Arts Beats & Eats, Oakland County raise $431K for local musicians

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Here's a hopeful story for this stressed-out holiday season: 

Almost 450 local musicians, whose incomes cratered with the pandemic, will share over $431,000 raised by Soaring Eagle Arts Beats & Eats and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.

In a Zoom call Thursday morning, musicians thanked AB&E founder and producer Jonathan Witz and Oakland County officials.

"This means the world to me and my family," said Steve Taylor of the Steve Taylor Trio, holding his check up to the camera and struggling to control his voice. "So thank you."

Nora Rammel and Arts, Eats and Beats concert goers sit on top of their cars during a performance by 'If Walls Could Talk.'  
Arts, Beats and Eats musical performances at an outdoor stage in Royal Oak, Michigan on Sept. 7, 2020.

If COVID-19 has been hard on finances for tens of millions, it's been a particular blow to musicians who rely on live performance in bars, clubs and concerts.

"The pandemic hit musicians and the entertainment industry so hard," said vocalist and songwriter Steffanie Christi'an. "I'm just so grateful you fought for us and didn’t give up on us."

Calling in from Florida, Nina Ledesma of Nina and the Buffalo Riders said, "I just wish I could hug all of you."

The money came from five sources -- direct donations, September's AB&E drive-in concerts and subsequent virtual performances, a GoFundMe campaign and $216,000 in matching funds Oakland County got from the federal CARES Act.

Those artists who could prove they got at least 50 percent of their income from performance -- a prerequisite for CARES money -- were the luckiest, receiving checks for just a little over $2,000.

In addition, Kroger gave out $20 gift cards to each musician.

All in all, the benefit represented an enormous undertaking on the part of Arts Beats & Eats and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.

"When Jon (Witz) and I were riffing about the pandemic and what to do with Arts Beats & Eats," said Board Chairman Dave Woodward, "it quickly moved on to, ‘What are we going to do to support our musicians?’"

Said County Executive David Coulter, "A lot of people were suspicious we could pull this off, but Jon never was."

Witz promised everyone that Arts Beats & Eats will survive and prosper, with hopes for live performance next fall.

"We will follow the science" in deciding whether or not to mount the regular Labor Day weekend festival, Witz said, "but there is sincere optimism about 2021."

He added, "One of the reasons we know we’re going to be okay is that our corporate sponsors," which include Flagstar Bank, Short's Brewing and The Detroit News, among others, "are still standing with us."

Woodward was also hopeful. "I'm looking forward to a much better 2021," he said, "when live performance will blow the doors off once again."

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy