As the COVID-19 virus has shut down venues and kept most of us (the responsible ones) inside, local musicians are using their quarantine time wisely, dropping new music and setting up virtual events to benefit those who will be hit hardest in the scene. From a 24-hour stream-a-thon to a full lineup of local artists hosting a virtual showcase, the Charlotte community has chosen to rise to the occasion instead of surrendering.
Though participating in these live streams with some of your favorite local musicians is an enjoyable distraction, the damage the music scene is shouldering is indisputable.
Local musician Johnny Moss, formerly of Dirty South Revolutionaries and currently working as a tour manager for different acts, said it best in a Facebook post. Since March 11, Moss has lost $10,000 in income due to canceled tours. On March 16, he made the following post:
“The impact has been fully felt on the music industry. If you think this is just a bunch of musicians you’re WAY off. This is managers, lawyers, drivers, techs, sound men, merchandise distribution, bouncers, roadies, bartenders, barbacks, venue owners, equipment companies, instrument companies (like guitar center), retailers, cashiers, Big truck companies and rentals, bus companies, manufacturers, landlords, rental companies, truck rental companies, security companies, staffing companies, booking agencies, photographers, videographers, T shirt and merch printers, CD and Vinyl manufacturers, DJs, record labels, alcohol companies, breweries, door people, catering, janitorial, mechanics, lighting, hospitality workers, truck part manufacturers, hotels and motels and even more jobs than I can think of. All effected. This entire industry is basically GROUNDED from the artist on stage to the wedding DJ to the guy who fuels the buses at the garage. This is millions and millions in income for us, we are all losing weeks and weeks of work.”
It’s for the above reasons that Music Everywhere CLT, an organization launched by Charlotte Center City Partners (CCCP) to strengthen the Queen City’s creative landscape, has turned its platform into a promotion tool with virtual tip jars to help local musicians get by in this trying time.
On March 22, the team launched the #MusicAnywhereCLT Virtual Concert Series, which allows local musicians to schedule and perform live-stream shows and get paid for them online.
“This was definitely not on the agenda, as so much of the effort has been on the spaces and people,” said Rick Thurmond, senior vice president with CCCP, currently working with Music Everywhere. “I was seeing some things pop up in other cities … and seeing other musicians and bands do their thing. How can we amplify those efforts?”
Music Everywhere will also continue to use its newsletter to help members of the music community apply for relief funds and find links to other resources. The hope is to support musicians, gig workers, hourly workers and everyone behind the scene.
Thurmond admitted that there was clearly a need on multiple fronts to provide an outlet and help musicians any way they could.
“We were thoughtful about building [Music Anywhere] even after all of this, whatever that looks like,” said Thurmond. “We’re already talking about new layers for parents trying to homeschool kids, music teachers at home, that piece of the community.”
Music Anywhere is meant to be a scheduling and marketing tool for artists, who can set up a time to perform through the calendar and let CCCP promote the virtual gig. It is meant to be a one-stop shop for creatives to see that other people are doing these streams and plan in accordance with them. Music Anywhere will also plug each artist’s Venmo, PayPal or other payment preference to allow fans to support from afar.
“We’ve seen success with streams at 2 a.m. and at 10 a.m., so it doesn’t always have to be in the evening,” said Thurmond. “There are a lot of ways to get music out there.”
The Music Anywhere rollout came just as five local musicians were putting on a virtual concert to help benefit The Evening Muse and the employees there who will be impacted most by the COVID-19 shutdowns. In an act of admiration for the Charlotte institution, local musician Dane Page coordinated the Virtual Songwriter’s Round, a live stream with fellow singer/songwriters Ross Adams, Alexa Jenson, George Banda and Sam Tayloe of Time Sawyer. Each artist streamed half-hour slots from their own respective spaces to raise money for the Muse.
The event came as a touching surprise to Muse owner Joe Kuhlmann, who is still focused on helping others despite the dire situation his venue faces.
“Helping others right now is my go-to and, over time, seeking the best strategy,” Kuhlmann said.
The March 22 event was one way to help The Evening Muse stay afloat, but Kuhlmann is advocating for the community’s mental and emotional health first. After all, he’s the one who launched R U OK, CLT?, a monthly event focusing on mental health in Charlotte’s creative scenes.
“Music is a huge cure of ailments, but it’s best once we’re in the thick of it, walking to the shallow end of the pool,” Kuhlmann said. “Things could get crazier and tougher; that’s when the real work begins.”
Through every possible device, Kuhlmann is advising his community “to get rest, journal, write down thoughts” and steer clear of “swimming in their heads.”
“I have avoided watching some of the live streams because it makes me want to be at the club,” admitted Kuhlmann. “Where I find my solace is doing my work, staying active, and finding things to do, and by reaching out and staying connected. Try to talk to people outside of your community, people you may not necessarily have the deepest connection with, but on a peripheral level. Those need to be tended to as well. Let everybody know what they mean to you. That’s the biggest lesson the virus is teaching us.”
A possible light at the end of the tunnel is the creative output the recommended quarantine will produce. Musicians across the city are channeling their restless energy into their own art, and some are being showcased on the increasingly popular live streams.
Phil Pucci, frontman for Charlotte indie-rock five-piece Pullover, has seen life as we know it shift in multiple ways.
“At a musician level, I’m blown away by how quickly the community is adapting,” said Pucci. “I’m seeing tons of live-stream concerts and a wave of new music being released … There are a lot of people out there, including myself, who are fortunate enough to be working from home, and it’s crucial that we support the arts financially right now.”
Pullover released their latest piece of work, Forever, on February 7th, followed by a quick tour of the U.S. Just as COVID-19 was on the rise, the band was visiting cities that were seeing some of the first hits from the virus.
“We found out about how bad COVID-19 was, and how likely it was to spread globally, while we were together in the van, reading news reports on our phones,” remembered Pucci. “It was like ‘Hey guys, people have tested positive for coronavirus in Texas,’ as we were on our way to Dallas. And right before our show in Atlanta, we found out about positive cases at the Atlanta airport. It was eerie. I was opening doors with my sleeve and this was well before there were any substantial talks of a quarantine.”
The band wrapped up their trek at the end of February, only days before the nation underwent a massive wave of major event cancelations.
“Outside of musicians though, my friends at Petra’s and other Charlotte venues are also out of work, which is heartbreaking,” Pucci said. “There is a healthy ecosystem in Charlotte that revolves around live music — bartenders, sound techs, door people, graphic designers, security, promoters, venue owners, tour managers, record labels, etc. — and right now it’s bleeding.”
Despite the dreary rhetoric in the news and the constant reminder of our unprecedented situation, the band is finding ways to stay connected. Pullover has been working on a “Tiny Desk-esque version” of their record — that is if Pucci can figure out iMovie.
“I haven’t learned how to do anything new since I was 17 so in all likelihood it will never come out,” joked Pucci.
Other musicians are using the moment to their advantage as well.
Temporarily out of her full-time job as a manager at Buffalo Exchange, Charlotte R&B singer Autumn Rainwater has been making the most of her quarantine. On March 20, she held an impromptu Instagram Live show for fans, the same day she dropped a three-track EP titled Cloudy with local producer Simon SMTHNG.
“It was mostly for me, something to keep me sane,” Rainwater said of her flurry of activity. “I’ve been in here recording, I’ve been trying to keep busy, because it’s easy to have cabin fever in moments like this, so I’m just trying to stay as creative as possible.”
Rainwater held the “red-light show” on Instagram Live in lieu of the canceled Thuggishness show, an annual celebration of local rap and R&B scheduled for Snug Harbor on March 21 at which Rainwater was scheduled to perform with Jah-Monte and other Charlotte acts.
She referenced the fact that Elevator Jay also canceled his monthly Player Made show scheduled for March 13 at Snug, but he’s been keeping his online presence up just the same.
“He’s been posting all of his music, reminding everybody, ‘I’ve got all these projects out,’ which I think is good for all artists to do for their sake and for the audience,” she said. “Keeping the consistency up is what is helping these artists keep their momentum, so when all of this is over, I already know Player Made is going to be nuts the first time we get to come out the house. I just hope that the local community is looking at this as a positive thing and not so much a negative thing, just trying to make sugar out of shit, I guess.”
On March 20, Bandcamp waived all artist fees for 24 hours, allowing artists like Autumn Rainwater and Simon SMTHNG, who also released a three-track solo EP titled OBSIDIAN on the same day, to drop new music and sell merch free of charge to stay connected with fans.
“I basically hosted a one-man telethon via Instagram Stories to try to drive sales,” he said. “Each time someone bought something from our Bandcamp page, I shouted them out and played them a quick song that I thought they would like. It was so fun and it was also massively successful. The money we made went directly to my bandmates who just lost their jobs.”
It has been that attitude of generosity that has driven Charlotte to thrive on the overarching theme of helping everyone in and out of their own circles. Still, Thurmond recognizes that even with all these musicians coming together, that doesn’t make it any easier for the people who are out of regular paychecks or show money.
“It’s going to be hard,” he warned. “People are hurting. The sudden stop is what’s hard, and not knowing when it will end. But the diversity of the people involved in the scene is our strength.”
Kuhlmann’s vision for the future is slightly different but similar in its origin. It involves rehumanizing the culture and generating more communication, recognizing that everyone has a story and a struggle.
“Lead with your heart. Feel your emotion. [This virus] reminds us all why we are human,” Kuhlmann believes. “Ten to 15 years down the road, we’ll be able to look back and realize this was a shift. A cultural shift towards looking out for one another. A shift towards being kinder, and more human. That’s what I’m looking forward to … Being on the backside, and using this time to learn.”
This underlying message will prove itself effective once we do reach the other side. Charlotte’s music scene, from the venues to the people who help them operate, will be at the cusp of an energized city once again so long as the foundation of its rebuilding is selfless.
“I feel immensely optimistic about it. However, I do have serious concerns,” said Pucci. “It would be devastating to lose music venues if there isn’t a proper rent/mortgage freeze and they aren’t able to survive more than a month or two of this. But despite that, the music will never stop. Pullover is fresh off of a tour where we played in great music cities like Nashville, Austin and New Orleans, and while those places were great, more than anything else, I was constantly thinking about how incredible Charlotte’s scene is. So even when things are at their most grim, I know there will always be incredible music coming out of our city.”
Most importantly, however, Pucci reminded us that the only action we can take to try to stop COVID-19 in its tracks is to take no action at all.
“Everyone needs to stay the heck home and isolate so this has a chance of blowing over relatively soon,” he said.
And while you’re at it, take a break from the depressing news on TV and check out what your favorite local artist is up to online, you just might find yourself at a great gig from the comfort of your couch.
To learn more about how to get involved or schedule a show through Music Anywhere, visit the Music Everywhere Facebook page.