Before the COVID-19 pandemic, singer-songwriter Nancy Malcun would finish a set, head toward the audience and sometimes even give a stranger a hug if the person appreciated the music she played.
Malcun, 31, of Absecon, has had to change her behavior and hopes other people do the same in the post-COVID-19 world.
“It has been really challenging because when I am singing I don’t have a mask, and sometimes people without masks will come up and request songs in my personal space,” said Malcun, who has a young child, Ryland Hendrix Gitto, who turns 2 in August. “I have always had trouble putting my foot down or telling people they are making me uncomfortable.”
Malcun’s family was super close to ordering her a plastic barrier to sing behind, to help shield her.
“I didn’t see it as totally necessary. For my setup, I feel that would be over the top. I usually try and barricade myself into my space with my equipment and cords. Sometimes, it isn’t even on purpose. It’s just how everything falls sometimes,” Malcun said.
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Full-time South Jersey musicians such as Malcun are operating in a world they have never before encountered.
In addition to adjustments made regarding safety, some musicians are altering how they perform. Most of the venues offering live music this summer don’t have the money for multipiece bands. Solo acts and duos are prevalent, which means many musicians will struggle.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s cancellation of large public gatherings and indoor dining has drastically limited opportunities for musicians to make money this summer. Some restaurants have not reopened, and those that have are making less money, which sometimes means no money available to host live music.
In June 2018, before Malcun gave birth to her son, she would play up to five times a week. This summer, she is performing three times a week.
“It has been working out for me. I love being a stay-at-home mom by day and being able to spend time with my husband since he is working from home, so I have been selective in how many shows I have been booking to make sure I am not overworking myself,” Malcun said.
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It’s less of a choice for Danny Eyer, of Absecon. He played between five and six days a week last year. This summer, Eyer said he is lucky to land two gigs a week.
Last year, the summer music season started in the middle of May. This year, it did not begin until the end of last month, he said.
Last year, Eyer, 57, played at the Sweetwater Marina & Riverdeck in Mullica Township, but this year, the venue is not offering live entertainment.
The Atlantic City casinos have not returned to offering live music indoors since they reopened this month, though they are offering music outdoors.
“I played the casinos a lot during 2018, so not being able to perform in the casinos has been really weird for me,” Malcun said. “I love playing with my trio, and it was always a good time anytime we had a show in Atlantic City.”
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Malcun will be playing in a duo format from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday on the deck at Bally’s Atlantic City.
From 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday, Malcun entertains in the outdoor gazebo at The Tuckahoe Inn on the Great Egg Harbor Bay in Upper Township.
There used to be four- or five-piece bands that played outdoors during previous summers, but now, it is only solo acts and duos, said Tyson Merryman, general manager of the Tuckahoe Inn.
“We couldn’t afford to do what we used to,” said Merryman, who added his restaurant’s business is down 60% from last year’s without indoor dining.
Eyer said the biggest difference between this summer and last is he booked fewer gigs with his band and is playing more solo shows.
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Some venues have space issues because of social distancing, while others don’t have the money to pay for a full band, Eyer said. One of the few places that has been consistent between this year and last has been Harry’s Oyster Bar & Seafood in Atlantic City, where he plays with his band from 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays.
“The tipping from customers has been exceptional,” Eyer said. “They are making an extra effort to come and tip. It’s a positive thing.”
Eyer said he has been making less money, so he is trying to offset that by spending less.
When he could not play in public at all because of the stay-at-home order in the spring, he recovered from a car accident and pulled together a new CD, titled “Lo-Fi Kinda Guy,” of home demos of his original material that he collected over a 30-year period and that he sells at his gigs.
“I get calls every day,” Eyer said. “Usually, by the end of February, you have your schedule set for the summer.”
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Among the gigs Eyer was scheduled to play this summer that were canceled were the Somers Point beach concerts and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority-funded concerts on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Carmen Marotta, who runs Tony Mart LLC, brought the roots, blues and rock musicians to both venues last summer.
Marotta will not be shut out for the entire summer, as he has started a new series called the Sunset Concerts at the foot of the Sugar Hill Inn in Mays Landing, which has outdoor shows scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Tony Mart Cares will host its first tribute and benefit for Eyer on Aug. 3 at Fitzpatrick’s Deli and Steakhouse in Somers Point.
The Cajun-style Bourre on New York Avenue in Atlantic City also has an outdoor stage, which has been hosting such acts as Brenan Marro, Bill Burleigh and the Dan Traynor Conspiracy.
Developer Pat Fasano, who opened Bourre, is hoping to launch a grander outdoor venue in September on New York Avenue. The Container Court will be 18,000 square feet of outdoor space that allows for social distancing and will be able to accommodate more than 200 people outdoors for reggae or jazz groups, Fasano said.
“I’m being optimistic. This is a great time to experiment,” he said.