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Weekend In Entertainment: Middle C Jazz Club Gets Creative Amid Coronavirus Closures

Maria Howell
Middle C Jazz
Maria Howell performed via livestream at Middle C Jazz in uptown amidst coronavirus closures

Maybe you missed it, but Noel Freidline and Maria Howell performed live Wednesday night at Middle C Jazz club uptown. This performance was different than usual with the closure of bars, clubs and restaurants statewide due to the spread of the coronavirus. There were no patrons in the building during the show. However, several thousand people viewed the concert online.

Joining WFAE's "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn for this edition of Weekend In Entertainment to talk about the performance and how he's dealing with the impact the coronavirus is having on his business is Middle C Jazz club owner, Larry Farber. 

Larry Farber: How are you?

Gwendolyn Glenn: I’m great. Like I mentioned Noel Freidline and Maria Howell performed Wednesday night without any patrons in the building. How many people streamed it live?

Farber: We started at 7 p.m. and there were 50. And then all of a sudden it went from 300 to 400 to 500. And by 7:30, we were well over a thousand people. And we did this with literally about 24 to 48 hours’ notice from the idea to execution. So we couldn't have been more pleased.

Glenn: How long did you go and how many were online at the end of the show? 

Farber: We think by the end of the show, we had 4-5,000 people. 

Glenn: And I take it they did jazz standards? Or what kind of show was it? 

Farber: You know, it evolved into a little bit of everything. So we picked out probably six, seven, eight songs that they thought were appropriate, uplifting. But then the beauty and the magic that happened was even better. And so spontaneously, people started sending in requests. They literally knocked out every song that was requested. That came from everything from a Gladys Knight song to a Noor Jehan. 

Glenn: Now you mentioned that people were saying they would contribute to a fund. Tell us about that aspect of it -- because you were asking for donations to musicians and club employees.

Farber: So let me tell you about that because this is really important. When we first talked about this idea, Maria, Noel and I were doing it because we wanted it, first and foremost. No agenda other than bringing some happiness through the gift of music into people's homes. To give people an hour to forget about the virus, being at home sequestered. Just a feel-good moment that only music can do.

And then while we were doing that, it was suggested us that there are musicians, including Noel, Maria and everybody that I've known over 45 years are doing this that are going to be out of work indefinitely. So we said if you wanted to, we set up a PayPal account where they could contribute. And it wasn't just contributing to musicians, but to those who are out of work from our wait staff to bartenders to all those service providers, that, again, are sitting at home without the knowledge of when they'll be able to get back to work.

Glenn: Do you know how much you raised?

Farber: As of literally the time that you and I are talking, the number has exceeded $6,000.

Glenn: How many people have you had to lay off and do you have people still working? 

Farber: We probably employed about nine or 10 people, three or four full time. We still have a couple of our full time working, not a full-time schedule, but we still are employing two or three of those folks. The part-time folks are temporarily on hiatus. Those are people that we're going to try to channel some of these funds until we can get back up and running.

Glenn: OK. I was going to ask you, being a new business with this coronavirus hitting now, how do you think it's going to affect you? And are you going to be able to hang in there and remain open? 

Farber: We are very, very, very fortunate. And you can probably sense it even in hearing my voice. Listen, I'm stressed out for everybody in the country and in our community. If this thing went on for a year, even two years, we're in a position to survive. And it's because of a couple of things: We prepaid our rent for over two years as part of just the way I like to operate. And I'm very fortunate to have some investors that their goal, like mine, was more about bringing great music to Charlotte. Like anybody, they want to make some money, get their investment return, but they have been very patient. So we're very well-capitalized. But we're going to open and we're going to grace that stage with great musicians again. 

Glenn: You've had a lot of national acts come through there, such as Ronnie Laws. You said you want to continue to do this kind of live-streaming. Will you bring in some of those national acts to do the live streaming with no crowds? 

Farber: Jonathan Gelman, my manager, he suggested that we start thinking about potentially bringing in some regional artists -- and even national -- and potentially stream and try to create revenue. 

Glenn: Any advice you could give to other club owners or musicians at this time? Because this is a statewide thing in terms of the closure of clubs, bars, restaurants.

Farber: Yeah, I can. This is so much bigger than Middle C Jazz. And one is, you know, stay positive and to stay creative. Think outside the box and good things will happen. 

Glenn: Great. Well Larry, thanks for talking with us today.

Farber: My pleasure. Thank you for your concern about what's going on. 

Glenn: That’s Larry Farber, owner of Middle C Jazz club.