CVIndependent

Sat09192020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

It all started—or, well, seemed to start—with Goldenvoice’s cancellation of Coachella and Stagecoach.

“I completely understand the stance of Goldenvoice in postponing Stagecoach in light of the virus threat right now,” said Alice Wallace, who was slated to play in Nikki Lane’s Stage Stop Marketplace at the festival. I had an interview scheduled with her, and she was kind enough to give me a statement after the postponement was announced. “From everything I'm reading, the postponements and cancellations of this festival and others are warranted and necessary, and I certainly want all of my fans to remain safe and healthy.

“But as a musician who makes her living playing music on stages across the country—as so many do—the next few months could prove to be pretty devastating. I think we are only seeing the beginning of cancellations, and I worry about the impact it could have on the music industry as a whole.”

Of course, we now know that Wallace’s fear of more cancellations was correct.

Giselle Woo and the Night Owls were selected to bring their Latin rock to this year’s Coachella festival. Before the cancellation, I spent a few hours talking with them about the upcoming performance—and I could see how excited they were for the show.

Then the news broke about the cancellation.

“It was a shock to us all, but I’m glad that it was postponed rather than canceled,” said drummer Jose Ceja. “We’re all in good spirits. We are excited to play, and now we have more time to prepare a better show. For some of our friends, it has affected their shows, and it has unfortunately canceled a lot of really important events, but our hope is that all safety precautions are being taken, and that it will help prevent the spread of this virus.”

When the governor of California directed that all bars be closed, a shock wave went though both the bar and music scenes.

“It's hitting the local economy pretty hard,” said Josiah Gonzalez, of Little Street Studio and local band Avenida Music; he’s in a unique position, being both a gigging musician and a talent-booker. “Multiple hotels have suspended music programs and residencies until further notice. Events are either moving to the fall or being cancelled altogether. Enquiries about new events have slowed to almost a halt.”

I, too, am a musician, and I’ve seen all my gigs pushed back or flat-out cancelled. Not surprisingly, morale among local musicians is very low—but if there’s one thing I know about music, it’s that it will never die. People aren’t letting the fear of the virus take over; they are taking precautionary measures to combat spread of the virus and “flatten the curve”—to ensure music is still able to be enjoyed by all.

One of my favorite musicians—also a friend—helped pioneer an idea that is now being used by other performers during this shelter-at-home stage. Garage-rocker Ron Gallo, out of Nashville, Tenn., as of this writing has so far hosted two Instagram live shows, during which he and his band performed a set to anyone watching—from the safety of home. He is encouraging everyone to #StayTheFuckHome, while throwing up a Venmo so people can support the band. Check out his Instagram, @rongallo, for more info.

“As artists, our livelihood depends on traveling around and cramming as many people as possible in not-always-big spaces, so if we all sacrifice that right now, it’s 1,000 percent the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s a really powerful message to get people to take this seriously, and in turn, do our real job—which is make people happy and use our voice for truth and positive influence on the world.”

“This kind of lifestyle change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, either. Trust me: I can’t sit still for five minutes, and I’m enjoying it. … The time is NOW, and there is a lot of positive in slowing down, being with loved ones, and returning to simplicity and pausing the chase for a minute.”

He said he came up with the Instagram idea when the show cancellations started.

“My brain started racing to figure out how to get creative with this situation,” Gallo said. “So I got some necessary gear and we … broadcast two shows from my house on Instagram live (one for the U.S., and one for Europe). This gives people what they need right now while also being in the safest place we can all be—home. Not to mention, there’s more freedom in this way to be conversational directly with people in the audience—from afar! We can offer comfort, play new songs, etc. Feels like everybody wins.

“Until this looming crisis, I never even considered something like this, but now that I have, I do see a future in it. I kind of want to find a way to do the first online world tour, or even the first world virtual-reality tour. … Possibilities are endless, and I think artists just have to get super-creative with it right now. Hit me up. I’m ready.”

Ron is setting an example for what could be the (at least temporary) future of live performances. If we need to stay inside for longer than anticipated, we could very well see many bands turning to live-stream shows. Along with those shows, Gallo is hoping the kindness of others can help substitute for the money being lost due to the inability of musicians to play in-person gigs.

“I’ve been telling people to Venmo or PayPal me if they can or want,” he said. “It’s not exactly covering the money lost on cancellations yet, but even one day after announcing (the first show, contributions by fans) at least covered the flights to get my drummer, Josh, here for the show. That's a positive, and I will give and take any and all of that I can get right now.”

Other artists have followed suit. The Purple Room broadcast a show by Michael Holmes and Keisha D live on March 16 (which you can watch at www.facebook.com/purpleroomrestaurantstage), and there are talks among various local bands to begin live-streaming shows. I’ll be posting updates on the Independent’s Facebook page as these develop, so please follow along, and feel free to message us.

The Coachella Valley is one of the world’s music epicenters. The current situation is less than favorable—yes, that’s a gross understatement—but it’s up to all local musicians and music-lovers to band together, and make sure that music continues to thrive.

Much has been written about Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), the legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year that redefines how California companies can hire freelancers and contract workers—and much of that writing has focused on Lyft and Uber drivers, as well as freelance writers, who have been hit hard by the law.

But there's another, less-discussed group of people whose livelihoods are being threatened by AB 5: freelance musicians.

As the law is written, a musician hired for a one-off gig at a club or restaurant could be considered both an employee and an employer, if he or she put together a combo for the occasion. A musician hiring a producer once to help out on an album also would be considered an employer. And if musicians perform paid work at houses of worship on a regular basis, according to AB 5 as it stands now, a church or synagogue would have to make them employees.

While almost everyone agrees a “carve out” needs to be made in AB 5’s language to allow small and non-union musicians to make a living, that has not happened yet—and musicians and club owners are grappling not only with the bill’s prohibitions, but also its confusing language. Many professions are exempted, including “fine artists,” but the definition of “fine artist” isn’t clear legally.

In a recent interview with KQED-TV, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the San Diego lawmaker who authored AB 5, said, “Obviously, a muralist is a fine artist. A musician is a fine artist.”

But Gonzalez’s words don’t translate into law.

“I think it will be very hard to find anyone complying with this law as it stands,” says Barry Martin, aka DJ Baz, a music promoter who stages the weekly Jazzville Palm Springs series at Wang’s in the Desert in Palm Springs. “And should any enforcement begin, thousands of musicians will lose their gigs across the state and not be booked again until an exemption for musicians is in place.”

Ari Herstand, a Southern California musician and author (How to Make It In the New Music Business) who has covered AB 5’s effects on his blog Ari’s Take (www.aristake.com), is more blunt.

“It’s a shit show with all the powerful organizations and unions,” Herstand wrote in January. “And while they are throwing their proverbial dicks around breaking out their rulers, thousands of independent, working musicians are suffering. We do not have time to wait for them to agree on where the commas should be placed (in carve-out language).”

Herstand began a petition on change.org urging the Legislature to enact an exemption for musicians. As of this writing, it has nearly 168,000 signatures

“If (AB 5) stands,” he says, “I figure I’ll lose about $6,000 a year. I’d have to carry workers’ comp insurance (and) have to enlist a payroll company, and file payroll taxes per employee—I may contract 50 people during the year. And I would be considered both an employer and an employee at the exact same gig.”

Josiah Gonzalez is one of the members of popular Coachella Valley band Avenida Music, which plays at parties, weddings and other events. He plays keyboards and does most of the band’s booking and management. The band has been speaking out about the dangers of AB 5 on its social-media accounts.

Gonzalez said that right now, a lot of people don’t know about the language in AB 5. For example, Avenida plays regularly at casinos, which, Gonzalez says, “don’t have dedicated music people. You get hired by a food-and-bev person or assistant manager.”

The more word spreads about AB 5, the worse things will get—until the Legislature fixes the mess it created.

“Beyond the financial, legal and administrative mess created by AB 5, communities face even more profound threats from the new law,” wrote Brendan Rawson, the executive director of San Jose Jazz, in a commentary for the CalMatters. “Segments of our cultural and civic life are at risk of going out of existence.”

Rawson wrote: “AB 5 unnecessarily complicates other work arrangements found in community cultural programming such as small festivals, neighborhood street fairs, parades and summer music series in our local parks.”

Indeed, non-Equity theaters and dance companies are grappling with the implications of AB 5. Island City Opera in Alameda has canceled its planned March performance of the opera The Wreckers over concerns with paying temporary musicians, and Herstand says he knows of a production of West Side Story where the singers now will perform to recordings rather than the live music that was planned, putting more than a dozen musicians out of a gig.

For what it’s worth, Tamara Stevens, executive administrator of the Palm Springs Hospitality Association (PSHA), wrote in an email: “PSHA has not taken a position on AB 5.”

Herstand was part of a coalition that met with Assemblywoman Gonzalez to explain the musicians’ dilemma. While he initially wrote on his blog that he was encouraged by the December meeting, when the Independent spoke to him for this story in February, he expressed concern.

“I think Assemblywoman Gonzalez is pretty much dogmatic about her position; she doesn’t seem willing to budge on this,” he says.

Several members of the Legislature have crafted new carve-out bills for a variety of professions, including for freelance writers, sign-language interpreters, and newspaper-delivery drivers. SB 881, authored by state Sen. Brian Jones, for instance, would exempt musicians and make many other tweaks to the law.

But Herstand says that the makeup of that particular bill’s sponsors—Jones and nine other signatories all are Republicans—may doom its prospects.

“A bill in a Democratic state like California needs Democratic backers,” Herstand says, “and Democrats will not buck the unions behind this.”

Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Gonzalez is touting upcoming carve-outs for freelance writers, but said in a Feb. 6 tweet that musicians still will have to wait a bit. “We are still pushing hard on industry and worker representatives to reach agreement on language regarding musicians,” she tweeted. “We plan to address the unique situation regarding musicians in the next round of amendments by March. We are working hard on musicians issues!”

While politicians tussle and posture over AB 5, it’s independent musicians like Josiah Gonzalez and the members of Avenida Music who suffer.

“Most of the bands are just oblivious to (AB 5),” he says, “but if they really crack down on this, it could really affect our gigs.”

Kevin Allman is a California-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinallman.

Published in Local Issues

Avenida Music is the reigning Best Local Band per the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll—and with good reason.

Not only is Avenida Music one of the top cover bands in the valley, known for putting exciting new twists on tunes we all know and love, with hundreds of songs ready to go at any given moment; the band members are setting their sights on something bigger: For the past few months, Josiah Gonzalez, Samuel Gonzalez, Vince Gonzalez and Sean Poe have been hard at work transforming a vacant space in the heart of downtown Indio into an oasis for artists.

“This is our headquarters,” said Josiah during a recent interview with him and his brother Samuel. “This is going to be a combination of office space, rehearsal space and lessons (space). We’re going to be renting out rehearsal space to other bands and acts, (and offering) lessons for every instrument in order to be able to pay for the location,” located at 82713 Miles Ave.

“We want it to eventually be a space for showcases of the music and art in our community. A big part of that is developing programs and events that highlight the artistic community of the valley. We’re sticking to making it all-ages, so that everyone can show up. It’s not going to be a bar; it’s going to be a place dedicated to music and the arts for everyone to access. Along with having bands play here, we’re going to activate the location for educational events, such as teaching creatives how to take their art and turn it into a business. We’ve been meeting with people within the city government in order to make that happen, so the city can help the artistic community have a voice and find a place for their skills.”

Samuel added: “It’s been cool seeing it all come together, much quicker than we expected. This definitely isn't something that came about by accident; we’ve wanted to have our own space for a while, a place where we’re able to provide more opportunities to people of the valley. We want to create an environment that is positive and that fosters people instead of looking down on them. That’s what’s big for us. We want this place to be as supportive as possible, so that people can take what they want to do and turn it into a living.”

I’ve witnessed nothing but sheer generosity and selflessness from the Avenida Music guys—and these character traits are influencing the new space in amazing ways.

“We’re working right now on a couple of partnerships with nonprofits—the AMP (Academy of Musical Performance) program as well as Desert Arc,” Josiah said. “With Desert Arc, we are working to bring in people with developmental disabilities, and they’ll be able to partner up with local musicians to do music lessons. We’re going to be donating the space for them to use, and helping them find funding to employ musicians—who wouldn’t otherwise be playing during the day—to come and teach. We’re also going to be putting a ramp on the stage, to allow people with disabilities to be able to perform. We hope to be able to partner with more nonprofits in the future.”

Few local bands have ambitions as large as this one, but Avenida Music is not your average local band. I was curious how this determination developed.

“The dream has always been to get out of our parents’ garage,” Josiah explained with a laugh. “The vision wasn’t anything beyond just needing a practice room, though. As we started to build out our business plans, and plans for the future, the vision developed into what it is today. We thought of ways that we can use our space to help develop the community and build the infrastructure that helps other musicians build a career and have a place in a welcoming community.”

Of course, the members of Avenida Music are already looking ahead to the next phase of development for the new space.

“Our next step will be putting a recording studio in here,” Josiah said. “We want it to be capable of doing live recording sessions with both audio and video. We’re already looking toward the future, and are looking at ways to develop cost-effective music production that will be accessible to people in the Coachella Valley. We’re working toward what essentially will be a ‘music incubator.’ We want to help out with every facet of someone’s career—bringing them in, recording them, producing the music, helping with merchandise, and helping with booking and management. We need space for all of that, and our reach will evolve as opportunities arise.”

While the exact date for the opening of the Little Street Studio had not yet been finalized as of this writing, it’s coming soon.

“We’re looking to be launching in mid-September,” Josiah said. “We’re going to be partnering with the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce to have a big ribbon-cutting grand-opening event where people can see what will be available to them here. I’m on the board for the Indio (branch of the Greater Coachella Valley) Chamber, and we’ve had a lot of support from the city. We want to be up and running fully in October; we’re going to be partnering with the city for a couple of events. Opportunities are going to show up as we continue to do what we’ve set out a vision for.

“If people have any ideas … we’re open to talking to people about how we can be a resource or point others in the right direction. We want to start that conversation, building a network of advocacy starts when people come together.”

For more information, visit facebook.com/littlestreetmusic or www.littlestreetmusic.com.

For Avenida Music—voted as the Best Local Band by readers of the Independent in the annual Best of Coachella Valley poll—music revolves around family.

The band includes three brothers—and may be the only local group to be the subject of a song by another local band (Frank Eats the Floor). Avenida Music has played all over Southern California for weddings and corporate events, and has a weekly residency at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells.

When I sat down with Josiah Gonzalez (piano/synth), he told me some fascinating stories about the musical journey that led to the formation of Avenida Music.

“The band is composed of two of my brothers (Vincent and Samuel), myself and Sean Poe (also of the Hive Minds),” Josiah Gonzalez said. “My brothers and I have been playing music together since we were 9 years old. My dad scrounged money together to get us lessons and instruments, and we were playing in church or just for fun. We’ve been playing for about 15 years together.

“We all found ourselves back in the Coachella Valley after college and decided we should continue to play. It started as a cover gig for my aunt’s birthday party; she wanted us to play some Beatles tunes. We liked doing it so much that we started playing with friends and playing in garages in 2015. We had no idea what we were doing and were just looking for some gigs playing covers.”

Avenida, like some other local bands, is named after an element of a local neighborhood.

“We spent the first two or three months playing in a garage trying to come up with a name. We couldn’t come up with anything anybody liked,” Josiah Gonzalez said. “We went through 50 or 60 different options no one could agree on. We were originally playing in Cathedral City, and every other street is called Avenida something. We thought, ‘Why not Avenida?’ It stuck.”

While Avenida Music started off playing covers, it is not just a cover band … although when you see “Avenida Music” on the bill, you should expect covers.

“We do have original music. We made an interesting pivot after we picked up Sean,” Josiah Gonzalez said. “We started playing covers and original stuff, but it was hard to differentiate. … When we started making more money as a cover band, we decided we really needed to focus on that. We wrote our five-year plan based on the idea we’d play corporate gigs and weddings. Over the last couple of years, we’ve been writing original stuff—and that’s what we’ve been working on right now in side projects not named Avenida Music. We really try to separate the two to remain consistent in what we do as a band.”

The Gonzalez brothers had no choice but to play music growing up.

“That was predetermined. Literally: Before we were born, our parents decided what instruments we were going to play, and when they were going to have us,” Josiah said. “They knew they wanted a quartet that had a piano, bass, drums and a sax. They ended up with four boys (each) two years apart. … My dad has been a minister for most of his life, and he would do jobs for people, saying, ‘I’ll do your landscaping for free if you teach my son how to play piano.’ That’s how he got all of us lessons. We’d come out of the womb, and two years later, they’d be introducing us to the instrument as if it was propaganda, like, ‘Isn’t the piano great?’ We all ended up playing those instruments, and we all still do play those instruments.

“They didn’t let us quit. I tried to quit piano a couple of times, and my parents said, ‘We’re sorry, but that’s not really an option.’ I’m grateful in retrospect. They made sure to tell me, ‘We work really hard to make to get you these lessons, and this is something you will carry with you for the rest of your life.’”

The Gonzalez brothers’ parents believed music would help instill character.

“I remember being really scared, because they were making me play in a convalescent home. I got really mad and said I didn’t want to be playing in convalescent homes and church events for old ladies,” Josiah said. “I was about 11 or 12, and my dad told me, ‘I didn’t work this hard to get you these lessons so you could go hide in a corner and play by yourself. Your job is to go use this gift you have to help other people.’ To this day, that is one of the things I remember. … It made an impression on me, and it really resonated as to why we still play music today. The reason we play is not for us; whatever we have is to be used to bless other people.”

Josiah Gonzalez said he was surprised to learn Avenida Music had been voted Best Local Band.

“We were blown away when we were nominated and when we won,” he said. “We have a big family; my dad has six brothers and sisters, as well as a lot of cousins. But I think more than anything, we’ve really tried to be as supportive of other musicians as much as possible, and we’re really grateful, because some people reciprocated that and voted for us. … We’re really grateful that people appreciate what we do and the music we do.”

Avenida Music will perform at the Best of Coachella Valley Awards Party at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Copa Nightclub, 244 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information on Avenida Music, visit www.littlestreetmusic.com.

Published in Features