Black Owned Live-Performance Venues in Oakland Struggle to Financially Breathe

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Black Owned Live-Performance Venues in Oakland Struggle to Financially Breathe

By JR Valrey, The People’s Minister of Information

Oakland nightlife has been severely affected by the Covid pandemic, which was evident when the premiere live-performance jazz club, Yoshi’s, in Jack London Square, created a gofund-me in December because of the financial peril that the shelter in place mandate created, by not allowing live performance venues to operate. In the 3 months since then, Yoshi’s was able to raise $200,000 through online fundraising. The Black owned live-performance venues in the town, like Geoffrey’s, Caribbean City, and Complex have not received that type of unprecedented community support, so it is a waiting game to see who will survive until the end of the pandemic. 

Complex, the Hip Hop live performance venue, is owned by Black businessman Oscar Edwards, who is also the owner of the Fourteenth Street Market, next door. He and I talked about surviving the financial storm that Covid’s shelter in place mandate has produced, as well as the on-going effects that the pandemic will create on the live-performance scene locally, when it is allowed to return. Oakland is one of a few music meccas for the United States, having manufactured such talents: as the Pointer Sisters, to Tony Toni Tone, to Keyshia Cole, to the Coup, to Askari X, Keak Da Sneak, and 2Pac. So whatever restrictions that the government mandates on live-performance venues is going to be felt dramatically, in the Town. Here is Oscar Edwards, informing us about what concerts and the local live-performance scene will be like in the near future when the shelter in place is completely lifted.    

JR Valrey: We haven’t had an official concert in a year, because of the shelter in place mandate, how do you anticipate this pause in live entertainment will affect concert fans, in northern Cali, when they do return? Will there be new restrictions? If so, please explain.

Oscar Edwards: Yes, it’s true, we haven’t had a concert in over a year. I know the fans are waiting, and I am ready to get back to business. I think this pause is going to affect the fans in a lot of ways. One way it’s going to affect them is the restrictions. Which we don’t know as of now.  For example, some of the restrictions might be the capacity or being vaccinated, or might even be reservation-only events. Also, one thing to look out for is the pricing , since we don’t know the capacity requirements tickets and pricing will go up because of this. So right now it’s just a waiting game. 

JR Valrey: Are the artists that were top-shelf before covid still top shelf now that it is supposed to be ending?

Oscar Edwards: It’s two-sided. On one hand yes some of the artists I’ve got before the pandemic has continued to increase in demand and now demand higher prices. For example an artist like Sada Baby once more of a local favorite now has got global recognition. On the other hand, you have one-hit-wonder that just had a song that hit before Covid and now is irrelevant. So it’s gonna be a mixture. It’s really going to take a couple of months to see where everybody is in terms of live shows.

JR Valrey: Everyday recently in the news, there’s talk about the shelter in place mandate being lifted, what is being told to the Bay Area venue owners about reopening? 

Oscar Edwards: The crazy thing is Nothing is being told to the venues. We receive the same information that you receive on the news. Most of my reopening information comes from a group that local live entertainment venues started called EBVC (Eastbay Venue Coalition). So right now I have just as much information as the rest of the public.

JR Valrey: Without a single show over a year, how were you able to keep Complex financially afloat?

Oscar Edwards: Well since I haven’t had a show in over a year. It’s been really tough to keep complex along. The only way I’ve been able to do this is through continued faith, having good communication, and just grinding every day. 

JR Valrey: How has the pandemic affected venues in the Bay? 

Oscar Edwards: Venues in the bay have been affected by the pandemic in so many ways. Financially, physically, and emotionally. Entertainment venues were the first to close and will be the last to open. We have lost friends, fans, staff, revenue, and time. We have lost a lot of great spaces in this pandemic. Hopefully, we don’t lose any more.

JR Valrey: How far away do you think we are from bringing live entertainment back, and what are the major factors that you are watching to influence your hypothesis?

Oscar Edwards: I think there is light at the end of the tunnel. I think it’s a waiting game now with vaccines and case counts. I have been watching how the tiers are moving and how quickly they are jumping from one tier to another. I think it’s going to be a slow reopening, I do think that outside should open up fully by 2022.

JR Valrey: Do you anticipate that music lovers will flock back to venues post covid because they are fiending for live music, or do you think the pandemic has made people more hesitant to go inside buildings for performances? Why do you feel the way you feel?

Oscar Edwards: This question is tough. Because in other states like Texas the music scene has been open and they have had record crowds. But in California, we have tighter restrictions. I am very confident that ppl will come back to live shows, the experience of shows is second to none. Do I know if people will be hesitant, maybe at first but I think that hesitance will fade quickly? The reason why I say this is because I’ve been studying and looking at the venue and states around me and how their reopening is going and learning from their mistakes and accomplishments.

JR Valrey: What are some of your predictions for 2021, that we may have not talked about, concerning live music and venues, in the Bay? 

Oscar Edwards: Will I predict that we will see some of the biggest celebrations or events when things open back up? I think that on New years eve this year you will see record numbers probably will see people go out that usually don’t. I think you will see a lot of booking and different kinds of events. But all this won’t happen until probably September or October.

JR Valrey: How’s business at the Fourteenth Street Market that you just opened up, next door to Complex?

Oscar Edwards: Thank you for asking. Fourteenth Street Market is doing well. I am overwhelmed by the support of the community and the way they have embraced us. I love meeting all the different vendors and learning about the products they have and the passion they hold for those products. I think that this was something the community need downtown, and I see this being a 

JR Valrey: How could people keep updated with news about Complex?

Oscar Edwards: To keep updated on what’s happening with Complex Oakland. Follow us on social media @Complexoakland or go to the website You can always just visit us also and check out the restaurant Trap Kitchen Oakland. Thank you for your continued support.


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