After taking a few months off at the beginning of the pandemic, blues singer and slide guitarist Cass Clayton and her band started spending more time in the studio since most venues were closed. As months went by and COVID-19 didn't go away, Clayton began to overhear musicians talking about just how bad things were getting for them. They didn't have enough to eat. They were dealing with mental health problems born from their unemployment.
So Clayton teamed up with Donald Rossa, owner of the jazz club Dazzle, where the Cass Clayton Band had played numerous times. They set out to provide relief for full-time musicians, many of whom had been out of work for the duration of the pandemic. In December, they launched Bread & Jam, where musicians could pick up free groceries at a food pantry at Dazzle from noon to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. They also paid bands to livestream shows on Sundays.
Dazzle has recently partnered with the Colorado Independent Venue Association — which represents a hundred independent venues across the state and is an affiliated chapter of the National Independent Venue Association — to help out venue workers as well.
“You can't talk about musicians without talking about venues," says Clayton. "Our pain goes hand in hand, and our success and ability to try goes hand in hand.”
Rossa says that what musicians and venue owners really want is to get back to work.
“The financial strain and loss of purpose has hit the community hard,” Rossa says. “We can use our 23-year standing in the community to help; we just need to keep enough funding coming in to get people through this extremely difficult time.”
Now both musicians and CIVA members can access Dazzle’s services. That includes opportunities to participate in paid livestream performances, free groceries through the food pantry, and access to support for immediate needs like grocery cards, emergency financial assistance, and mental health services through a partnership with the Denver organization Music Minds Matter.
“Since March of 2020, a majority of our member venues have been shuttered and/or operated at limited capacity,” says CIVA founding boardmember and Levitt Pavilion Denver executive director Chris Zacher. “Due to these factors, many Colorado-based musicians have been struggling to pay bills and feed themselves and their families. Dazzle’s Bread & Jam program is a prime example of how we can all come together as a community to help our brothers and sisters in need.”
Many musicians, says Clayton, have been struggling with depression and shame.
"It's amazing how much shame there's been over stuff that is not anybody's fault," Clayton says. "It's not your fault you can't pay your bills. Look at what's going on in the world. But there is that component of musicians needing to be around other people who are going through the same thing."
While livestream shows have been part of Bread & Jam on Sundays, Clayton says starting in April, Dazzle will start hosting jam sessions, possibly on Wednesdays, where musicians can get a free meal, hang out with other players and jam with the house band.
She notes that since Bread & Jam started late last year, the number of musicians using the program’s services has increased every week.
“It's just been this kind of new full-time job with raising money to keep the pantry open, raising money to get musicians paid at Dazzle,” Clayton says. “We've been raising money and raising awareness so that the musicians know where to go to get food and so that people know how to donate to get goods to the food pantry, because we need those, and then also financial donations.”
For more information, go to the Dazzle website.
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