Musicians Struggling Amidst Coronavirus Closures

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Bleak news greeted Sasha McVeigh as she celebrated her 26th birthday with family last weekend.

McVeigh sings at least five nights a week in bars, dance halls and honky-tonks on Nashville’s famed Lower Broadway entertainment district. The neon-doused tip jars need to bring this English native at least $600 a week for her and her 71-year-old mother to stay afloat.

But bar-hopping tourists and bachelorette parties won’t be filling McVeigh’s jar any time soon. Mayor John Cooper called last Sunday to close all Nashville bars, a move the city leader described as essential to “get us back to normal as soon as possible” in the wake of the novel coronavirus spreading in Music City and throughout the United States.

“It’s an incredible feeling to think you’re actually paying your bills doing something you dreamed of doing as a kid,” McVeigh said. “It’s very hard to see that taken away from you at no fault of your own.”

Lower Broadway players offer one piece in a jigsaw puzzle of Nashville’s music community — touring musicians, venue employees, independent labels and more — ripped apart by a need for “social distancing” to combat COVID-19.

Tours and festivals halted last week, leaving a working class backbone of the music business wondering when the next paycheck may come. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump advised no more than 10 to gather in a room at a time; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against gatherings of more than 50 for at least eight weeks.

Federal and state officials promise incoming aid for unemployed workers, and industry nonprofits such as MusicCares begin to establish relief funds — but much remains uncertain for the artists and creative professionals fueling Nashville’s music ecosystem.

“This is unprecedented for everyone,” Nicki Ricci said. A freelance tour and show rep at Mercy Lounge, Ricci quit her full-time job two years ago to work in music.

“I’m just dealing with the big question mark of what I do in the meantime to pay my bills.”

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