The coronavirus continues to take its toll on the Alabama economy. State policy makers are trying to balance business versus public heath as restaurants and bars operate at reduced capacity. This not only impacts workers and customers at these establishments, but also musicians who make a living by performing in these venues, and elsewhere.
Going into 2020, The Red Clay Strays from Mobile were considered one of the hottest young bands in the South. Their song "Good Godly Woman" had been featured in the movie Doctor Sleep based on Stephen King's novel. Their booking agent was getting them into music festivals, the dream of all up and coming bands.
"I think we were supposed to visit almost 10 new states this year," lead singer Brandon Coleman said. "We were supposed to be going to some really cool places playing some really cool stuff. And then there was that pretty much two or three weeks in March...We started getting email after email. Cancellation after cancellation. I told everybody, 'Y'all need to find something to do, find a job or something because shows are going away.' I don't know when they're going to be back, but, we've been getting by."
It wasn’t bad reviews that hit the Red Clay Strays. It was the coronavirus. The illness closed venue after venue.
"It's just random right now," Coleman said. "We drove all the way to Nebraska for that one show, and drove all the way to Missouri for that one show. Instead of usually it's like a tour routed out there. The dynamic of it's changed. For instance, we used to be booked four to six months in advance and now we've been booking shows like two weeks in advance for the past two months. Before COVID, we pretty much didn't play a Mobile anymore. We'd stay on the road and then come home long enough to do laundry and then we'd be on the road again. S it's not like that anymore. Now we're mainly playing around Mobile again. So that's probably the main thing that's been affected is the traveling."
"I miss getting on the road on the road traveling to new places," said Drew Nix.
He's a singer and songwriter for the Red Clay Strays.
"It became a way of life. You didn't really think of it, but now it's like, man, I sure would love to go somewhere right now. And we were just, we were going, going all the time, we didn't think twice about it. And now we've stuck here and haven't been able to travel anymore. I realize how much I took it for granted, I guess. I mean, we still enjoyed it, but it's like now it's like, man, I really want to go somewhere," he said.
Nix says the down year has also affected his songwriting.
"My phone also crashed and wiped out every song that I've ever written," Nix said. "It was the day that it was the date that Jacob died. I was just like, 'I don't even care right now. That's the last thing I even care about.'"
The "Jacob" Hix is referring is Jacob Hall. He was brother of the band's drummer, John Hall. Jacob was 23 when he died back in August. Nix said Jacob could play anything and regularly performed with the band. Losing him has been tough on the Strays and they say it hasn't set in yet.
"He taught me how to play harmonica with the little bit that I know, but he taught me how to do it. He quite literally has changed our lives," Nix said.
Coleman said the Strays are ready to be back on the road and feeling the energy from crowds again.
"The gigs are starting to pick up, even if it is driving across the country for one show instead of a tour," Coleman said. "It's therapeutic. It really is. You go for a while without playing and it really starts to get to you. Yeah. It's like everything going on or whatever it's building up and bothering you and then you just let it all out on the stage. You know, you always feel better after a good show."
An Alabama Public Radio news feature, which is part of APR effort to address the "news desert" along the state's Gulf coast. APR recruited and trained veteran print journalists in Mobile and Baldwin counties to join our news team to do radio stories from along the Gulf coast.