Even though novel coronavirus-prompted restrictions on public gatherings have left musicians with no gigs, they haven’t stopped the music.
From local favorites to international stars, musicians are webcasting from their studios, practice spaces and living rooms. The growing list of streaming performers includes Keith Urban, Hozier, Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin, New Orleans’ Aaron Neville and Jon Cleary and dozens of participants in Baton Rouge’s initially-canceled Third Street Songwriters Festival.
Suddenly-out-of-work performers can give cyberspace viewers the option of leaving them a tip through PayPal or Venmo. The livestreamed and archived performances are available from Facebook Live, Instagram and other platforms.
Griffin’s recent cyber performance raised money for MusiCares’ COVID-19 relief fund. MusiCares, the charitable arm of the Recording Academy of Arts and Sciences, provides assistance to musicians and other music industry professionals.
Griffin’s webcast brought in more than $42,000 for MusiCares.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but at the end of it, we were elated and exhausted, in disbelief that we raised that much money in an hour. We’re really thankful for the people who tuned in and were generous.”
Performing solo with his acoustic guitar, Griffin played Better Than Ezra songs and 1980s classics including R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and Modern English’s “I Melt with You.”
Americana singer-songwriter-guitarist Molly Tuttle’s webcast for MusiCares inspired Griffin to do his benefit performance. He’s been a MusiCares supporter since the organization helped New Orleans musicians following Hurricane Katrina.
“Musicians don’t have 401(s) or unemployment insurance,” Griffin said. “MusiCares puts real money in their hands when they need it the most. After Katrina, MusiCares helped New Orleans musicians relocate and buy new equipment, all those things they needed.”
Like his famous and not-so-famous artist peers, Griffin isn’t sure when he’ll play another in-person gig.
“Luckily, I’ve had a long career,” he said. “I’m not month-to-month, but a lot of my music friends depend on weekly gigs.”
On the same night that Griffin performed his webcast from a cottage in Watercolor, Florida, Baton Rouge indie band the Rakers streamed the setlist they’d planned to play at a canceled Basin Music Hall show, and 227 viewers tuned in.
Streaming performances is second nature for the Rakers’ Alex V. Cook. A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he’d previously done many solo webcasts. Cook likes the simplicity and immediacy of webcasting on a zero budget.
“It humanizes creating music,” he said. “But if we were a band that made a bunch of money, we’d probably hire a film crew and run a good soundboard.”
Singer-guitarist Chris LeBlanc is another of Baton Rouge’s suddenly-sidelined musicians. He’s contemplating a webcast, but is in no hurry to jump in that crowded pool.
“It’s not that I won’t,” LeBlanc said. “Because I know that music is good medicine for people. They need music. I’m going to do it, but not right now because, if you look on social media, everybody’s doing it.”
Ben Herrington, a former Baton Rouge musician who recently moved to New Orleans, quickly entered the coronavirus-imposed webcasting world. He’s already webcasted with the band Minos the Saint and as a duo with Minos bandmate and violinist Joel Willson.
Before the ban on public gatherings, Herrington, a multi-instrumentalist and singer, was working seven days a week in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. A typical day for him could include a school play rehearsal in the morning, midday church service, an afternoon performance with a choir and a nighttime bar gig.
“I felt diversified, but now it’s all been canceled,” Herrington said.
For Herrington and Minos the Saint, streaming provided a much-needed opportunity to express their creativity, something more important than whatever money the band earned performing.
“The creativity takes precedence,” Herrington said.
The Third Street Songwriters Festival, ostensibly canceled last weekend, moved instead to the web for multiple days of streaming performances.
“It’s been amazing,” organizer Kay McHenry said of the virtual festival. “Performances have had thousands of views, comments and shares. Folks around the country are finding out about the Third Street Songwriters Festival."