Like nearly every working musician on the planet, Suzanne Vega knows firsthand the impact of the Covid-19 shutdown: An entire summer European tour — along with U.S. shows in October and November — were postponed until next year after live music abruptly stopped.
To help some of the struggling, now-empty venues where she would have played, Vega and her manager Mark Spector have announced a pair of livestreamed shows on Wednesday and Thursday at New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club. Any venue that sells tickets to either show (by way of their sites or email blasts) will receive half of the ticket sale. At present, 98 venues in the U.S. and Europe are participating.
“I heard through the grapevine that all kinds of places are teetering and may not make it through,” Vega tells Rolling Stone. “It’s sad and troubling, so when my manager suggested this idea to me, I was all for it. I don’t know how much it’s possible for anyone to make, but you have the potential to sell as many tickets a possible; there’s no limit.” Vega was also encouraged by Laura Marling’s paid livestream this past spring, which sold five times the capacity of the London venue where it took place.
There will be no audience in attendance, just crew, and she and her band will be playing for the cameras. “We’ve done videos where we’re all miming, so this time we’ll be miming the audience part,” she says. “It’s almost like acting. You have to know they’re there and keep them in your mind while you’re singing, and make it work.”
Vega, an iconic New York singer-songwriter since she began in the early Eighties, isn’t a stranger to livestreams; she did a few from her Manhattan home early in the lockdown. “At first I was nervous,” she recalls. “I had to use a tripod and make sure the lighting was correct. It feels so weird — you’re doing this whole show to, like, your dog. So it was a little nerve-wracking. But we got 100,000 people viewing it over time, which I thought was awesome.” The livestreams, one with Norah Jones, also helped raise money for New York City health and hospital workers.
For her Blue Note shows, she’ll be joined by her band — which includes former David Bowie guitarist Gerry Leonard — and the show will emphasize material from her new thematic live album, An Evening of New York Songs and Stories. In addition to remakes of Manhattan-inspired songs like “Tom’s Diner,” “Ludlow Street” and “New York Is a Woman,” the album also includes her version of “Walk on the Wild Side” by her friend Lou Reed.
So how would Reed, a staunch New Yorker, have reacted to the shutdown? “I’ve been thinking about that,” Vega mulls. “I think, ‘What on earth would he have thought? Would he have tried to rebel against it? Would he have been a no-masker? Would he have been, ‘I’m not doing that shit’? Or would he have been serious about it: ‘You’ve got to wear your mask!’ Would he have had a cool rhinestone-studded mask for public appearances? He was always unpredictable, so it’s hard to know.”
Vega recently heard that Tom’s Restaurant, the diner that inspired “Tom’s Diner,” escaped a shutdown itself, and she’s hoping that at least one aspect of New York life (and her shows) will be back to normal: a food contract rider at the Blue Note. “Some vodka and hummus with pita bread and crackers would be cool,” she says, laughing. “It’s some semblance of normality. Playing the show and spending two days with my band is something to look forward to. It really is.”