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How is the financial downturn affecting the local music scene?

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So the economic pundits finally announced that our country's been in a recession for the past year -- bad news for stock-market speculators and for baby-boomers expecting to retire. But how is the financial downturn affecting the music scene? Over two months of observations, I've concluded that the core 18-35 demographic upon which local music venues depend has not yet felt the pinch of the recession -- and tested that theory against the experiences of others active in local nightlife.

"Generally, we haven't had much negative effect," says Adam Bienk, bartender at Howler's Coyote Café in Bloomfield. "We're pulling good numbers at the Rockabilly Riot, PBR punk nights are still working, and the Sunday Hayrides have been decent," he explains. "I'm not hearing anyone complaining about their investments."

Wendy Winkowski, who bartends at PD's Pub in Squirrel Hill, serves a slightly older audience, drawn in by reggae and blues bands. But she could barely catch a breath during a Tuesday open-stage night. "We've been kind of slow lately, but that's just the holiday season. We always have a crowd for music, no matter what."

Bartender Tim Quinlan, of Gooski's in Polish Hill, contends that "it depends on the band playing." A recent appearance by Montreal noise-rockers AIDS Wolf went well on a Monday, and even on a band-less Tuesday, the place was still hopping.

Tony Tumolo, owner of Lawrenceville club/restaurant Remedy, sees things a bit differently. "Across the board, people aren't going out as much during the week -- I see less coming in for dinner. Also, you're fighting with the liquor tax and couldn't have picked a worse time for that." But on weekend nights, "if you have a good band or DJ, people are still going to show up -- they might just drink a couple less beers apiece."

Smiling Moose owner Michael "Scarfo" Cicon agrees. "People aren't drinking quite as much -- they're cutting back on the shots," he says. "But the shows are still good whenever the bands bust their asses and get out and promote." (This week, the Moose hosts a benefit show for the medical expenses of scene stalwart Mike "Skip" Dayak at 9 p.m. Sat., Dec. 13; Don Caballero headlines.)

Earlier this year, Cicon began charging a cover (admission had previously been free, with bands paid a percentage of the bar's take), and opened a second level where regulars could avoid the music and play pinball or darts instead. "But most of our covers are $7 and below," he says. "If you don't even have five bucks to go to a show, you shouldn't be going out at all."

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