On any given day in New Orleans, the streets are filled with sounds of musicians playing jazz-tinged melodies, performers making the sidewalks their stage, and restaurants with their doors open, hoping to attract passersby with the scent of jambalaya, fresh baguettes and the city’s signature dessert, Bananas Foster.
However, the streets of the Big Easy are now silent as the city aims to slow the spread of coronavirus. As a result, the city’s musicians, artists and chefs are struggling to make ends meet as venues and restaurants remain closed.
“Once COVID hit, our communities were put on pause,” New Orleans-based Latter & Blum CEO Lacey Conway told Inman. “In all of our markets throughout Louisiana, we have incredible musicians, chefs and entertainers and those are a category of people who have been impacted heavily during COVID.”
“They have no income, no gigs booked, nothing on the radar,” she added.
With the help of 1000 Watt’s Marc Davison, Conway’s team created Latter & Blum At Home, an online concert series for local musicians and artists. Every other week, a new artist takes the stage via Facebook Live. During the 45 to 60-minute sets, viewers are able to send tips through Venmo or Cash App.
“This was a departure from the traditional, ‘Let’s just write a check to Red Cross, United Way or something like that,'” Conway explained. “It’s been so much more direct and intimate. We’ve been watching these artists from their living rooms. You can feel like you’re in their living room with them.”
“They’re all different styles, and it’s created this appreciation and support for a group that needs to keep up their momentum,” she added. “They’re the lifeblood of our culture. It’s been so much fun and it’s special.”
So far, R&B singer Tonya Boyd-Cannon and Afro-Caribbean guitarist Ben E. Hunter have graced the Latter & Blum At Home stage, with a collective 20,600 views on Facebook Live. Boyd-Cannon told Conway she’s still receiving tips although her hour-long performance was two weeks ago.
“Because the [performance] is archived, people are still watching her show and people are Venmo-ing her,” Conway said. “She’s still getting tips and bits of money from the group that couldn’t watch her live.”
Latter & Blum’s June and July lineup includes performances from swamp blues artist Lauren Cook, folk singer Andrew Duhon and soul band The Quickening. Conway said the schedule is full through October, with other artists, including storytellers and chefs, waiting to share their skills with the At Home audience.
“We’re actually booked through October already. Some of the talent is actually internal,” she explained. “We have a manager who’s managed one of our Uptown New Orleans offices forever. He has his own jazz band and has played a jazz fest.”
Conway said the concert series has allowed Latter & Blum to connect with their community like never before, and she hopes viewers gain a true appreciation for Louisiana’s rich music, food and culture.
“It’s such a unique culture. We have people that describe their music as swamp blues, pop or folksy,” she said. “We have a storyteller that’s going to tell ghost stories about Louisiana, and we’ve got chefs that want to be a part of this. It really is quintessentially Louisiana.”
“It’s a little bit of everything and it’s helping our agents get familiar with our local talent and appreciate our local talent,” she added. “[And the artists] are gaining a whole new fan base.”
Looking forward, Conway said Latter & Blum is dedicated to keeping ‘At Home’ going as long as there’s interest from artists and the audience.
“As this grows, we’re anticipating the audience will get broader,” she said. “The more people know that it’s there, we’ll just see where it goes.”
“We’re going to move at the pace of what the reception is,” she concluded. “We’re committed to it. This has been something for us that’s been so much fun because it’s outside of what we normally do. We’re going to let it live as long as it wants to.”