Even as those restrictions lift, the toll the pandemic took lingers. Musicians found themselves in a strange situation — people navigating increased stress and anxieties who could no longer go out and see live music still needed the service, and perhaps more than ever.
Jen Mulhern (@jenuinecello), a classically-trained cellist based on South Padre Island, began hosting a livestream concert series. She played her last gig in Harlingen on March 18 and has been teaching two students remotely, but her performances and the ability to interact directly with the audience was put on hold.
“The week after my last gig, I started a weekly porch session. I had done them before to give people who don’t live on the Island a glimpse of Spring Break or the sunny weather. A 90 minute session once a week got quadruple the views and donations from anything I’ve ever done on social media. It was enough to keep me afloat,” she said.
The crisis has in many ways legitimized the importance of music and the arts to health and well-being and the need to support the local creative community. “The basic function of music is grandpa gets out the violin around the fireplace during the depression and everyone gets to take their minds off it for a little while,” explained Mulhern.
“This has actually validated the role of music and musicians. The role of art in our society as a whole is stronger than ever.”
The music industry has suffered nonetheless. As Texas reopens, artists are in a position where they have to take their own safety precaution, hope that venue owners have those same concerns in mind, and figure out how to generate income.
Up-and-coming Tejano singer Veronique Medrano (@veronique956) divided the current situation into three categories: recording, distribution, and performance. “During the first quarter of the year, a lot of musicians the year prior were already creating and producing music that would come out the following year,” she said.
Limits on the number of people allowed in a room shut that process down. Medrano added, “You can self-record, but more often that not, especially for myself since I’m in Tejano, we have two to three, maybe four people in a space while we’re recording.”
Medrano played the Sombrero Festival about two weeks prior to the pandemic’s arrival in the Valley but like many others wasn’t aware of the danger until it was already happening. She began looking for workarounds to performing at venues, but the available options aren’t perfect.
For example, most merchandise is sold at shows. Some in the industry are planning drive-in events. The other option is live streaming. “Live streams are free. People will pay for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, but the way they see it, they can just go on YouTube and watch me play. It’s a very difficult tightrope right now as a musician to try to make the best decisions in an environment that’s constantly changing,’ Medrano said.
In Brownsville, singer/songwriter Isaac Romero (https://invisiblekid.bandcamp.com) was doing music full-time, playing live shows three to four times a week. “Fewer people started going to the venues and after that all of the venues closed down,” he said of the situation.
He’s still been able to give back to the community through a few private, socially distanced shows like one he played for staff at Angelita’s Casa de Cafe on Boca Chica.
He urged the community to stay safe for the sake of everyone and to keep those who are musicians currently unemployed in their thoughts, adding, “We can’t go out and play, but I see there are a lot of people who want to get back out there. The sooner we can start following these rules and procedures, the sooner we can get back to playing shows.”
Francisco Rodriguez, of Garden Seeds (@gardenseedsofficial), an Edinburg-based group which he co-founded with a friend in 2018, said though the past months have been challenging, they’ve also given him reason to create. “I’ve been harnessing my craft, working on new music, working on new outfits to wear and also working at the same time,” Rodriguez said.
Asked how to support local artists he suggested that anyone interested visit their respective websites and social media — Facebook, Instagram, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Spotify, and other streaming platforms. “Share their work and maybe even purchase and check out what they have to offer, because most of them are home right now and that’s the best time to create.”
One way locals can help musicians and anyone in the arts struggling to get by right now is to get in touch with local and state officials regarding funding, grants, loans, and other types of aid to affected individuals and organizations.
Self-employed musicians out of work in Texas are now able to claim unemployment under the CARES Act, which also included funding for independent artists. The Texas Music Office (www.texas.gov/music) has been publishing information on financial resources available to those in the industry.