The Buzz: Musicians discuss how they’ve weathered the pandemic
Okee dokee folks… Two months ago when the virus cases started to increase and all hell broke loose, I asked a few local musicians how they were navigating the pandemic and included this in my column in early March. I checked back in with all those musicians the other day to see how they were managing. I asked if they had been able to collect unemployment, gotten a stimulus check, made any income from live streams or online sales, and if they had been livestreaming and what was that like. I also wondered if they had been creative and writing new material. Most importantly, I asked what they think the future holds for us as performers. You all pretty know what I think, I mentioned in last the issue. I won’t go there again, it’s too depressing for me. As I did before, I am posting their entire responses to my query so you know exactly how things are. I know this is long but like I said before, “What else have you got to do?” Read on…
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Betsy Listenfelt says, “I have been able to finally collect unemployment, but it was only available toward the end of April. It helps, but I’m not sure how long that’s going to last. Just hoping that things will get back into swing before that runs out. As for now, it is kind of impossible to book gigs for the future because restaurants are trying to open by the new rules and not even sure when they will even be able to have music again. So for now I livestream once a week and sometimes get gifts which helps, otherwise I live day to day waiting and watching for change. betsyl.com
All Star Band of All Stars Band leader, David Tessier told me, “I’ve been without work for two months and I have to admit it’s been a blessing to spend time with my kids. Musically, I’ve done some online collaboration with the guys in the band, written/arranged some stuff for the next album, restored my old Hammond organ into playing condition again and spent a lot of time just practicing. I haven’t been too interested in live streaming because we (the All-Star Stars) have plenty of live videos out there, but I’ve had fun putting out what I call my ‘robe series,’ which is just me doing some solo covers from the ’70s on Facebook. I absolutely miss performing live, but even more so I miss playing with the other musicians in the All-Stars. This has been a good time to re-energize and reassess priorities, that said, I’m ready to get back to live shows.” facebook.com/dtessier1
Massachusetts blues guitarist and instrumentalist Ryan Lee Crosby replied, “I have kept busy teaching both individual and group guitar lessons on Zoom, livestreaming once a week for tips (and donating proceeds to blues musicians in Mississippi) and I am just about to launch a Patreon Page at patreon.com/ryanleecrosby. I’ve also been recording demos of new songs remotely with my bandmates. I don’t feel I can predict the future, but I am keeping part of my focus on the short term and part of it on developing new ways of working for the next year or so. If anyone would like to take lessons in finger style blues or beginning lap-style slide guitar, they can reach me at email@example.com”
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Lainey Dionne tells me, “I’ve had about 30 gigs cancel on me from March through the first week of June. I haven’t been able to collect unemployment and I’m not sure where exactly I went wrong with that, but trying to get in touch with them to ask about it is very daunting. I did receive my stimulus check, which did help a little and was successful in getting grants from a few artists relief programs. I felt weird about a virtual tip jar on livestreams at first, so for my first 10 shows I didn’t do it but this past week I decided to give it a go. Since I’ve spent money on making my livestream high quality with great equipment and got the hang of the live interface, I felt okay with releasing my Venmo information and people have been very kind. I really have been enjoying the livestreams and it’s more interactive than live shows since you can see what each individual is saying and have a chance to respond. I am very lucky to have dedicated friends and fans. I have also been songwriting and promoting my new music and it is nice to have the extra time to really focus on that. It is also scary at the same time to think what the future holds and how we’re going to pay our bills. I have had my moments where I have panic attacks about how to stay afloat and how much longer can staying afloat last. It is a very scary time, but I’m doing my best and so far I’m treading water. I had my first live in-person show on Memorial Day at Revolution and the measures they took made me feel very safe to play. I am immunocompromised, so I was nervous to start playing out again. However, I was in my own tent outside, completely roped off from the public so no one could get close to me, and they took every precaution to keep the patrons safe as well. It was a very successful, fun, safe show and I hope to safely play out more in the near future!” laineydionne.com
Pianist, songwriter, bandleader, Empire Revue host and creative director, Keith Munslow sent me this to me. “I did eventually receive my stimulus money, but it took a long while and the process was quite confusing. I was also able to collect unemployment, which has helped significantly. I have done a bit of streaming, but trying not to over-saturate. I’ve made a bit of money that way, somewhat equivalent to playing a club gig. As for creative writing, I was in the final stages of finishing up a new album of music for kids when the pandemic and subsequent quarantine unfolded. Through the magic of technology, and some studio wizardry, we were able to complete the album. It’s currently in production and being duplicated right now. I’m also doing some collaborative writing of both songs and sketches for the Empire Revue, which has been wonderfully therapeutic. We’ve done two virtual shows thus far. Overall, I’d say I’m doing OK. But the thing that is really challenging is not getting to share a relationship with an audience in the same room. I’m feeling starved of that exchange of energy and feeling of community.” keithmunslow.com
Massachusetts singer-songwriter-guitarist, Molly Pinto Madigan tells me, “I’m not collecting unemployment. I’m still writing, still making music and stories, still connecting with fans via Patreon and social media. Grateful for places like Club Passim that are doing livestream concerts and helping artists with their PEAR Fund.” mollypintomadigan.com
Multi-award winning folk artist Aubrey Atwater says, “Since I talked to you two months ago, I feel much more calm. This mandated sabbatical is a blessing in many ways. When you are self-employed, you rarely give yourself a break and I’ve been hustling non-stop for over 35 years. It took THIS to take a rest. Thankfully I have been able to collect unemployment and we also got stimulus checks, which has made a huge difference in my perception of personal stress and disruption. Having been a full-time musician since 1993 and having never had any kind of state or federal benefits, I am stunned and relieved to be getting this help. I am doing a few online appearances when people invite us. Zoom and other platforms are WONDERFUL and I think we are all very fortunate to have these ways to keep in touch and perform. But of course, I prefer people in person and MISS our audiences. This pandemic is hurting my feelings! But, almost every day, Elwood and I play music together, happily reviewing our repertoire, keeping ours songs alive and musical muscles limber and reviving some music, especially songs we wrote. Every song triggers marvelous thoughts and memories. I have an unflappable faith we will resume concerts and other live events and return to some version of normal, but I think it will take a while and for that reason and others, my moods and sense of optimism fluctuate. I also believe this pandemic will permanently change our lives and society. Just look at the history of any other pandemic or plague. I embrace all good change and silver linings and hope we can hold onto the good lessons around what we value most, who we love, as well as consume less and treat our planet better as we move forward. During this time, I notice music has a great role in people’s connection to others, comfort and love of beauty. And I believe live music will always and eternally be in great demand — nothing can ever replace it. I hear from people every day about how they miss us and live music in general. I realize at Elwood’s and my age and stage and level of safety, that this is not as hard on us as it may be for younger or less financially robust musicians. It is certainly an age of disappointment and stress for us all. But because Elwood and I have done so much in our lives, traveled relentlessly for decades, and are stable in our home, we are embracing this rest and savoring the lessons while we protect ourselves and hope for the best possible outcome for all. We have faith that we all will be able to convene together again at concerts and festivals, and be richer in spirit and more appreciative of live music when we do.” atwater-donnelly.com
RI Music Legend and Hall of Fame member Mark Cutler tells me, “I’m doing workshops and lessons online. I also do an online show once a week. I’m also working on a couple of projects in my home studio. They’ve helped me out a lot creatively and a bit financially. I think the clubs and venues will reopen but the main thing we need is a vaccine. Once we get that, things will return to normal. Until then, I’m working from home. I don’t trust what many politicians say, especially the ones who don’t listen to scientific research. I do trust that we will have a vaccine and hopefully, we’ll find new ways of performing for the public because of this situation. I miss the hell out of playing music with my friends but we’ve already lost family members to COVID. It’s a long and grueling death and I get the feeling the people who are up in arms about wearing masks, probably haven’t dealt with losing someone to it.” mcutler.comwww.facebook.com/markcutler.RI
Open Mic Host at Askew, music teacher and singer-songwriter-guitarist, Beth Barron wrote to me, “For me, my reality totally shifted. A couple of days after this initial interview I was laid off. I teach piano, guitar and vocal lessons to beginners ranging from young children to adults part time. After the lay off, I made the choice to teach full time and I am forever grateful for it. This whole experience forced me to challenge myself as a teacher and musician and the courage to truly provide for myself working for myself.” facebook.com/beth.barron.54
Singer-songwriter-guitarist, music teacher, Providence Folk Festival host Steve Allain responded with, “It certainly has been strange not playing live gigs for over 2 months now. I’ve done a few Facebook live streaming concerts, but it just kind of feels strange and awkward to play to a screen. Even though people are listening in and commenting. People have been generous online with donations for those shows, but it certainly hasn’t replaced all of the lost income from shows that were booked. And without any newer merchandise, sales have been mostly non-existent. I try not to be too pessimistic about it, but I have kind of written off any live shows through the end of the year. That way, hopefully I will be pleasantly surprised if live music comes back and gigs start happening again. With the nice weather and restaurants opening outdoor seating, I think it’s possible that they could start to add live music this summer. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.” steveallain.com
RI Blues legend and RI Hall of Fame Member Duke Robillard writes, “We are taking every precaution. I personally don’t feel like things are going to be safe for quite a while. I see way too many people without masks not distancing themselves and think the worst is not over. I feel for everyone who is distressed by this situation. I am lucky that between royalties, my online guitar lessons and social security I can make ends meet. Of course I live in fear on social security being cut at anytime. I always remain musically active in some form but miss gigging a lot. But my lessons, radio show, recording at home, painting and gardening keep me occupied. I feel it’s a good time to re-evaluate our lifestyle and find what’s truly important. Hopefully we’ll come out of this wiser. BTW, I don’t get involved in streaming. I’m not very digital age savvy. And I don’t mind staying that way.” dukerobillard.com
Award winning band member, music teacher, violinist, Amy Bedard and I talked and she told me, “I have been very fortunate because I still have income from my full-time teaching job. All of my gigs have been canceled except for one at Common Fence Music, where we did a live stream. My wedding business is suffering for this summer/fall, but I am still getting bookings for next year, so I’m sure that it will bounce back. I am hopeful that musicians will be able to perform again soon either outside or through livestream concerts until things get back to normal. but venues will have to be creative and help. This is already beginning to happen. I am hoping some outdoor concerts can be arranged for the summer/fall.” ForeverYoungNeilYoungTribute.com
Award winning singer-songwriter-guitarist, Joanne Lurgio says, “I am getting by and doing okay here, best I can. Time drags by and other times it flies, it is so weird; high days and low days. I am a singer. The latest we are hearing is that the act of singing itself raises the risk of transmission. Well, that’s not encouraging. I am a former safety consultant; it is in my DNA to act safely, to listen to science. While this is frustrating, I understand my need and responsibility to listen carefully and act appropriately for my safety as well as the safety of others and as I mentioned last time we spoke, I have to be safe for mom’s sake as well. It isn’t just about me. Like everyone else, I want to get back to work, but not until it is safe for me and listeners. Financially, I did receive a stimulus check and qualified for unemployment which is very helpful. Ironically, the stimulus check came just in time to my pay real estate tax, life saver. A most wonderful surprise was a $100 Stop & Shop gift card from TUNE IN & TUNE UP, RI Music Hall of Fame. It must have been one of my low days when I read the email from Russell Gusetti letting me know they were sending me the gift card, I cried. Little things. I was very grateful. I have continued my LIVE at FIVE, Safe at Home daily song share week days via FB Live, today’s song share will be #56, 11 weeks of song. People are missing music. People are missing friends. So many started to plan on meeting me LIVE at FIVE. If they miss the live share they replay on FB or on my website video page. The wonderful feedback and connection with music friends is what has kept me singing Safe at Home. It has been fun and feels good. I didn’t set out to make money from these songs share, it was not and still is not my intention; however, at the insistence of friends, I added a tip jar to my website for those who wanted to give and were looking for a means to do so. I felt funny about that, but it is there on homepage and video page. I admit, I was a bit overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of my music friends reaching out saying, “Thank You.” Very special.
The daily song share is about the extent of my creativity during this craziness. I did write one song, and I just keep singing. Taking care of my mom is still my first priority. I have no idea what the future will be for my music. Might be time to re event myself again. Churches are starting to open up with limitations so I will be getting calls to sing funerals & memorial services again. I don’t see me getting back in to sing at the nursing homes anytime soon. I did send the Activity Directors my video link and many have been sharing my Youtube videos with the residents to enjoy in their community rooms. I have been told they add a bit of sunshine for both the residents & staff who are missing the music. Restaurants and concert venues have a lot deal with as they look for safe ways to open up again and to provide safe environment for staff and listeners; much to be considered. As a musician, I want to be certain that I will be going into a safe working environment. It is an unprecedented pandemic; a day to day learning experience. We will have to be patient and see what the future brings and where and how our music will fit in. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know there will be a place. Music Heals.” joannelurgio.com
Little by little music is very growing through the cracks. Hopefully it will soon be in full bloom again. The summer concert season has basically been completely canceled, most likely rescheduled to 2021. You will have to check for show particulars. I know, it’s hard to think that far in advance. I just re-booked a show for May 2021! In the meantime some venues are trying to keep you entertained online. The Narrows Center for the Arts will be hosting live shows online every Friday night at 8pm on the Narrows YouTube channel. You can catch acts such as: Colby James and the Ramblers, GA-20, Brian Dunne; Songwriter’s Circle with Chuck Williams, Louie Leeman and Mike Laureanno, Mark Erelli, The Breakers-Tribute to Tom Petty, and more. Check out the Narrows site for the complete schedule and link to shows (narrowscenter.org). Common Fence Music will also be doing live concert streams. They will feature shows by Ethan Leinwand on June 7 and The Vox Hunters on June 21. Check out the CFM site for more about these shows (commonfencemusic.org).
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com
BTW, I still think you should all #StayTheFuckHome but if you do go out PLEASE be smart, social distance and wear a mask — the virus is far from done with us! Also, more importantly, #DumpTrump2020!!!