Jason Ricci

This picture of Jason Ricci is one of multiple art pieces up for auction to benefit the Long Beach Blues Society.

With entertainment venues temporarily shut down due to the pandemic, folks have had to get even more creative to make a living plying their craft. 

The Long Beach Blues Society — a nonprofit with a mission to teach the history of blues and provide assistance for Long Beach artists — has also had to face the reality of life without public events and performances. The pandemic has made it nearly impossible to operate as usual, forcing the group to make dramatic changes to their usual curriculum, according to Steve Proctor, director of operations.

"We’ve had to take everything online because of COVID, so it’s been a real hard transition working out how we can even do that," Proctor said. "Everything we've built up to this point has had to be restructured, so basically we are winging it."

Prior to the pandemic, the blues group hosted a variety of concerts and performances throughout Long Beach, including partnerships with the school district and senior centers that provided entertainment and music education for the masses.

Money raised at events like the News Blues Festival — a Labor Day weekend concert event that took place for a few years recently at El Dorado Park — has paid for the nonprofit programs Blues in the School, Blues for Vets and Blues for Seniors where musicians are hired to perform throughout the year at LBUSD schools, hospitals and senior centers. 

"Whenever we do anything, like host concerts or perform at an event, the artists who are performing are paid," Proctor said. "Whether they are on stage or teaching a lesson, we pay them for their work.

"Without concerts to raise money, it's hard to keep people paid, or help them if they need rent or groceries because they are unemployed because of COVID."

With the fund-raising approach changed in 2020, the Blues Society pivoted to put events online, asking for donations during live-streamed shows. Money raised was used to purchase gift cards for groceries or other essential items for musicians who hit a professional wall during the pandemic.

Their latest fund-raising event features an online auction that's open for bids through Feb. 13, the day before Valentine's Day. Artists and photographers donated blues-themed pieces in an effort to keep the Long Beach blues artists moving.

"Things are changing so quickly that we have no choice but to approach everything that happens day-by-day," Proctor said. "Who knows, maybe we'll be playing live shows sooner than we expect to."

People can bid on professional prints valued from hundreds to thousands of dollars, featuring artists from Long Beach and beyond, including The Who, The Rolling Stones (artwork by Craig Erickson) and Blues Society's own, Bill Grisolia (photographed by El Imagenero).

If paintings are more a bidder's style, the bid is on for a portrait of blues legend Robert Johnson (by Aaron Chapman) and caricatures of musical instruments by artist Joel Astley.

"We’re not helping just blues musicians, we're helping out all the musicians we can," Proctor said. "If you're struggling because we can't play shows right now, and we have money available for groceries or to help with your utilities, we want to help you."

For more information, or to make a bid, go to longbeachbluessociety.org/art-in-music.html. The deadline to bid is Saturday, Feb. 13.


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