While most -- if not all -- in the U.S. concert business are feeling the bite of a post-Sept. 11 marketplace, few could claim to be as badly bitten as the operators of the New York City Blues Cruise.
While most -- if not all -- in the U.S. concert business are feeling the bite of a post-Sept. 11 marketplace, few could claim to be as badly bitten as the operators of the New York City Blues Cruise. The seven-year-old series, which features national acts performing on a boat that tours the lower tip and western coast of Manhattan, is experiencing a 35-40% dip in attendance compared to last year, according to producer/director John Hoffman.
Among those who've performed on the Seaport Liberty this year are Martin Sexton, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, James Cotton, Southern Culture On The Skids, the Radiators, Buckwheat Zydeco, Shemekia Copeland, and Marcia Ball. Each artist performs two sets on the boat the night of their appearance.
Before Sept. 11, Hoffman says he would see groups of 10, 20, even 30 businesspersons from the World Trade Center and its surrounding area board the various cruises. This summer, the shows have suffered not only from the fact that thousands lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, but also because many survivors work for companies that have relocated to other parts in the city, making the once-easy trip to Pier 16 much more of a journey for those working away from downtown.
And while people are simply guarding their money more tightly than they have in recent years, there's also a sense, Hoffman says, that "people just don't want to go to downtown New York. It's still a very sad place." Hoffman says after the attacks, there was some doubt as to whether the series would continue this year. But, he says, "We didn't want to go away with that as the reason. I didn't want to be put out of business by that."
The series stood to get a big boost from the thousands of tourists eager to see the remains of the World Trade Center. The city was directing all of those who wanted to view the site from an official viewing platform to Pier 16, where tickets were given away at the same box office where Blues Cruise tickets were sold. Yet, the city stopped requiring tickets to the platform just three weeks before the Blues Cruise season began this year.
Also no doubt contributing to a weaker turnout is the bevy of free concerts offered in Manhattan this summer. Sunday (Aug. 25), for example, the city will host a free blues festival featuring Taj Mahal, Corey Harris, and others.
In regard to the cruises, the events of Sept. 11 have resulted in one positive: during certain cruises, a few touching moments have occurred when the Seaport Liberty makes its way around the Statue of Liberty. Some of the artists are looking for an opportunity to play a patriotic or heartfelt song at that time, Hoffman says, adding that Ball, for example, sang "America the Beautiful" at the piano when her cruise reached the landmark.
Hoffman is calling this season a "character building" year. "Significant loss is no stranger to the blues as an American art form," he says. "It has resilience and so do we." This season wraps Thursday (Aug. 29). The final three performances are:
Aug. 23: An All-Star Tribute to Howlin' Wolf featuring Howlin' Wolf's longtime guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, David Johansen of the New York Dolls, Levon Helm of the Band, and Jimmy Vivino and Michael Merritt of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" fame.
Aug. 28: The Dudes (featuring former members of the Subdudes)
Aug. 29: The Iguanas
For more information, visit Bluescruiseny.com.