Since Mexico is far behind the US or the UK in CV-19 infections and deaths, the Mexican government has been reluctant to institute the kind of drastic shutdowns of entertainment venues now widespread in other countries. However, as the cases have started to slowly climb (as of today there had been 164 cases of COVID-19 in Mexico and 1 reported death (from a concert goer at a Ghost concert) Mexico is starting to close down the music industry.
Many people feel that the government was being much too blasé in allowing 110,000 people to attend to the Vive Latino festival last week and keep open major venues and events in the capital. Although the country’s biggest concert promoter canceled all of its shows until mid-April, Bandsintown still shows major concerts in Mexico city until end of the months, Pat Metheny and two major festivals. Whether that holds true we will know shortly.
At the local level, things are different. In my state, Jalisco, the governor in Guadalajara has ordered large restaurants, theaters, government buildings and music events cancelled. My county, Chapala, is doing the same and closed the schools. The international music convention FIMPRO has been postponed, as have a number of festivals. Essentially, in the Lake Chapala area outside of Guadalajara where Music Sin Fronteras radio is headquartered things are pretty dead. A few restaurants are open with tables removed for social distancing and all of the staff wearing masks and gloves, and the few bars open are almost empty. The government theaters and entertainment centers are closed including the Auditorio Riberas, an 800-seat concert venue that is the region’s largest. A few music venue/restaurants are open with DJ’s only, but patrons are scarce.
Audiences are self-quarantining or just leaving. A concert last week by the American jazz saxophonist Derek Brown saw 85 cancellations because of fear of the virus. The Canadian government told its Expats in Mexico that they have to return home now to keep their health care, so the seasonal Canadian snowbirds are leaving in large numbers. Seasonal American visitors who usually stay for another month or two are also leaving because the borders are closing. Walking through the Ajijic village now is ghostly quiet when, as recently as last week the bars were rocking and crowds hanging at the Malecon with big speakers putting out mariachi and Banda.
But that does not mean music is dead; actually just the opposite. Local promoter Ray Domenech launched an online jazz series called the “Hoping for the Best Tour,” tonight. The series will be broadcast live from Casa Domenech, one of the hubs of the jazz community in the Lakeside community and the scene of many memorable concerts by many memorable artists. The first session in the series will feature the Powerful Jazz Trio from Casa D, comprised of Chuco Soto on the sax, Gilberto Rios on the bass and Miguel Soto on the drums – all major artists in their own right. Concerts in the “Hoping for the Best Tour” will be on different nights of the week, as Domenech evaluates the series and how best to attract audiences both in and outside of Mexico.
Session 1 of “Hoping for the Best Tour”, essentially a dry run with an audience, was a qualified success. It was a half hour late due to technical problems. And there was an unscheduled intermission while a camera battery was recharged. But the audience was larger than anticipated and very enthusiastic. The concert went off with a constant stream of comments and kudos from viewers. Domenech was almost gleeful as he tapped out thanks on the laptop running the show.
Domenech and the “Hoping for the Best Tour” is pioneering local music online in Mexico and maybe pioneering regular jazz online, which does not yet seem to have emerged in a big way. With new online music platforms like Bandcamp/Twitch popping up and more and more artists moving online both out of Coronavirus necessity and because they can reach much wider audiences without touring, “quarantine music” looks like it is here to stay with or without a pandemic.
The music world sat up and took notice when Alejandro Sanz & Juanes both had to cancel their concerts in Bogotá, teamed up to produce the online “El Gira Se Queda En Casa Para Todos (The Tour Stays Home for All) and drew 5 million viewers without the cost of production, ticket price sharing and travel. The “Quarantine Sing-Along” gained over 20,000 followers in a few days and is still going. Some industry experts say that the online music wave is going to be huge, with companies like Golden Voice and Ticketmaster jumping in and competing with the likes of Facebook Live and Stage.it.com. Whether it is a tsunami or just great surf, online music is a wave that Domenech seems to be on the crest of, especially in jazz and in Mexico.
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