Soul Sessions

Soul Sessions member Jamie Michael Cameron sits outside the Phoenix Saloon on Thursday, July 30, 2020. Prior to the pandemic, the band played at the bar every third Thursday of the month. MIKALA COMPTON / Herald-Zeitung

A routine summer night in New Braunfels is typically filled with a warm atmosphere, cold beverages and the rhythmic sounds of live music.

But ever since the COVID-19 pandemic forced sweeping limitations and closures, those sweet melodies have become harder and harder to locate.

With local venues like the Brauntex Theatre, Gruene Hall and Whitewater Amphitheater unable to host live events, artists have had to find their own avenues to ensure their voices are heard. Jamie Michael Cameron, who performs with the popular band Soul Sessions, said he’s literally taking the music to the streets.

“I live in Gruene, so I’ve been doing ‘Soul From The Porch’ on a weekly basis, where I would bring in a vocalist, a sax player, myself, and for the community here and online, we would do a set,” Cameron said. “We’re keeping the momentum going and keeping some income going by doing a sidewalk socially-distanced party once a week.”

The decision was made out of necessity after Cameron noticed a very different scene when some bars and restaurants made the decision to reopen with a limited capacity in June.

“It’s not the same,” Cameron said. “The income is not the same, the crowd is not the same and so these people being full-time musicians, some of them have had no income since March.”

Stewart Mann, the frontman for New Braunfels-based band The Statesboro Review, echoed that sentiment and said things are getting incredibly dire for most of the career musicians he knows.

“The sad thing is that musicians, the majority of them, live month to month,” Mann said. “There’s no such thing as 401Ks and retirement 

plans and savings accounts. It’s just kind of scraping to get by each month. To have every single thing wiped out indefinitely with no timetable of retuning, it’s definitely very scary. With me and my family it’s even more scary because I have other people who rely on me — it’s not just me.”

The venues themselves are feeling the financial strain as well. Whitewater Amphitheater owner Will Korioth said he’s seen earnings completely dry up. 

“When you add up the revenue from the ticket sales and the sponsorships and the bar sales, you’re talking about $7 million in revenue that basically went to zero,” Korioth said. “We’re just kind of wiped out.”

Whitewater Amphitheater

Unable to operate, barriers block off Whitewater Amphitheater on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

MIKALA COMPTON / Herald-Zeitung

With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Comal County during the month of July, Korioth said there’s little hope of returning before the spring of 2021 even though he sympathizes with the musicians’ plight.

“The industry is shut down for the year,” Korioth said. “It’ll be March or April of next year unless all of a sudden coronavrius goes away next week.  

“(The artists are) all really going broke. It’s awful — they’re hurting really bad.”

Mann has done his best to help out fellow musicians by donating the proceeds from The Statesboro Review’s latest single, “Sinner, Saint, S.O.B.,” which features Texas country star Wade Bowen.  

“I started this little idea called ‘I Heart Texas Arts’ and that’s where all the proceeds from that single is going,” Mann said. “We paid for a single father musician’s rent for a month, so little things like that. Just trying to do what we can as a collective musical family.”

It doesn’t stop there. Mann also helped a group of local musicians in New Braunfels by organizing a service called Rock Star Lawn Care to help them put money in their pockets by mowing yards. He also started Drive By Concerts, which sees musicians play from their vehicles to audiences in driveways and on front porches.

“Just anything to get money,” Mann said.

Brauntex Theatre Executive Director Cheryl Fisher remains resolute in her stand that the venue will survive the latest hurdle thrown its way. In fact, the Brauntex first opened its doors on Jan. 6. 1942 — one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor that sparked World War II.

“The reason we have existed 79 years is because of the support from this community,” Fisher said. “As a nonprofit theatre, we’re counting on our patrons’ and community’s support to see us through this extremely difficult time. We’re asking patrons that hold tickets to future shows to hang in there with us, and donations can be made directly through our website at Brauntex.org or you can call our box office for assistance. Every dollar matters right now.”

There may be some hope on the horizon for both venues and musicians, though. Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have introduced the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act, which seeks to supply $10 billion in relief funding to independently-owned performance venues across the nation. 

Korioth sees it as a potential lifeline for many in the industry. 

“It can help these venues survive,” Korioth said. “It’s a grant for up to 45% of gross expenses from whatever they did on their 2019 tax return. If the bill doesn’t pass and they don’t get relief, 90% of the independent venues will go out of business by the end of the year.”

As New Braunfels continues to try and stay afloat throughout the pandemic, countless venues will remain padlocked until it’s deemed safe to reopen their doors. That equals lost tourism money across the board.

“Ninety-one percent of our business is tourists,” Korioth said. “We do about 100,000 tickets a year, and if they spend $50 to $100 with us, they’re most likely staying in the hotels, most likely going to the stores and most likely going out to eat. It’s been calculated at around 200 bucks per head, and so if Whitewater is not open, that’s $20 million in tourism dollars not coming to New Braunfels this year. That’s basically what it represents.” 

plans and savings accounts. It’s just kind of scraping to get by each month. To have every single thing wiped out indefinitely with no timetable of retuning, it’s definitely very scary. With me and my family it’s even more scary because I have other people who rely on me — it’s not just me.”

The venues themselves are feeling the financial strain as well. Whitewater Amphitheater owner Will Korioth said he’s seen earnings completely dry up. 

“When you add up the revenue from the ticket sales and the sponsorships and the bar sales, you’re talking about $7 million in revenue that basically went to zero,” Korioth said. “We’re just kind of wiped out.”

With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Comal County during the month of July, Korioth said there’s little hope of returning before the spring of 2021 even though he sympathizes with the musicians’ plight.

“The industry is shut down for the year,” Korioth said. “It’ll be March or April of next year unless all of a sudden coronavrius goes away next week.  

“(The artists are) all really going broke. It’s awful — they’re hurting really bad.”

Mann has done his best to help out fellow musicians by donating the proceeds from The Statesboro Review’s latest single, “Sinner, Saint, S.O.B.,” which features Texas country star Wade Bowen.  

“I started this little idea called ‘I Heart Texas Arts’ and that’s where all the proceeds from that single is going,” Mann said. “We paid for a single father musician’s rent for a month, so little things like that. Just trying to do what we can as a collective musical family.”

It doesn’t stop there. Mann also helped a group of local musicians in New Braunfels by organizing a service called Rock Star Lawn Care to help them put money in their pockets by mowing yards. He also started Drive By Concerts, which sees musicians play from their vehicles to audiences in driveways and on front porches.

“Just anything to get money,” Mann said.

Brauntex Theatre Executive Director Cheryl Fisher remains resolute in her stand that the venue will survive the latest hurdle thrown its way. In fact, the Brauntex first opened its doors on Jan. 6. 1942 — one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor that sparked World War II.

“The reason we have existed 79 years is because of the support from this community,” Fisher said. “As a nonprofit theatre, we’re counting on our patrons’ and community’s support to see us through this extremely difficult time. We’re asking patrons that hold tickets to future shows to hang in there with us, and donations can be made directly through our website at Brauntex.org or you can call our box office for assistance. Every dollar matters right now.”

There may be some hope on the horizon for both venues and musicians, though. Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have introduced the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act, which seeks to supply $10 billion in relief funding to independently-owned performance venues across the nation. 

Korioth sees it as a potential lifeline for many in the industry. 

“It can help these venues survive,” Korioth said. “It’s a grant for up to 45% of gross expenses from whatever they did on their 2019 tax return. If the bill doesn’t pass and they don’t get relief, 90% of the independent venues will go out of business by the end of the year.”

As New Braunfels continues to try and stay afloat throughout the pandemic, countless venues will remain padlocked until it’s deemed safe to reopen their doors. That equals lost tourism money across the board.

“Ninety-one percent of our business is tourists,” Korioth said. “We do about 100,000 tickets a year, and if they spend $50 to $100 with us, they’re most likely staying in the hotels, most likely going to the stores and most likely going out to eat. It’s been calculated at around 200 bucks per head, and so if Whitewater is not open, that’s $20 million in tourism dollars not coming to New Braunfels this year. That’s basically what it represents.”

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