The unexpectedness of the music drew me out of my apartment. Outside, I found not only a New Orleans-style brass band parading down the streets of my St. Louis city neighborhood but also my neighbors following along, clapping, cheering and dancing. As more heads popped out of doors and windows, I joined, surprised to experience the burn of tears.
It was April 2020, a month into the pandemic, and I was so scared. But that infectious music — from St. Louis' own Red and Black Brass Band — and the joyousness of the crowd helped me forget momentarily.
"We're just spreading some love and some hope to the people during the pandemic," Ravie Buckner Jr., the band's bass drummer, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch around that time.
Early during COVID-19, moments such as these, of connection and hope fostered by the arts, were paramount.
But as the pandemic dragged on, audiences drew back, got weary of virtual events and craved normalcy before that was always possible. Arts organizations, which mostly cater to live audiences, stalled. Many wondered how to keep things going.
Spoiler alert — thanks to the creativity of staff, external support and some luck — many did. But after going through the pandemic, few are the same organization, for better or worse, that they were in 2019.
We at the Riverfront Times wanted to know exactly how some of our favorite arts industries have been transformed, so we did the only reasonable thing: dug in. The following pages hold the results of those investigations; read on for an inside scoop into St. Louis' theater and music-venue scenes, arts organizations that flourished and even a look at how living under COVID-19 has changed our social norms, for the arts and otherwise.
Check those out: