Photo: The Canadian press
In this archive photo from March 23, 2020, a man stands in the middle of Broadway to take a photo where streets and sidewalks are normally filled in Nashville, Tenn. Many Nashville musicians have been out of regular work for more than five weeks since the city closed its clubs to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Colin Poulton moved to Nashville in 2008 to study the commercial guitar. He dropped out of school but stayed with the city and the guitar, first playing in a series of original bands and most recently earning a living in Lower Broadway honky-tones with “a few wedding bands and a few other bands” .
All of these concerts came to an abrupt end when the coronavirus struck. The clubs closed on March 16 to slow the spread, and the normally crowded downtown streets of Nashville are nearly deserted. Poulton asked for unemployment as soon as Congress passed the federal relief bill extending benefits to non-traditional workers. He has been without regular work for five weeks now but has so far received nothing.
“Many of us have gone from four to seven concerts a week to nothing,” said Poulton.
With its dynamic music industry, Nashville is a magnet for people like Poulton. Music City is known as the birthplace of country music in the United States, but tens of thousands of professional musicians of all kinds live there, drawn to the many job opportunities and fellowship of a community of artists. Now they are caught in an unemployment system that is not for them.
“There’s a lot of confusion and frankly there is fear in the community because they don’t know if they’re going to get something and, if so, how much,” said Dave Pomeroy, President of the Nashville Musicians Association , the local union. Pomeroy said that probably 100,000 people in Nashville play music professionally, although not all of them are full-time musicians.
The state is unsure of the number of non-traditional workers who have applied for unemployment, but it has received about 75,000 claims initially deemed ineligible. The majority of these are believed to come from non-traditional workers, said spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor and Workforce Development, Chris Cannon.
For many Nashville musicians, there is an additional snag. Their income comes from a variety of sources, some treating them as employees and others treating them as independent contractors or self-employed.
Cannon said workers who have money on a W-2 and who are eligible for traditional state unemployment cannot claim the new federal unemployment benefits from their contract work, even if it represents the majority of their income. But many musicians do not know this.
“It created a real black hole for these people,” said Pomeroy, who was trying to connect with the state to provide musicians with answers about unemployment.
Session bassist Eli Beaird said his W-2 work made up only about 10% of his earnings, but that had allowed him to claim unemployment through the public system. He has yet to receive anything, but the system tells him that he is entitled to $ 50 a week in unemployment benefits. This is well below the state’s weekly $ 275 maximum, which he would likely receive if he could base his benefits on his entrepreneurial work.
Fortunately, anyone who is unemployed for traditional or non-traditional work is also eligible for a supplement of $ 600 per week against coronaviruses, although Beaird did not receive it either.
Beaird said he was lucky to win most of his admissions through the recording, which will likely rebound faster than the performance.
“Live music seems terrifying right now,” he said. He has friends who tour with country star Miranda Lambert. “When is the next time one of us will think it will be safe to have 40,000 people in one room?” “
The state began distributing benefits to the self-employed, independent contractors and concert workers this week and Cannon said most should be receiving their benefits early next week, but Poulton said Friday that it still did not find its way into the state system.
Poulton lives with his girlfriend and their son and says they have enough money to cover the expenses for about a month. He’s worried but still thinks closing the clubs was the right thing to do.
“I was anxious to get into this Petri dish,” he said.