Nashville, Tennessee. Music City. “Nash Vegas.” The home of country music and a place where musicians, locals, and tourists alike can count on live music being performed roughly 16 hours each day, 7 days a week, almost 365 days of the year.
Talk about a win-win-win situation. With a plethora of venues offering opportunities to play at almost any day and time of the week, musicians here have long been able to feel a sense of “job security” that musicians elsewhere can only dream of. And for tourists, it’s just as exhilarating an experience to have the ability to hop between bars on Broadway Street and listen to a completely different band with an entirely new show.
And then the pandemic came and changed the entire live performance industry — possibly forever.
It was March 15th, 2020. I remember the day exactly because I was one of the last musicians to play on the stage at Blake Shelton’s “Ole Red” on Broadway Street with country music artist, JD Shelburne. That evening, slowly, bars on Broadway Street, including “Ole Red” started to announce their temporary closures due to COVID-19.
Just when you thought there were hopes of at least one venue staying open, the announcements would continue to update each day moving forward, and all would eventually cease operations.
A majority of musicians (and other artists, paid staff workers, management, etc.) were now completely unemployed. Musicians that play on Broadway Street are paid per performance and are heavily reliant on tips, so there was no way to continue to make money if the clubs were closed — especially if no tourists were coming through town. Some musicians became hopeful that the shutdown would only last a few days, others not as much.
Before COVID-19 hit, Nashvillians experienced a different kind of tragedy which made the appearance of the pandemic seem even more detrimental and life-altering. In March, about two weeks before the lockdowns, tornadoes swept across Middle Tennessee causing incredible damage to many homes and businesses in their destructive path. Some people, unfortunately, even lost their lives due to the intensity of the storm.
I remember the night of the storm very well. The tornado sirens were going off but since there was virtually no warning, my initial thought was to stay calm. But then I woke up to a text message from a friend that read “Tornado coming right at you. Take shelter now.” At that point, I jumped out of bed and woke up my wife to hide in our bedroom closet. We instantly began watching a live newscast on our phones to track the storm. Our area was in the danger zone and we were advised to seek shelter. It was a frightening feeling knowing that at any moment our home could be destroyed or worse.
Fortunately for us, the storm passed through without any damage, so we didn’t really understand the severity of the storm until the following day when we saw that the neighborhood next to ours was almost completely demolished. It was utterly heartbreaking to see all the damage this tornado had caused, and yet it was inspiring to see how the city came together afterwards to help each other out.
People volunteered their time to help rebuild and clean the extensive debris from the storm — people showed kindness, compassion, and teamwork, and proved that we are and will always be #NashvilleStrong.
And yet, just when things started to look hopeful for our city again, the pandemic struck. Lots of artists and people in other occupations have had to leave the city and start new career and life paths entirely. It seems like Nashville hasn’t been able to catch a break lately; but with the willingness, determination, and resilient attitudes of the people in our city, we know we’ll get through it if we stick together.
It’s now the beginning of July, and only a handful of bars have cautiously reopened. Originally, the mayor had advised that only acoustic acts could play, but quickly came the return of full bands in some venues. The bars that I have been associated with and perform at regularly are still not open; and therefore, this pandemic has affected musicians somewhat differently.
For me, I’m thankful to have been taught the importance of variety and being multifaceted. In these times, with the futures of live performance and the viability of the touring circuit are both uncertain, I have been able to support myself by diving further in other areas of the music business. I’ve been teaching remotely, mentoring students from all over the world, and focusing on film scoring and sync placements.
Again, this pandemic has affected everyone in the world differently but in my situation, there have been both pros and cons. Like many musicians, I have lost a plethora of touring gigs as well as in-town gigs and therefore have not been able to make a living in performing like I have done thus far in my career in Nashville.
However, this time away from the stage has brought some of the most creative sparks in me that I haven’t felt in a long time.
I’ve finally started writing my first Hybrid Orchestral EP in my name as a composer; something that I’ve always desired to do but I was always “too busy” with other things. I’ve spent a lot more time with my wife and have made wonderful memories just being present. I’ve spoken with family and friends more often than I have before and most important, I’ve been able to stay healthy, which in hindsight is the biggest blessing.
As the city and the country moves forward in reopening, this time away from our “normal” situations has reminded many of us that our passions are worth being resilient for. When you love what you do, you find alternate ways to “scratch that itch.” Whether it’s doing Facebook Live or Twitch videos, intimate benefit concerts for charity, or drive-in performances; all of this proves that music will never truly be cancelled.
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Andre Madatian is a composer, film scorer, and guitarist with placements on major national TV shows on Bravo, TLC, CBS Sports, Oprah Winfrey Network, and more. Andre holds a Bachelor of Music Degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. He’s written major orchestral works, including a string quartet for the famous Kalistos Chamber Orchestra, and is currently touring nationally and around the world as a guitarist in a country/rock band based in Nashville, Tennessee.