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At many Newton venues, the live music scene is still on hold

Union Street Restaurant and Bar’s upstairs room hasn’t had live music since the outbreak of COVID-19. SUZANNE CROW
Union Street Restaurant and Bar’s upstairs room hasn’t had live music since the outbreak of COVID-19. SUZANNE CROWcontributed photo

The lack of live music in Newton during the pandemic has had a broad impact on the community, from restaurants that hosted bands to musicians who relied on gigs to fewer fund-raising opportunities. And Governor Baker’s most recent plans for reopening don’t offer much change for the live music scene.

Paul Speidel, a professional musician and music educator who has worked and performed in Newton since 1990, said live music is still limited under the restrictions, and he is taking a “wait and see approach.”

“I think the big thing is just gonna be when the weather turns, we’ll all be outdoors again like last summer,” he said.

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Elyssa Vidito, an assistant manager and the event coordinator at Union Street Restaurant and Bar, said they are going to wait until more restrictions are lifted to have live music again.

Governor Baker’s new plans for reopening prohibit live performances with singing indoors. They discourage it but include guidelines for singing outdoors and playing brass and wind instruments indoors and outdoors.

Tyler Morris, a musician from Newton who has played around the United States and internationally, said Baker’s new guidelines don’t help musicians.

“The no singing thing is a big restriction,” he said.

Al Cecchinelli, who runs the music program at the American Legion Post 440 in Nonantum, said they are going to wait to have live music again because the social distancing rules make it hard to pay a band.

“The reopening doesn’t help music,” Cecchinelli said. “It makes it almost impossible to hire a band.”

Union Street Restaurant and Bar used to welcome guests on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to listen to live music, but right now, they are relying on their jukebox, Vidito said.

Vidito said live music was an important part of Union Street Restaurant and Bar’s business and not having it has affected them “tremendously.”

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“The fact that we can’t do live music here or bands to do these fund-raisers to help the kids, the teachers, the schools, it definitely is I think taken a toll not just on us but definitely on the community as well,” she said.

Speidel said the impact of COVID-19 on his work has been stressful.

“It’s made an already challenging lifestyle, and line of work, just that much more stressful to try to figure out how to, you know, cover the expenses,” Speidel said.

Cecchinelli said the American Legion Post 440 had live music on Saturdays before the pandemic to fund-raise for their programs to help veterans.

“When the Covid came around, I had three months’ worth of bands that I just had to cancel,” Cecchinelli said.

Morris came out with his fourth record during the pandemic. Although he couldn’t go on tour, he said the record has done well and sold online.

“I do miss the live music aspect,” Morris said.

Morris said he planned to do Van Halen Tributes in Salisbury and Plymouth, but they have been rescheduled multiple times because of COVID-19.

Cecchinelli is the senior vice commander of the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 440 and said COVID-19 “devastated” the American Legion Post 440.

“It’s really cut back on what we can do in the community even though the need is even greater,” he said.

The American Legion Post 440 had two outdoor, socially distanced live music events in the summer, Cecchinelli said — one was a benefit for a local musician who passed away from cancer, and the other was a “popular” band he had booked before the pandemic. However, he said they haven’t had live music since.

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Speidel said he lost a significant amount of his “steady income compared to previous years.” He’s done performances on Zoom and some outdoor gigs and said most of his students went online with him in Spring 2020.

“I have been more fortunate than a lot of my peers,” Speidel said. “So many players I know who don’t teach lost their entire income.”

In addition to playing music, Morris is currently in graduate school at Tufts University studying electrical engineering and has a company, Tyler Morris Designs, which sells boutique handmade audio effects pedals.

Morris said he has “had to rethink stuff” and has charged for live streams and sold more pedals and merchandise.

Although he has had some gigs during the pandemic, Morris said, “the music income has kind of taken a backseat to my pedal income.”

Vidito, from Union Street Restaurant and Bar, said she is struggling and excited for the return of normalcy.

“I’m down to nothing a week,” she said. “I have a son.”

Cecchinelli said he doesn’t think the American Legion Post 440 will host live music again until at least the fall.

“Hopefully, with the vaccines, we’ll slowly be able to get things back out, but I don’t foresee the American Legion having music again before August — I just, I don’t see it happening,” Cecchinelli said. “And that’s really sad because I know a lot of people that that’s how they make their living, is through music.”

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Speidel, the longtime musician, said people have been positive and supportive during this time.

“As much as a cliché as it is, music does bring people together,” Speidel said.

Suzanne Crow can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.