It’s been a year in which musicians have endured unimaginable stress, strife, statis, frustration and financial woe. A few local venues and arts institutions—while shouldering similar burdens—have gone above and beyond to get musicians on stage and put money in their pockets.
To that end, the Palladium in St. Petersburg deserves a round of applause for its inaugural Creative Class 2021. Nine Tampa Bay acts received a $2,500 stipend each to develop or refine a project to be performed at the venue. And what’s more, the Palladium is also paying the artists their requisite performance fee. So the Creative Class money is earmarked for what it should be: creation—of a new work, of advancing existing works, implementation of new media, and other purposes.
Jeremy Carter's Soul of Jazz
Friday, March 19. 8 p.m. $25
“There really are no strings attached,” says Palladium executive director Paul Wilborn of the stipends. “We just want them to produce a great show. They don’t have to get approvals from us for their work. They don’t have to show me receipts. I trust these people as artists to bring me something [valuable].”
Palladium Class 2021 consists of artists who perform regularly at The Palladium. They are:
- Jazz trumpeter James Suggs
- Jazz/R&B saxophonist Jeremy Carter
- Jazz guitarist Nate Najar
- Jazz trio La Lucha (pianist John O’Leary, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman)
- Blues singer/guitarist Damon Fowler
- Experimental musician Elizabeth Baker
- Dancer Helen Hansen French
- Dancer Lauren Ree Slone
- Jeremy Douglass, leader of Bjorkestra, a large pop collective that produces sophisticated tribute concerts
The Palladium website has a review of the artists’ plans for their stipends.
“I felt strongly that the first round should go to folks who are Palladium veterans, part of our family, if you will,” Wilborn tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “They’re great ticket sellers for us. They’re some of the best performers in the area. It was important to me to extend a hand to them.”
The Palladium—owned by St. Petersburg College but a self-sustaining entity—does not have many loose dollars lying around, so in order to make the initiative happen, it had to raise the dough. The Hough Family Foundation and Smith & Associates Real Estate teamed to fund the project. All of the money went directly to the musicians.
Because the bucks were raised privately, Wilborn was under no obligation to open the process to the public or put out a request for proposals. “It’s not tax dollars,” he says. “I can think of 10 other artists I could include right now. I do plan to open it up to applications next year.”
By selecting the recipients in-house, the Palladium was able to streamline the process, eliminate red tape and get the money into the musicians’ pockets quickly, without undue fuss.
Wilborn feels confident that he’ll have the resources to fund a Creative Class for at least the next 10 years.
At this point, the Creative Class performances are slated for live streaming. In October, the Palladium reopened for a successful string of socially distanced live concerts, but when coronavirus numbers spiked the following month, ticket sales stalled, safety concerns intensified and the venue canceled the dates. Wilborn says that he hopes that the pandemic will continue its downward trend and he can transition some of the gigs to live shows. He’s also considering a hybrid concept where a small number of tickets go on sale—say a hundred—which will supply an audience for the stream as well as generate extra revenue.
Saxophonist Carter was one of the acts who had the plug pulled by the venue late last year. He was set to perform with his quintet, Rubber Band, a jazz unit with a decided R&B bent that he founded in 2019. Previously, Carter had delivered sold-out, all-acoustic jazz concerts at the Palladium—themed tributes to legends John Coltrane and Michael Brecker, a program called “The Soul of Jazz,” as well as playing his own material. The postponed concert, which was later recorded, streams at 8 p.m. March 19.
“I’m grateful, obviously,” Carter says of being part of the initial Creative Class. “I’ve been a member of the [Palladium] family for a number of years, and I think I bring in a slightly more diverse crowd. It’s gratifying to have their financial backing for Rubber Band.”
Yes, the $2,500 matters. Carter has been a professional musician, with no day job, for 15 years. His COVID-19 story is all too familiar. “The music scene here for my type of work is seasonal, and I was having a very good one last year,” the 41-year-old—who lives with his wife, Beth Carter, an elementary school teacher, and eight-year-old son in St. Petersburg—told CL. “I was also in the midst of this great artistic period where I was exploring different things. Overnight, the gigs stopped, and the money that comes along with it.”
Carter says that applying for unemployment benefits became something of a full-time job, a maelstrom of fits and starts and general confusion. The end result: He was deemed ineligible. And he never found out why. The saxophonist, who as an independent contractor should qualify for federal aid, has not ruled out appealing the ruling, because, he says, “I’m still not back on my feet.”
By now, everyone knows that livestream concerts basically suck, right? Over the last year, we’ve watched too many no-budget performances with shitty sound and visuals to think otherwise. And if the stream didn’t outright suck, and even if the performance itself was particularly good, it still left plenty to be desired.
Wilborn and the Palladium have made a concerted effort to offer a counter-narrative. “Our shows look like the old ‘MTV Unplugged,’” he says. “We use four cameras, with really good lenses, ProTools sound. We brought in guys to help train our crew. Plus, we use a great streaming service called Mandolin. It’s all fucking top-notch, man.”
The Palladium charges $25 for streaming access, which might at first seem on the exorbitant side, but Wilborn reminds that the fee generally covers two or more viewers. “Some in our audience, which tends to be older, don’t want to come to live shows at this point, and some of them have gotten used to the streaming and prefer it,” Wilborn contends. Selling 100-150 streams is the break-even number for most shows, he adds, and the venue has thus far reached that threshold pretty consistently.
On Friday, March 6, I viewed a stream of a fine, intimate set by the Palladium Chamber Players: Mile-End Trio. And Wilborn is right. The production is fucking top-notch.
He and I also agreed that nothing can replace the connection and kinesis of a live performance.
Soon, let’s hope.
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