“Now I’m going to do some old depressing songs to offset the nonstop thrill ride that is life in 2022,” said Jake Blount during the concert he did with the young Nora Brown at Common Ground in Westchester, New York May 14.
He was true to his word. The lyrics of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” include this couplet, “Hard times is here and everywhere you go/Times are harder than ever been before.” Blount was in very good form, and is a unique and intriguing instrumentalist on guitar, fiddle and banjo, exploring songs he said mostly came from African-American and indigenous sources.
But something was clearly bugging him, and it became clear toward the end of his segment. With COVID continuing to rage—a fact brought home by the solid phalanx of masked faces in the audience—Blount said it’s near-impossible for musicians to make a living these days. He blamed irresponsible officials and, presumably, mass disinformation campaigns.
Who can deny the truth of Blount’s words? COVID is a perfect storm for musicians. Right as CD sales plummeted (and weren’t really replaced by LP sales), streaming fed musicians only a trickle of revenue. And then COVID shut down live venues—the only means many musicians have to produce revenue. It’s also been the primary source of CD sales.
Unless supported by touring, CD releases and download availability might as well not exist. The Zoom concerts have been a brave attempt to circumvent COVID realities, but they’re not a long-term or ultimately satisfying alternative to live music.
The bright spot here, however tentative, is that live music has started up again. Blount is leaving for a tour of Great Britain, with nine gigs over there, before coming back for the Philadelphia Folk Festival June 11.
Here’s Blount’s latest single, “The Man Was Burning,” old-time gospel with a modern touch:
Nora Brown has stayed amazingly true to the sound first heard by festival audiences when she was 12. She learns old-time songs not from records, but from the masters themselves—John Cohen, Lee Sexton, Alice Gerrard, Anna Roberts-Gevalt, Sammy Lind, Courtney Hartman, and on and on. She gives them full credit, too. Catch her in duets with Stephanie Coleman and Jackson Lynch.
At the end of the show, Blount and Brown sat down for a luminous duet. It was a brief respite, a shaft of light, in an increasingly demented world.