LBI’s Changing Landscape for Musicians

10 Years Ago, Outdoor Musicians Were Shunned. Today They Are Welcomed
Jun 20, 2018
Photo by: Jon Coen Greg Warren joins Ryan Zimmerman for a Wednesday gig at The Local in Ship Bottom.

Local troubadour Ryan Zimmerman of Ship Bottom, will perform outside The Local Kitchen & Market every Wednesday this summer from 4 to 7 p.m. Think about that for a minute. Wednesday evenings … Why would a local coffee shop/eatery want to have live entertainment in the middle of the week?

Well, for one thing, Zimmerman, who released Working Musician in 2016 and the Ephemeral As a Kiss EP last year, is booked on weekends. He just played the m.t. burton gallery’s Summer Art Opener. He’s at The Mainland this Friday and The Arlington on Saturday. He’ll be alternating Thursdays between daddy O and Buckalew’s. He’s got gigs at Lefty’s in Barnegat, the Terrace Tavern in Beach Haven Terrace, and the Asbury Biergarten. On June 29, he’s part of a local songwriters showcase at The Lizzy Rose Music Room in Tuckerton.

And The Local has plenty happening on weekends, too, with other musicians and coffee/yoga events. They recently had Allison Stella of Barnegat play on the patio and will have her again this summer.

Zimmerman, like many of his fellow musicians, is in high demand, especially for outdoor gigs. It’s a very different situation from 10 years ago. Even five years back, it was all cover bands at bars late night. Today it’s artists from across the spectrum playing almost every art gallery, coffee shop, ice cream parlor and eatery on LBI and even the mainland.

“These days I’ll be in my house and hear someone playing The Local or Woody’s. And I’ll go and check them out,” said Zimmerman, “You just didn’t see it, even five years ago. I think for a long time there was this dinosaur mentality with the business owners and politics on LBI. But now that a younger generation is starting to have some say, you see it everywhere. There’s been a change in mentality. We’re just starting to scrape away the old way of thinking, and it’s wonderful.”

Part of that is that until recently, there weren’t many LBI businesses that wanted people to “hang out.” There were few places to eat outdoors. There was no creating a vibe. There was far less value placed on creativity.

Woody’s, Ship Bottom Brewery, the Firefly Gallery, Yoga Bohemia, Manafirkin, Mud City, How Ya Brewin? – these and other businesses all over the region are having musicians play barrooms, lounges, decks and patios. Local band Chevy Lopez, which is playing Ocean and Monmouth counties this summer, got its start at Woody’s Burgers playing for people eating ice cream.

Emily Hughes, 21, who is a manager at The Local, says it not only brings people in, but also provides an upbeat atmosphere. She’s part of a younger generation that instantly sees the value.

“We like having local people play here, and we love Ryan. It’s good for everyone,” said Hughes, whose parents opened The Local in 2016.

“When I was growing up, my grandparents had a bed and breakfast in Beach Haven, and we used to go to the Show Place (ice cream spot with singing staff). But no else really had a musician. There was no one playing when we went out to eat. And it’s really cool that it’s caught on,” said Hughes.

Last weekend was a veritable music fest down at the Union Market and Gallery adjacent to the Tuckerton Seaport with the Campfire Series on Saturday and the Sunshine Series on Sunday. Even miles from the Island, this eatery and meeting spot has a consistent line-up of artists.

“For us, it was a result of the Maker’s Fest,” said Danielle Corso, one of three owners of Union Market, the creative group also known as the Makeshift Union. “We wanted to make sure we continued what we started in September of 2015, whether it was a pop-up event or Third Thursdays. Now we have a venue where we can do all the things we’ve wanted to do for the last three years.”

As Zimmerman explained it, it’s beneficial to the restaurant.

“The business owner puts out a little bit of money. If it doesn’t work, they don’t do it again,” he said. “But they always seem to book the music again. I saw Poppy’s Ice Cream in Barnegat Light had someone booked the other night. When you have such a sleepy, quiet town like that, live music will draw people in.”

On Saturday, the Union Market had three bands outside with fire pits and food. It wasn’t a huge night financially. But Sunday, which featured popular local folk artist Sahara Moon, who just dropped her album New York, was a banner day.

“Even if it’s not a huge profit, we had 60 people outside connecting and conversating. The money is secondary to us,” Corso said.

And while night spots primarily hire cover bands and charge patrons at the door to hear them cover radio hits, many of today’s artists are finding smaller groups of people sipping smoothies are more open to a songwriter’s original music. Furthermore, original artists such as Sahara Moon, Greg Warren and Rob Connolly are getting booked where only cover bands once played.

But across the board, business owners and the musicians they hire agree it improves the vibe.

Zimmerman pointed to a few other factors that have led to the popularity of a musician for the sake of mood, mainly the result of technology.

“It’s really easy to contact a business now. You hit them up with an email or an Instagram message instead of having to catch the owner when he’s there,” he explained, “It’s also easy for the owner to check if an artist has a decent social media following. And they can see what your set is like before you show up at their place for the first time. Technology is helping people get connected.”

Zimmerman also mentioned the live music experience as a draw, also a result of technology.

“Who buys CDs? Who even pays for music downloads?” he asked.

After a steady rise for decades, in 1999 CD and cassette sales peaked in the U.S. at $14 billion. Today, that number is $1.5 billion. The largest share of music sales in 2017 was actually streaming music subscriptions.

“Now people spend money on experiences over things,”  Zimmerman stated.

He also pointed to changes on LBI.

“There used to be house parties. When we were younger, everyone rented a house. You don’t have that anymore. People would come over and you’d play CDs. Kids don’t rent houses now. I know the Island has changed in that way. Maybe people are living at home or staying at a family beach house and they’re looking for something to do.”

One thing everyone agrees on is that it helps to tell the story of local community to those who come visit the area in the summer.

“It’s extremely important for us to help get people exposure. Our entire business is based on community. This is a natural extension of that,” added Corso.

The Union Market will have its Campfire Series the second Saturday evening of each month and its Sunshine Series, always featuring Sahara Moon, the second Sunday.

“People are cross marketing,” said Hughes, pointing to how The Local promotes the artist and the artist promotes the venue. “And a lot of people are doing it because we have so much to offer. Today, businesses are reaching out and working together. You don’t see that in other coastal areas as much.”

— Jon Coen

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