Coronavirus can’t stop the music

It’s going to take more than a global pandemic to stop the music.

All across the state, with the coronavirus shuttering music venues large and small, programmers and musicians scrambled to find a way to present to live audiences.

At the Count Basie Center for the Arts, in Red Bank, it was supposed to be a great summer after a $28 million renovation.

“Yeah, not something you typically plan for when building a $25, $30 million expansion, including a second venue,” said Izzy Sackowitz, executive vice president and general manager of Count Basie Center for the Arts. “But we know that there’s a need, and a desire, and a craving for the arts in the community, so we put our heads together with a few different partners to see what we could do, what spaces were out there.”

The solution? Two sites in Monmouth Park. Outdoors at the Blu Grotto Restaurant and in the parking lot for a series called Drive In Live.

“We kicked it off with Southside Johnny and the Jukes and Jim Gaffigan back in early July, and we can do about 900 cars over there,” Sackowitz said.

The Morris Museum was facing a similar dilemma. In July, as music began to return, Brett Messenger, who programs live events at the museum, stalked the grounds looking for inspiration.

“Our elevated parking deck behind the museum suddenly just appeared as this perfect venue for music, and soon theater,” Messenger said. “So I spent several evenings with my good friend, sitting there, moving our chairs around with a tape measure figuring out a seating chart, how we could do this safely, responsibly. And then once I was sure we could that, I started calling musicians I know.”

And after several jazz shows, including two sellouts, the museum began its Lot of Strings series.

“The entire audience, there was a standing ovation. They poured out of the parking lot with such joy and optimism that people really need right now,” Messenger said.

Not least from musicians, who by and large need to play everyday just to make ends meet. But artists survive on more than just on their modest recompense. They need to feed the soul.

Brian Beninghove is a saxophonist and founder of the Jersey City Jazz Festival, which was canceled this year by COVID-19. He and others have played outside of Moore’s Lounge in Jersey City, the rare live music venue, which has taken its Meet the Artist series onto the street.

“It felt really good to break some windows with the guys and also to see everybody out there and just to see the community,” said Brian Beninghove, saxophonist and founder of the Jersey City Jazz Festival. “What was so great is that it was just no frills. It was just about the music and coming together. It was just so happy. I felt so good for a couple of days after that.”

So, from 900-car parking lots to street corners, rock and roll, classical and jazz, music is coming back. And in this uncertain world, it’s reassuring to know that one voice can make everything seem possible.

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