At JazzBuffalo, the steadfast belief has been that if we can do what is good for the audience, then what is good for musicians and venues will follow. During the past five years, we have many instances where this has been borne out.
Since March at the onset of the pandemic, we have tried our best to keep this mantra in front of mind. The result has been several uplifting opportunities for audiences to revive their spirits through jazz music. Including live stream and live performances. Such opportunities have allowed musicians and venues to earn dearth incomes as a result of limited reopening capacities.
For venues in particular and for organizations like JazzBuffalo, the effort has not come without expenses. For some venues, the investment to adhere to the New York State Department of Health Phase 3/4 guidelines has not been cheap. These investments were made knowing full well that earning 100% of potential revenues was not going to happen. Yet, they were made knowing that it was a good faith effort to do good by audiences and patrons.
Perhaps, this line of thinking would have served the New York State Liquor Authority well when they arbitrarily decided to change the rules this week by stating on their website: “Please note that only incidental music is permissible at this time. This means that advertised and/or ticketed shows are not permissible. Music should be incidental to the dining experience and not the draw itself.”
Essentially, the statement further restricts establishments from advertising music and selling tickets. Making music only available if it is “incidental” to having dinner. There may be a very good reason for this policy change. The problem is the reason or these reasons have not been communicated. And, worse, the change in rules caught venues, musicians, and audiences flat-footed. With barely a day notice, music in multiple venues and locales across New York state were canceled. Impacting musicians and venues with lost income and audiences with dampened spirits.
The SLA is a licensing bureau designed to serve the public community through regulation. In this case, the public community of audiences and the citizens it serves are left with no explanation as to why these new restrictions were enacted. What is the “good” outcome for the public meant to be achieved? Yes, we know they are related to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we are left wondering in what way? What recent facts or studies caused the SLA to determine this change must be made immediately? What and who is the source of this policy change? Have there been vagrant violations we simply don’t know about?
Since the SLA serves to protect the people-at-large, we the people have a right to know.
Without a doubt, there are many hard-working public servant-oriented people working in the Department of Health and the State Liquor Authority. The pandemic has been as hard on them as they have been for the public. And, for these hard-working folks, the reaction they are seeing to the policy change may leave them frustrated and under-appreciated. Lamenting that we “don’t get it” and that there is nothing sinister here.
Here is the thing, we want “to get it” and we want to be supportive. And, we want to be protected from the COVID-19 virus manifesting into an uncontrollable resurgence. For audiences, after all the adherence to doing whatever we can to get the positivity rate as one of the lowest in the country, want to know why they must forego a couple of hours of enjoying music in a setting clearly following guidelines.
To the DOH and the SLA, tell us why. We are listening. We will support you as we have to date. If the reasons are for the “good” of the public.