The Coronavirus is hitting the US as of this writing (March 21) with a vengeance. Thousands of people are infected, and about 150 have died in the country from it. Compared to other countries, especially in Europe and the Middle East, we are relatively tame. Only a few states and cities are declaring mandatory stay-at-home. Most of the country is doing it on a volunteer basis, with many non-essential businesses closing and restaurants doing only carry-out.
Bars and concert venues are closed until further notice. This puts a lot of musicians out of work. Bluegrass artists are especially hit hard, as most of their income as bands come from touring and festivals. With each day passing, there is an announcement that another festival is being cancelled or postponed until later in the year. During this time of the year, many bluegrass bands hit small venues for weekend two-set shows in the north and midwest areas. Now that those are cancelled, the tour buses and vans stand idle.
However, musical artists, managers, agents and promoters are resilient, and are making lemonade out of lemons. It was heartwarming to see that The Grand Ole Opry, which hasn’t cancelled a show ever in its near-century run, will continue to perform on Saturday nights (sans audience) and broadcast it on the radio and through various channels on the internet. The world-famous Station Inn in Nashville is keeping some of its music schedule going by webcasting on its site and having a virtual “tip jar” for onlookers to pay the band. Hundreds of artists are taking to the internet to webcast solo or small combos on StageIt or other concert websites, as well as on Facebook. I urge you to check with your favorite bluegrass artists on their websites to see if they are performing online. As AT&T used to say, it is the next best thing to being there.
Some of the most touching musical moments that I have seen lately on YouTube are the number of videos showing apartment complexes in Europe, which are under lock-down, with musicians performing on balconies for the other residents to enjoy. Some even show multiple musicians trading licks and accompanying each other from different balconies. Music knows no barriers.
With my regular job office closed until further notice, I am working at home (actually my mom’s house, as there is heavy construction going on in front of my house at this time). Yes, I am going batty occasionally, it is confining and stressful to be in the same place for work and after work. It has, however, made me work more on my guitar and fiddle playing, along with songwriting. What little spare time I have in my life I can use it to improve on my musical skills.
This self-quarantine situation is not going to end soon, but it will end eventually. There is promise a few months down the road. The two big roots-music conferences from the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association are still planning to go in September. Little-by-little, we are learning to cope, and music is one of the medicines for the soul.
Now is a good time. If you never picked up a guitar or banjo, do it now. If you already play an instrument, play it some more. Go on YouTube and learn a new lick. Get one of Pete Wernick’s Jam videos (www.drbanjo.com) and play with the virtual band. Record yourself and see how you have improved over the time. When this is all over, you will be a better person for it.
Support music in any way that you can, be it watching and tipping a band on the internet, buying a guitar for yourself that you never thought you would, or just singing. Music supports us in our down-spirited times in so many ways.
Chew on it and comment.