A quick glance around the social media-o-sphere has revealed something about which I've been excited, but kind of nervous: Live music seems to be making a comeback. This, by the way, might include New Mexico musicians who've been traveling to other states where lockdowns and public gathering restrictions are more lax. Please note that I honestly don't know if those travelers have been coming in and out of New Mexico the whole time, but I lean toward pessimism given the American population's apparent reticence to do anything that might be helpful to their fellow humans.
But I digress, and want to say that I think the prospect of upcoming live music is great! The musicians deserve it, it's been hard for everyone (including myself, as I've been known to make terrible music and perform it in front of people from time to time) and, honestly, Queen's Gambit was pretty fucking short (just kidding, never watched it, but it's about a bus, right?). But someplace within that excitement over possibly seeing my bandmates after a year or my friends or whatever Santa Fe cover act has at long last mastered their own signature version of "Feel Like Makin' Love," I'm more truthfully finding myself wildly nervous about what a return to live music is going to actually mean for the future of local players, local venues, local everybody if we don't do it right. If we rush into shows because we're tired of waiting and streaming, what's going to happen?
A downside of working in journalism is what my father has dubbed "the curse of knowledge," which is to say people tend to come to me with all kinds of actual information even though the bulk of my job has pretty famously been me typing out sentences like "…and that's why it was the worst muffin I ever had." Still, because of the whole people-telling-me-things thing, I've grown intimately familiar with how the people of New Mexico—and the adjoining states, such as mask-free Texas—have reacted to health orders and care for others. It's often not great, but it is often horrifying! And while I'm in no way saying it's reasonable to expect working musicians to continue twiddling their thumbs or streaming more mind-numbingly boring "concerts" wherein they meekly announce "Hey, guys, my Venmo and PayPal are…" I want to advise that we all just take a beat and think long and hard about how we're going to interact with one another if we do indeed start attending shows (to prove there's no cause for outright panic, find details on two such events here).
I know, I know—you're already penning a hate letter about how I couldn't possibly understand the shape of the music biz despite having worked within it from one angle or another for more years of my life than not; how the shape of the town and my lack of med school training mean I should shut up forever. Fair enough, I guess, but even over the last week alone, I've already seen too many local citizens, workers, etc. with masks drooping lazily down below their noses if they're wearing one at all—and that's not even counting reopening announcements from businesses I won't name here that made me think "Really? That place?" You fill in the blanks—I know you can.
I've seen social media posts about what we're all going to do for soon-to-be-playing musicians who've missed out on a year of work and struggled with unemployment, unsupportive government and a society that already deems their work shouldn't generate the kind of money on which one can live. And it's a lot. And I'm scared. And you maybe should be, too, at least a little bit. Or maybe the word is "vigilant."
We've learned a lot in the last year about how viruses are transmitted, and a number of ill-fated performances and rehearsals across the country in that time proved how simply singing near others posed deadly COVID-19 risks. You might be knee-jerk reacting into thinking, "But I'll stay socially distant and wear a mask when I'm not eating or drinking! I will be vigilant!"
Forgive me for saying, but I'm not sure I believe everyone will. Even a brief trip up the street from my home to a coffee shop last weekend proved mildly harrowing as I chose to quickly sip from my to-go cup on my way out just as an elderly lady entered the building sporting an absolutely ferocious stink-eye toward my masklessness. In my mind, I was taking one tiny moment to quaff, but this lady and I were closer to each other than 6 feet in an instant. If I'd had three beers and was really feeling whoever was playing "Hallelujah" on whatever patio, I'm not sure I'd be thinking 100% about my mask, if I'm being honest.
There's just so much we still don't know, and while I absolutely believe musicians deserve to make a living, you'd have to be the reanimated Biggie or Beethoven for me to care enough to risk my life for your music—but I'm sure you're just a totally sick-ass guitar player, though, so kudos to you. I'm just saying, try to be patient as people start trickling back to doing old things they enjoyed, and don't come at any of us like we owe you (nobody likes that), and hopefully the rest of us will take your own risks seriously as well when we leave our homes.
I don't personally have great answers, but I think most New Mexicans being vaccinated is coming quicker than we think. I know this is unbelievably hard for people who work in the arts, and make no mistake—working in the arts is work. But no matter how hard up you've been or how unsupported you've felt or how little aid you've received, all the sacrifices we've made won't amount to much if we blow it now. Businesses, musicians and workers everywhere simply can't survive another whole year of this. Let's try to do this right. That means patience, masks, distancing, tipping huge and not bugging people for freebies right now. Pay up, mask up and get real chumps…or stay home.