Brad Bishop and Kathy Davis are two of the hardest-working musicians in Virginia. Their bluegrass duo, Davis Bradley, was doing up to 60 performances a month, often playing senior centers during the day, then a coffeehouse or restaurant at night. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and those gigs suddenly came to a halt.
To keep playing for their fans, Davis Bradley joined a trend that many other musical acts have turned to lately—streaming a live show on Facebook. That concert aired on Saturday, March 21, from a church in Swoope. They teamed up with another bluegrass–folk duo, Me & Martha.
“Our music kind of fits together taste-wise,” said Bishop, who lives in Bowling Green. “They’re good pickers, they’re nice people. In light of all the changes, we said let’s do a livestream thing. We’re excited about that. We haven’t done a lot of that in our career. It’s kind of new ground for us.”
The bands collected money via virtual ticket sales using a website called Eventbrite. The show was free to watch, but the audience was encouraged to “buy” a ticket. The show can still be viewed on the Davis Bradley Facebook page. The duo’s next online concert is Tuesday, April 14, at 7 p.m.
Davis Bradley had a number of gigs scheduled at nursing homes and retirement communities and those were the first to get canceled for fear of the coronavirus. But those audiences look forward to the concerts, and Davis received a call from a nursing home in Lynchburg last week that found a way to let their scheduled performance go on.
“They just got the green light that if the weather is nice, they can hold an outdoor music event for their residents,” said Davis, who calls Front Royal home. “She called me and asked, ‘Would you come to Lynchburg? We are going crazy.’ The residents haven’t even been able to come out of their rooms. They’re completely quarantined, all their meals are being put at their doors.”
Davis worries not only about the lost income for the band, but also the lost connection with their audience and the joy their music brings. The fear and depression brought on by the virus increases the need for the relief and escape that people find through a live performance.
“We know music is the thing that pulls you through anything in life,” said Davis. “We see it. If you’re down, music will bring you up. If you’re not feeling good, music will make you feel better. To see that also being taken away, you can see people’s moods have changed. People are stressed.”
Even before the recent pandemic, Davis Bradley had been reaching a large audience via the internet on a weekly show broadcast and webcast by WSVS in Crewe. “The Davis Bradley Old Time Radio Show” is heard every Saturday at noon and sounds like something you might have heard on the radio half a century ago.
“When we started doing this radio show, we wanted it to look and smell and feel like a live radio show from the ’40s, so we started producing it that way,” said Bishop. “Then when we started doing more of that, we got sucked into the history of it. We started getting hired to talk about the history of music.”
Their radio show is recorded in advance and intersperses live numbers by Davis Bradley with classic country songs and even vintage advertisements, with canned crowd sounds added for atmosphere. With people isolated at home, the old radio show concept seems like cutting-edge entertainment. The group also offers a subscription service for their fans to be able to listen to archived shows and have also packaged them in CD recordings for sale.
“You’ve got to be thinking out of the box and trying new things,” said Bishop. “I think if you’re going to be a survivor, you have to be able to reinvent yourself a little bit along the way and roll with the punches. Now these are big punches, but I still think we’ll roll with them.”