AUSTIN (KXAN) — The goal of the Red River Cultural District’s “Free Week” is to help businesses and performers out during the winter slump — something, thanks to the pandemic, they need more than ever.

“It’s important for the musicians, because they have a place to play. It’s important for the venues, because they’re all still recovering from being closed a year and a half,” said Jeannette Gregor, founder of service and entertainment worker advocacy group The Amplified Sound Coalition.

During Free Week, you can see your favorite local bands at Red River Street bars without having to pay cover. The Red River Cultural District pays the bands, so venues don’t have to, and both businesses and performers get to benefit.

The event kicked off just as Austin city leaders sent us back to Stage 5.

But those involved with Free Week said this doesn’t mean they’re shirking safety responsibilities. Organizers said planners, venues and performers all encourage masks and vaccines.

While there’s nothing legal organizers can do to to enforce masks, individual venues made their own requirements.

A sign at Cheer Up Charlies told visitors to mask up.

Per Mohawk’s website, guests have to provide a negative COVID-19 test to get in. They also have the option to show proof of vaccination instead of a negative test.

Artist Mélat performed at Mohawk Thursday. We asked her how important her fans’ safety is.

“It’s of the utmost importance,” she said. “It’s the only way we can continue doing this, so I encourage everybody to be as safe as possible.”