Beale Street prepares to reopen without live music amid coronavirus pandemic

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Beale Street is gearing up to reopen many of its clubs and restaurants, but some will have to do it without live music.

City and county officials on Thursday announced that phase one of reopening businesses would begin on May 4, though it’s far from a full reopening.

Eric Hughes and his band of the same name have played clubs on Beale Street, such as Rum Boogie, King’s Place, and B.B. King’s, for 19 years.

It’s been his home, his workplace and his institution, but COVID-19 closed the clubs.   

 “But in my case, I went from 320 shows a year to zero,” Hughes said.

Some Beale Street musicians are turning to Facebook Live to perform and earn money.

“Financially, it’s been devastating, but people have been reaching out to the musicians’ virtual tips, and purchasing of our music continues to come in,” Hughes said.

On Beale, you’ll also find closed restaurants like Miss Polly’s Soul City Cafe.

“When all of this happened, I had to let all those people go and 17 jobs, and I think that had to be one of the worst things I’ve had before in my life,” said owner Ty Agee.

Agee looks forward to reopening May 4, but not too fast.

“I would rather wait longer and longer than them get us open and then tell us to shut back down,” Agee said. “Cause see, a guy like me, a little mom and pop deal, that would be a death blow.”

Beale Street and downtown Memphis usually see about 100,000 people a day. That was before COVID-19.

“It’s been pretty dramatic,” said Memphis Tourism President Kevin Kane, “but like the entire hospitality industry across the country, it’s been decimated by this.”

Kane is convinced Beale Street and other destinations will bounce back, even it means without live music.

“I think you’ll have the Beale Entertainment District — for a period of time — will be the Beale Street Restaurant District. The entertainment part will come later in the opening,” Kane said.

Kane predicts thousands of Memphians will be back at work when restaurants, hotels and other attractions reopen.

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