Following crowd-restricting directives from East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and Gov. John Bel Edwards, the rash of closures and cancellations due to the coronavirus will halt Baton Rouge’s spring festivals and live music scene.
Any hope that even small events could go forward was dashed Monday when Edwards banned gatherings of 50 people or more and ordered bars, restaurants, movie theaters and casinos to close.
The restrictions impact Baton Rouge’s signature Blues Festival; the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s Ebb & Flow Festival; comedy and hip-hop shows at Raising Cane’s River Center; the popular Live After Five concerts downtown; dozens of concerts and movie screenings at the Manship Theatre; and hundreds of performances at bars, restaurants and music venues.
Blues Festival and Live After Five officials postponed their events until further notice. Baton Rouge Blues Foundation executive director Kim Neustrom and board president Philip Smith Jr. said it’s too early to speculate about when the Blues Festival, originally set for April 18-19, can be rescheduled.
“This is a fluid situation that we’re in,” Smith said. “At this point, to look into the future would only be guessing.”
Neustrom said the Blues Foundation is "looking into all of the other things that are being rescheduled. Our goal is do this thoughtfully, versus claiming a date. We need to consider all of the options and continue to monitor what’s happening.”
The Blues Festival postponement announcement came 10 days after the organizers announced the two-day event’s 2020 lineup at downtown’s Basin Music Hall, one of the music venues that’s now closed. The lineup included rising young blues artists Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and the Peterson Brothers; Lafayette slide guitar master Sonny Landreth; Baton Rouge’s Grammy-nominated Kenny Neal; swamp pop legend Warren Storm; and New Orleans country-funk-bluesman Little Freddie King.
“This year’s lineup was the best we’ve ever had,” Blues Festival board member Lance Porter said. “My heart hurts for the fans and the musicians who were supposed to be here. My heart hurts for the city, too, because the Blues Festival is the coolest event that happens in Baton Rouge.”
The Ebb & Flow Festival, scheduled for April 4-5, is another casualty. Renee Chatelain, president and CEO of the Arts Council, cited the need to protect the health and well-being area residents, first and foremost.
In lieu of the full Ebb & Flow festival, Chatelain said in a statement, “look for components of the festival in pop-ups and other formats, like virtual tours, concerts and poetry readings.
"Creative Relief, our emergency response program, will continue to provide artists and arts organizations with resources, so that the cultural footprint of this region remains strong.”
Live After Five, the six-Friday outdoor concert series scheduled to run downtown from March 27 to May 8, has canceled its entire spring slate. On good weather days, the spring and fall music series typically draws 3,000 to 5,000 attendees.
Lauren Lambert Tompkins, managing director of Live After Five’s producer, the Downtown Business Association, plans to reschedule.
“I know that artists are struggling now because performances are being canceled,” Tompkins said. “That’s their livelihood. We want to support them when it’s safe to do so.”
Postponed shows at the 325-seat Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts include the April 9 concert by the classic British invasion band the Zombies. A concert by Colin Hay, former leader of the Australian pop band Men at Work, is rescheduled for May 6, 2021. Two post-April shows — country band Diamond Rio on May 28 and the pop-prog rock group Ambrosia on June 13 — remain on the Manship schedule.
“The immediate shows that were scheduled have been postponed,” said John Kaufman, the theater’s director of marketing and programming. “We are actively working with the agencies to find new dates in the fall.”
The Red Dragon Listening Room on Florida Street and Dyson House Listening Room at Zeeland Street Market have canceled all March and April shows. Cancellations at the Red Dragon include Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller’s sold-out April 22 show and an April 18 reunion performance by the early 1990s Baton Rouge band Thoughts of Mary.
Dyson House executive director John Burns canceled his venue’s March and April events before Edwards’ Monday announcements. The 15 canceled shows include nationally known performers Burns said he’d worked years to book. Burns also called off a return engagement by Dan Penn, the 78-year-old singer-songwriter whose classic compositions have been recorded by the likes of Percy Sledge, the Box Tops and Aretha Franklin.
Burns at the Dyson House and the Red Dragon’s Chris Maxwell have volunteered to forward the price of already purchased tickets to the musicians whose shows have been canceled.
Meanwhile, some musicians have taken to webcasting as an alternative to in-person performances. Audiences can give donations to the musicians by way of a virtual tip jar online.