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Bluegrass Music Coronavirus

Is Live Bluegrass Within Sight?

I just found out that a local festival, The Hamtramck Music Festival, has been cancelled due to the continued pandemic. While I have lost interest in bar hopping, seeing dozens of bands playing loud music that I really have grown out of, in sweaty bars and drinking warm beer, I know that there are younger generations that go for it (I was once young, too). This festival was great in that monetary proceeds from the festival went to help music education programs in the Hamtramck school district. Past years raised about $10,000 annually.

While the pandemic is still putting a lot of live shows on hold, many artists, particularly acoustic-based performers, have regularly streamed shows online, whether it is through Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, or some other service. These have either been ports in the storm or band-aids temporarily fixing it, depending how you look at it.

I have seen some great performances over the past year, but have also longed for and missed out on many other shows. It seems that solo or duo set-ups seem to work best. Canadian fiddler April Verch has been doing some wonderful performances with her partner Cody. They set up in the living room and play a few songs, then check in with their audience chat to see if there are any requests. You can then tip her through PayPal if you wish. I know that many others are doing it, but April seems to make it the most like she’s performing at a house concert in your own home. They haven’t done a YouTube streaming show in a while, but I would advise checking in to her website at aprilverch.com for updates.

One thing that many bluegrass bands are learning is that they have to adapt to this situation. Social distancing means that four or five bluegrass musicians cannot be standing close together around one microphone. On the flip side, if they do distance themselves to six feet or so apart,, even with separate mics, the camera has to pull back so far that the performers are unrecognizable on screen. Some bands are downsizing, where only two players are performing together. For husband/wife teams like Darin and Brooke Aldridge, this is relatively easy. I have seen other bands such as Mile Twelve doing split-screen performances to keep the band sound. From the looks of the band’s YouTube page, they are starting to say “To Hell!” to COVID and doing some true band performances. This latest video makes me really happy!

Starting around the new year, I began to receive emails regarding bluegrass festivals for the 2021 season. Of course, all have some note stating that due to the Coronavirus, the schedule is tentative, and there is still a possibility of re-scheduling and cancellation. As of this writing, some states are lifting some restrictions, and immunizations shots are becoming more available. I don’t see hitting a show in the next few weeks, but hopefully, by Memorial Day, I can pull out my lawn chair and cooler, and enjoy an outdoor bluegrass performance. Also, I NEED to get back to jamming with others, even though I am not addicted to it! Performing along with YouTube clips and DVDs is getting to be redundant!

Chew on it and comment.

By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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