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Hope for live music in 2021 and Natalie Gelman waves goodbye to 2020

As I sit here on my veranda in a little town in Mexico, I am anticipating the coming new year soooo much, especially for the artists of the music industry.  The past year has been very, very tough for my friends whose careers, livelihoods and hearts depend on entertaining live audiences. With the rise of streaming platforms and the collapse of sold music – albums, singles, even downloads – live performances were often how they made ends meet. 

True, many middle and beginning tier artists did not make ends meet with live performances.  Because of pay-to-play, door proceeds splits, and the cost of touring to find enough venues, paying the rent often required second jobs, music teaching, and working spouses or partners.  For those who were very good and very fortunate – TV and film scores and licensed songs for commercials helped fill the gaps. 

But it was live music that paid most of the bills and delivered the dividends in joy that keep countless bands and artists going.  That ended in 2020 as restrictions closed venues, shut down festivals, and cancelled tours.  Unemployment and stimulus payments and Zoom concerts helped a little, but the loss of live stages overwhelmed and depressed many artists. This fall, The National Independent Venues Association predicted that nine out of 10 of its nearly 3,000 members will close forever without financial help.  We won’t know for a while if that actually happened, and a few venues have been able to stay alive with online concerts, or converting to restaurants, but the future looks very scary.

Or maybe not – there is a big ray of hope. The recently signed Covid relief bill funds $15 billion in grants for independent live venues – including symphony halls and opera houses.  As we speak, NIVA and the independent agents trade group, NITO, are gearing up to help venues apply for the relief grants.  And the vaccine is finally being distributed. There is hope for live music in 2021!

Along with the political and financial activity in the music industry there are, of course, songs – a lot of thank-goodness-2020-is-over songs.  Among the end of the year songs that have flowed into my mailbox (which I vowed not to look at because I am supposedly on vacation, but, you know…) were two that stuck in my mind:  the music video Georgia On My Mind by the Los Angeles-based Jarocho-pop/rap/movement group Las Cafeteras, and the music video 2020 by Central California-based/New York raised folk-pop singer Natalie Gelman.

Both are tons of fun – the best way to celebrate the beginning of a hopeful new year and the end of a terrible one.  Las Cafeteras reworked James Brown’s “Georgia On My Mind” as a cumbia in Spanish to encourage voter turnout in the nation’s first election of 2021, the runoff for two Senate seats in Georgia. They sing with abandon while zipping through the countryside on the way to Georgia in a 1966 Ford Mustang convertible (I had that car and wish I still did!). It works on many levels – it’s fun, it tips a hat to the rise of Latino music in the US, and it points to a new year in the US where everyone gets to vote.

My favorite song for the new year, however, is about the old year, “2020” by Natalie Gelman. The video is set up as a singing response to a job interview in which she comically recounts the trials of 2020, including shopping for toilet paper with a mask on, quarantining in a tent in her own living room, cleaning and redecorating her house over and over because she can’t go out, and other rib-tickling situations.  Gelman then turns her considerable lyrical talent, her angelic voice. and her 1000-watt smile to a hopeful musical look at the great year coming and the even better one after that, all the while confounding the button-down white male interviewer. It is joyful, addictive, funny, and just what we need to wave a musical goodbye to 2020 with an upraised middle finger.

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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