COVID-19 has crippled no other industry more than the one
that depends on sweating masses of people gyrating together in close quarters:
the live entertainment business. Of the concert trough's erstwhile dependents,
musicians can lay strong claim to the superlative of "hurting the most" right
now. To help take stock of the crisis, Where Y'at sat down with Fred
LeBlanc, New Orleans native and lead singer/drummer of Cowboy Mouth.
Cowboy Mouth's story epitomizes the simultaneous anxiety and
resilience of artists at large. Musicians, whether trying to make it big or
merely maintain, find themselves trapped in a stubborn contradiction that shows
no indication of giving way. Cowboy Mouth's relatively secure market perch as
an established band, while something of a safety blanket, does not make them
invulnerable to coronavirus privations.
"We're very fortunate to have the internet right now," LeBlanc
says in as succinct a summary of the pandemic's upshot as you're liable to
find. Even as COVID-19 has rendered temporarily obsolete the kind of
old-school, rock-and-roll show that's been Cowboy Mouth's bread and butter, the
internet provides musicians with a space to keep being creative.
"I'll do whole shows every week or two weeks. Playing guitar
and singing. Talking to fans via the Facebook page," explains
LeBlanc. As anyone who's been to a live Cowboy Mouth show—an event that one
person described as akin to "Southern gospel revival without the religion"—knows
that the band puts a premium on back-and-forth with the fans. For LeBlanc,
simply going quiet and twiddling his thumbs while waiting for a resolution to
the coronavirus crisis would have been unthinkable. For a band that places an
impetus on communication with the fans, the Facebook platform has been the gift
that keeps on giving, keeping the Cowboy Mouth community in contact while also
acting as a life preserver that's been keeping the guys' heads above water.
"The thing about being a musician," LeBlanc says, "is so
many of us live hand-to-mouth." One of the band members had to get a side gig
breaking sheetrock just to keep the lights on. If a band like Cowboy Mouth, which
has a devoted core following going back 30 years, is struggling, one can only
imagine what it's been like for some younger, less-established performers out
there. Cowboy Mouth's fame and hard-earned support insulates them to some
degree from the worst of this catastrophe, but they're taking a hit like
Many people have observed the dramatic way in which the
coronavirus outbreak has held a sort of funhouse mirror up to society,
embellishing our imperfections. So too with the music. The internet may have
appeared like a rescuer to the thousands of artists marooned by mandatory
quarantines, but not before the digital age short-circuited record sales in the
first place, with streaming services like Spotify. It's a supreme irony of the
moment that online streaming has been the thing keeping musicians afloat,
considering that the internet is the very thing that made them vulnerable to
begin with. If it weren't for digital streaming, then musicians wouldn't have
been so reliant on live shows for income, and the virus would have been less
The Cowboy Mouth guys, though, remain undaunted. If
anything, the coronavirus's fallout has caused them to double down on the
music. LeBlanc says, "I've got to play a rock show soon, or else I'm gonna
crawl out of my skin." The quarantine sees him chomping at the bit to get back
out there and perform, even as he's got his ear to the grindstone, keeping
plenty busy with the online shows and being useful to the people in his life.
This outlook is, after all, very much in character for a
band whose mission statement is unapologetically positive, in a genre that is
often stereotypically considered to be crass and self-centered. They're
"something that tries to be uplifting," not "part of that rock-and-roll cliché
of 'let's just drink and party.'" It's not exactly a message you expect to hear
LeBlanc attributes the band's idiosyncrasy to Cowboy Mouth's
origins in New Orleans, a city that, as the melting pot of the United States,
miraculously manages to elude easy categorization.
It's about "that bass drum, New-Orleans-marching-band feel.
People in New Orleans move differently, dance differently, view life
differently. We understand the necessity of celebration," he says.
It's possibly this unique, peculiar joie de vivre that gives the city the emotional equipment it needs
to persist in the face of adversity. Katrina couldn't wipe New Orleans off the
map. Where one act of God failed, COVID-19 won't manage either, in part thanks
to the resourceful musicians who live here. "The New Orleans attitude and view
of life permeate everyone here. It's a certain way of just sliding into the
groove of life," LeBlanc says.