Local music venues struggling to draw crowds post-pandemic

The pandemic meant no more crowds, which meant no more live music for many Baton Rouge venues. As COVID-19 case numbers drop and the mask mandates have been lifted, some concert spaces have been able to reopen, but they’re still drawing smaller crowds than before the pandemic.

Things continue to be slow at the Red Dragon Listening Room, says Chris Maxwell, executive director. He’s compared his numbers with other venue operators across the South, and says everyone seems to be operating at about 60% of what they used to do.

Turnout at The Basin Music Hall isn’t fantastic, either, says Brian Ott, co-owner. However, The Basin is hosting more private events, some of which were booked previously but then postponed, Ott says, and things are solidly improving. Some bands are holding off bookings because of the differing COVID-19 rules in place in different cities.

It’s a problem across the country, according to The Washington Post, as performers struggle to balance safety and performing. Lesser-known groups and solo performers that frequent local venues are more vulnerable than more-prominent acts, who have COVID compliance officers and can keep from interacting with crowds. Some acts refuse to perform in states and cities where mask use and proof of vaccination are not enforced.

The current crowd sizes at Red Dragon Listening Room are not sustainable, Maxwell says, as a lot of its older clientele has not returned. But he thinks Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to lift the statewide mask mandate will bring back some business.

About 40% of Red Dragon’s customers want masks to be enforced and for proof of vaccination to be required, Maxwell says, while 40% want the opposite, and the rest are in the middle. Whatever decision he makes, he ends up with only 60%.

However, he made the decision about four months ago to not ask for vaccination cards.

“I’m not going to be a police officer,” he says. “It’s too difficult for a business owner to police people.”

The Basin is also not asking to see vaccination cards at the door, Ott says.

The venue is starting to book larger events, he says, and is hoping to host some national acts around New Year’s. Ott is holding out hope that there are no more variants on the horizon.

Red Dragon Listening Room is fortunate to have enough funding to try and get operations back to normal, Maxwell says, which he thinks will probably take a full year.

This story originally appeared in a Nov. 3 edition of Daily Report. To keep up with Baton Rouge business and politics, subscribe to the free Daily Report e-newsletter here.

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