On a recent Thursday night, Rae Gordon stood inside the Blue Diamond on Northeast Sandy Boulevard, lit in red and blue lights, wrapping her tough but sweet voice around the late Betty Wright's "No Pain, No Gain," accompanied by keyboardist Mark Steele and club co-owner Sonny Hess on guitar. No one was in the audience—the performance streamed live on Facebook, with a big white "tip jar" sign containing the club's PayPal and Venmo information placed between the musicians.
In the COVID-19 era, many clubs have taken to online concerts in order to stay connected to the community and stay afloat financially. But earlier that day, Gordon reached out to Blue Diamond regulars in a completely different way: by bringing them food from the bar's kitchen.
Like a lot of local bars and restaurants, the club, a long-running hub for local blues and R&B, has shifted to a delivery model. Instead of using third-party apps, it's done entirely in-house—and the drivers are all musicians.
"It's been such an incredible experience to be able to deliver to the audience members that you usually see from the stage," Gordon says. "In this music community, you become like family."
Blue Diamond co-owner and chef Jamie Pemberton's menu includes burgers, salads and the specialty of the house, Sonny's Meatloaf, based on Hess' recipe. It also offers alcohol—beer, wine, champagne, cider, White Claw—as well as CDs by the artists making the deliveries.
To maintain proper distance, customers retrieve their food out of the back of the vehicle, and the musicians all wear masks. But performers can't help but perform: One regular burst into tears when her delivery came with a side of Gordon singing "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman" through an open window.
"It was then that I realized that it's not just supporting a venue," Gordon says. "It's supporting the people that are missing having music in their lives."
Food delivery and online streams can't make up for not being open, Hess says. But it keeps a few people at the Blue Diamond employed, generates a little cash for the musicians and, perhaps most importantly, keeps the place in people's hearts and minds.
"We're dying over here," says Hess, who lost 72 gigs of her own to the virus, many of them at McMenamins properties. "Y'know, it's not just the money. It's the jones, man. That audience, that feedback—that's what we live for. We can't do without 'em. It's very difficult."