The forced isolation and social distancing for the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to everyone associated with the live music industry. As digital streaming has become the primary way people consume music, artists have relied on live performances for income, and those events have come to a grinding halt in the last two weeks. Musicians in the Fredericksburg area have turned to live streaming shows to provide a way to reach their fans and also generate some income during this concert drought.
Karen Jonas is a singer–songwriter who makes her living from live gigs. She has been gaining a local and national following over the last seven years with a series of albums with her musical partner Tim Bray. As a working mother, Jonas has been balancing her personal and professional life, playing an average of three gigs a week and recording songs for a new album. She had planned to take her four-piece group to the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, this month before the pandemic canceled that major industry event.
“We were going to bring the full band, so that’s really a bummer,” said Jonas, “not just for missed performances, but you can’t even quite know what you’re missing when you don’t get to do something big like that. That’s where the industry folks go to hang out and see what’s happening. So any opportunities we would have had there are a loss, plus some travel fees.”
Jonas decided to use technology and social media to find another way to reach her fans. Partnering with OddBox Studios in Fredericksburg, she assembled her group last week to do a Facebook live streaming performance.
“It was fun, we had a good time,” said Jonas. “I’m glad we were able to get that in before anything got too crazy around here. We got a really great response.”
Jonas has another streaming show scheduled from The Pearl Street Warehouse in D.C. on Thursday, April 2. That event will have links on both Jonas’ and The Pearl Street Warehouse Facebook pages.
Jon Wiley watched Jonas’ performance last week and decided to jump on the live stream bandwagon with his new group Jon Wiley & His Virginia Choir. The group had just played its début gig two weeks ago at The Colonial Tavern, but was forced to bring everything to a stop.
“We’ve been practicing social distancing, trying to be good humans,” said Wiley. “We have so many shows with this band, and amongst ourselves, being canceled or postponed.”
After talking to Jonas, Wiley decided to also use the OddBox studio for his group’s live streaming show. OddBox owner Mots Jerndal has been a longtime supporter of local musicians, and was helpful in organizing both Jonas’ and Wiley’s shows on short notice. On Friday, Wiley was making the final arrangements.
“I’ve been on the phone all day trying to make sure all the musicians were available and trying to make sure the team was available,” said Wiley, “trying to make sure we could do this all with less than 10 people because we want to do the right thing. We don’t want there to be a crowd. It’s wild times for sure, but I’m glad we are able to throw this together at the last minute for the sake of bringing a little bit of fun into people’s Saturday nights as they’re cooped up, and for our own need to perform as performers even though we’re performing to an empty room.”
The concert was live-streamed on Facebook on Saturday and can still be viewed on the band’s homepage.
At age 76, Gaye Adegbalola is at a different stage of her music career. As an activist and performer, she does speaking and performing engagements three to four times a month for extra income in her retirement.
“I’m probably in a little better shape than most artists because I’m on social security,” said Adegbalola. “That’s part of what’s good about being old. While I’m hurting, I’m not hurting really bad. I talked to a friend this morning and she just didn’t know where the money was going to come from because she was living gig to gig. That’s the price of bringing joy. ”
Her age did present a different challenge before the stricter social distancing rules were in place. Adegbalola is in the most at-risk group for COVID-19 and had already canceled one show for her own safety. She decided to live stream two events March 21, which also happened to be her 76th birthday. Both events were streamed from her living room. The 3 p.m. stream was titled “Half Lit and Talking Schmack” and the 7 p.m. stream was titled “Live Birthday Solo Concert.” Both events can still be viewed on her Facebook page.
In addition to a new performing format and location, Adegbalola changed the songs in her setlist to talk about the current events. A few songs from her previous band Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women are newly relevant. Her streaming concert included “Tomorrow Ain’t Promised” from the 1996 “Cleaning House” album and “Shake The Dew Off The Lily,” an early Saffire song about running out of toilet paper.
“Given how things are now, a lot of the topical things I was doing just don’t even matter anymore,” said Adegbalola. “The most recent song that I wrote is called ‘The Rock’ and it’s about the slave block, but hell—that don’t even matter now. A lot of issues like that, and things I was thinking about on ‘The Griot’ [album], they dim in comparison with what we’re going through now.”
Jonas, Wiley and Adegbalola all streamed their shows publicly, free of charge to anyone who wanted to watch them. They all accepted tips through links that appeared during the stream via PayPal or Venmo. The two shows from OddBox studio had a link watermarked in the corner of the screen. Adegbalola just wrote the link address on a sign in her living room that was visible during her performances. Viewers responded with donations during all three shows.
While the donations do not make up for the money lost from canceled concerts, they provide some compensation for the musicians and also allow fans a way to express their appreciation and help out.
“It’s free, but if people can donate or want to donate, if they were planning on coming to the [Colonial] Tavern, maybe they will ‘buy a ticket,’” said Adegbalola. “So far, some people are responding and that’s a good thing.”
Adegbalola raised over $1,200 with her two events and donated half to the waitstaff at the Colonial Tavern and an area family in need.