BELANGER: An unusually quiet New Year’s Eve for veteran musicians

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Traditionally, New Year’s Eve has been more than just busy for musicians; it’s also lucrative with musicians often earning more than double their regular rate to entertain.

Award-winning blues saxophonist Chris Murphy, nominated 12 times for the Maple Blues Award for horn player of the year and a perennial member of the all-star Canadian ensemble, the Maple Blues Revue band, has toured with such artists as Jack De Keyzer, was leader of The Old Chicago Blues Band and has played in the horn section for tours by Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, The Temptations, Little Anthony and The Imperials, and Mary Wilson and The Supremes.

Murphy said he’s missed performing on New Year’s Eve “maybe three times in 50 years.”

The crowds have shrunk over the years due to changing lifestyles and drinking and driving laws, but now Murphy is worried there will be far fewer venues looking for live music once the pandemic ends.

“I remember playing the millennium New Year’s Eve, having five musicians working for me and being able to pay them for that one night the same amount I’d pay them for two weeks’ work,” Murphy said. “It used to be such a big deal even for people who usually never went out.

“I work in a lot of theatres — the soft seats — and I think they’ll come back, but I think the smaller places (venues) are done. The business model where you draw enough people to pay for the live entertainment will be gone.”

Vocalist Cheryl Lescom, who has played across the country for more than four decades, is considered one of the finest blues/rock vocalists in the region. She recently released a new album, Well Played, with her band The Tucson Choir Boys.