Live music events thriving even during recessionby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
The economic meltdown has brought uncertainty and upheavel to many Minnesota arts groups. But one sector of the art scene that seems to be beating back the recession is live music.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Sunday night, the line of fans waiting to see the Brooklyn-based indie rock buzz band, "Grizzly Bear," at the Cedar Cultural Centre, wound its way outside and around the block.
For the Cedar's executive director, Rob Simonds, the sold out show is more evidence of the transformation that's come to the West Bank of Minneapolis. With eight or more venues featuring musicians, Simonds said it's become the 'Eat Street' for live music and traffic is way up.
"People are just wandering up and down the street checking out all the different live music venues to see what's going on," Simonds said. "Chances are pretty good on a Friday or Saturday night, they're going to find something they really like."
As for the wretched economy, and people's unwillingness to pry open their wallets for anything but the bare essentials, Simonds said live music is proving to be an exception.
"The old adage that entertainment does well during the recession is bearing fruit to some extent," he said. "People want to go out and do things that make them feel good."
The Cedar, which is a non-profit, started out the year with an economy-induced 20 percent reduction in funding, but ticket sales have more than filled that gap. According to Simonds there's a host of reasons live music is weathering the economic storm.
Many people are foregoing expensive vacations and looking for things to do at home. The collapse of the recording industry has forced more musical acts to tour to make their money, so there's more shows to choose from. To many, live music feels less extravagant and expensive than live theater or dance.
And the Cedar's Rob Simonds said it's partnering more with other venues such as First Avenue and the Walker Art Center to reach broader, and in many cases, younger audiences.
"I think it really helps too that the Twin Cities has such a vibrant local music scene, because people are used to going out and listening to music here, and going out and listening to a fairly high caliber of music too," he said.
That high caliber of local music has benefited First Avenue in Minneapolis. General Manager Nate Kranz said ticket sales are up slightly over last year.
When there have been holes in First Avenue's schedule, Kranz hasn't been afraid to turn to up and coming local acts, even giving some of them a coveted slot in First Ave's main room.
"More often than not we've been seeing it's been working out really well," Kranz said. "Actually I can't think of any times it hasn't worked out recently."
From the Turf Club in St. Paul to the 331 Club in Minneapolis, crowds have been consistently healthy to occasionally overflowing. Nate Kranz not only credits the quality of local music for audiences turning out at neighborhood venues, but the price.
"You know you think about it, if you're going out, most cover charges for local bands is $5 or $6," he said. "That's cheaper than going to see a movie and arguably more fun, at least in my book."
Yet, as live music thrives, other parts of the art scene are struggling.
Laura Zimmermann is Arts Program Officer for the McKnight Foundation. Zimmermann said a few months ago it looked like arts groups were hanging in pretty well, but lately it's gotten more desperate.
"A lot of what we've been hearing in the last few weeks are calls from non profits that are having a harder time than ever making payroll or implementing the programs that they've started," Zimmermann said. "They are cutting staff at a much higher degree it feels like than they had been doing in the months before."
Zimmermann said in many cases, those cuts will be invisible to the public because some laid off staff will continue working with the hope they'll be re-hired when times get better. But Zimmermann warns the recession will leave its mark on the local arts landscape.
"It's just overly optimistic to think that everybody will somehow keep swimming and muster through," she said.
Zimmermann said the groups that will survive will be the ones who most creatively engage and connect with their audiences, so it will be hard for anyone to imagine them not being around.
- Morning Edition, 06/09/2009, 8:25 a.m.