As pandemic restrictions recede throughout much of the city and the omicron surge appears to be waning, you might begin to think that business as usual might finally be at hand.

But Marc Ribot, flanked by around a dozen fellow musicians and supporters in front of the storied jazz club the Village Vanguard on Friday, offered a different viewpoint: that of working musicians whose livelihoods continue to be disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, two years later.

“We’re standing here on a beautiful day,” Ribot said. “Omicron is fading. It’s very counterintuitive for us to be talking about the need for funding for music workers.”

But Ribot, a seasoned activist well known for speaking out about cultural, political and economic causes, pressed the need for a Pandemic Touring Fund proposed by state Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, both of Manhattan, to be included in the upcoming New York state budget. The rally was mounted by the Music Workers Alliance, a collaborative aimed at supporting and enhancing the livelihoods and rights of independent musicians. Such a fund would help offer a safety net for musicians who routinely plan their next source of income several months out.

“Our tours take 8 to 14 months of advance planning," Ribot noted.

"And our touring economy is not compatible with a situation in which new variants emerge within a few months, and new shutdowns are announced within two weeks," Ribot added, succinctly summarizing points he’d made in detail in an essay published Thursday by The Nation.

A renowned guitarist, bandleader, composer and sideman to artists like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and John Zorn, Ribot might spend several months of any given year making his living on the road. The same holds true for the luminaries surrounding him on Friday, including bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding, drummer Omar Hakim (Sting, Weather Report), keyboardist Rachel Z (Peter Gabriel, Wayne Shorter) and guitarists Gary Lucas and Brandon Ross.

“If I test positive on the second date of a tour, I’m facing weeks or a month with no income,” Ribot said. “I’m stuck in a hotel room somewhere, having to pay for that hotel room with no income. And I can’t legally get on a plane to come home. This is not theoretical; it’s happened to people – probably people standing with me here today.”

Respondents to an Alliance survey of working musicians indicated more than $1.2 million in lost wages and over $80,000 in non-recoupable touring costs during the pandemic. Ribot and his fellow musicians – joined by allies like Hoylman, Epstein and Alliance co-founder Olympia Kazi, an architect and arts advocate on the city’s Nightlife Advisory Board – are urging the establishment of a fund to support musicians overlooked by previous pandemic-relief funding efforts.

“Most recovery funding has gone to venues and organizations, not independent artists and musicians,” Senator Hoylman said. “Small business recovery grants were limited to businesses with employees that met very strict requirements, which do not work for independent contractors.”

In concrete terms, the Alliance and its supporters seek the establishment of an $8 million fund to support independent musicians whose livelihoods continue to be disrupted. One proposal outlined by Hoylman calls for expansion of the Small Business Recovery Grant Program, which currently holds a $200 million surplus of funds not distributed in 2021, to include independent contractors. Another would see the creation of a fund that would serve as insurance for artists whose tours are disrupted or canceled.

The rationale for making these changes, Hoylman stressed, was more than sentimental.

“According to the state comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, pre-pandemic, New York City arts, entertainment and the recreation sector employed close to 100,000 people,” he said. “And music, according to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, was directly responsible for 31,400 of those jobs – about $13.7 billion dollars in economic output. So this makes sense not just from a humanitarian standpoint, not just because we owe our artists, but it’s economic sensibility, too.”