from the sale of records by black artists to MusicianShip Summer 2020 youth education programs. Visit the venue’s website and Facebook page to find out the latest information.

 Jammin Java

Live music returns to Jammin Java, 227 Maple Ave., Vienna, VA. The Vienna venue is making use of outdoor space by bringing performances to its parking lot.

“A Song & A Slice: A Socially Distanced Outdoor Concert Series” are ‘suggested donation’ shows benefiting artist-selected organizations. Jammin Java donates $1 from every beer sold as well.

Socially distance seating accommodates up to 75 people. Owner Daniel Brindley said the venue is “playing by all the rules” to safely support artists and fans.

“It’s really a backyard, kind of low-key production, which is allowing us to control the crowds,” Brindley said. “It’s honestly just great to have live music going again.”

Tickets can be reserved online for the series, with shows on June 25, 26, 27 and July 2 and 3.

National Efforts

Artists and venue owners said they appreciate support from fans and patrons watching at home or in person. However, with limited federal aid, they urge those who want live music to outlast the pandemic to do more.

The National Independent Venue Association, which includes 2,000 live, independent performance spaces nationwide, is asking Congress to provide long-term government assistance for independent music venues. Brindley said fans can push for aid by emailing their legislators.

Myers suggests that businesses adopt arts nonprofits. He advises individuals to consider sponsoring musicians. Funding the basic needs of organizations and artists enables these stakeholders to continue to produce creative content.

“Reach out to them and say, ‘What’s rent looking like for you?’ Myers said. “A real sponsorship should let the person produce without wondering how in the world they’re going to survive.”

Eva Herscowitz is a journalism student at Northwestern University currently interning with the Hill Rag. She writes for Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern. You can reach her at evaherscowitz2023@u.northwestern.edu


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