Area musical performers play on through quarantine via live stream platforms
When Maryland bars and restaurants received a state mandate to close during mid-March, it looked to many area musical entertainers as if the curtain was closing on their passion and livelihood. The shutdowns were occurring in other states as well, leading to cancelled gigs near and far.
Waynesboro, Pa.-based jazz vocalist Kerensa Gray typically plays shows up and down the East Coast. Some of her go-to venues nearby include The Gourmet Goat in Hagerstown, Red Heifer Winery in Smithsburg, and Springfield Manor Winery, Distillery and Brewery in Thurmont, Md.
“As a musician, that is 90 percent of where we are — restaurants, bars and wineries,” she said. “You know, a sit-down place for me where I hang out with my folk, that we get together and dump all the cares of the week.”
In light of a loss of physical venues at which to play, Gray and other entertainers have gone to online formats, using livestream formats to fill the void.
“The big miss” for many musicians is not just the income of lost gigs, but the time together to relax and let burdens slip away, Gray said.
“It's the fact that we all look forward to that one day of the week when some people drop everything at the door, have dinner, grab a drink, forget about all the nonsense,” she said. “That is the biggest casualty, in that particular way, that down time. That was taken away from people.”
While the emotional fulfillment of playing for an audience is pivotal to performers, the financial loss also is a pressing reality. Gray's income was not completely eliminated by the closures, as she continues to teach students privately online a couple of days a week, but performance was the majority of it.
“For me, at least it wasn't 100 percent of my income, though performance is a way bigger chunk than teaching. I am a performer first,” she said.
As a Christian, she said, she “took a big breath and gave it to Jesus to take care of it. He's been doing that beautifully.”
But she's also been doing what she can to keep the music playing and income flowing.
On Fridays at 7 p.m., Gray, who won the Baltimore-based 20th annual Billie Holiday Vocal Competition, takes to Facebook Live, where she sings, takes comments from and chats with her fans. Viewers are welcome to add to the tip jar through PayPal.
“For me, that is the friendliest and the easiest to get out to everybody. My personal demographic just hangs there (on Facebook),” she said.
While livestreaming meets the need for the time being, as a performing artist, Gray said she misses the real, in-person deal. She has never been homebound this long without gigs.
“More than the music, I miss the camaraderie, the conversation, that magic that happens in a space where everybody is in one place for a couple of minutes. It's brilliant. That's why the livestream,” she said. “Even if we can't do it in one place, we can do it in our own physical space and mentally, we can all come together and find that space to relax a little bit.”
She is ready, as soon as is feasible, to get back to “normal.”
“We'll see. It will take as long as it takes,” Gray said.
'Keep my sanity'
Tim Luipersbeck of Hagerstown, known as DJ Sidekick, is resident deejay at The Lodge in Boonsboro and deejays weddings and events in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area. After 18 years connecting with people through spinning tunes, Luipersbeck was not about to take the COVID-19 shutdown sitting down.
“I started Googling how to stream, how to keep the sound quality, how copyright worked, just figuring out the best way to go about it,” he said.
Following his research, he decided to stream Fridays and Saturdays on Facebook Live for an hour followed by an hour or two on Instagram Live.
“Some of it was about how to make some money, how to get people to tip me, but it was more for me to keep my sanity,” he said. “More about setting up decks and turntables and broadcasting still.”
One recent Sunday, Luipersbeck tossed a Sunday coffee set into the mix, spinning inspirational songs for an hour.
“That will definitely be a repeat thing. It was fun,” he said.
Luipersbeck has done different themes including '80s Night, One Hit Wonders and Disco Night.
A mix of friends, regulars from his usual gig, and people with whom they share the post online show up at his livestream events. Some of them make requests.
“Last week, folks from as far away as Germany randomly chimed in,” he said. “I think they had local roots. There are some people who have kids and don't go out as much anymore. They are loving it.”
Luipersbeck is making some money through the endeavor.
“Folks chime in on PayPal,” he said. “They send me a couple bucks here and there and that tends to add up.”
But like Gray, Luipersbeck said livestreaming is about more than making money.
“I see what folks are doing, what they are up to, if they are dancing in their living room, if they are out by the fire pit. There is a good amount of interaction there,” he said. “It's fun.”
It's also about the music.
“I've always felt that music is just the one place that you can really lose yourself in, forget about your worries whatever they are,” he said.
Livestreaming might even become part of the new norm, Luipersbeck said.
“I don't know what things will look like after the quarantine. This is a nice way to find new listeners, to find people to connect with through music,” he said. “It's most likely something I will keep up in the future.”
Indie folk singer Megan Leigh of Keedysville, who performs around the D.C. area and across the U.S. with Eli Lev, said the duo livestreams as often as they can. Following the announcement of coronavirus-related closures, they did a virtual tour for 10 days straight on various platforms.
“One day, we would do Facebook on our personal pages. One day Instagram, one day our Facebook music pages. Sometimes Twitter, YouTube. Eli has a Patreon,” Leigh said. “We want to make sure we are reaching everybody.”
Leigh and Lev see livestreaming as “kind of a fun experiment,” she said, as in the past, they had only occasionally tried it and not with full sets of music.
“There's been a learning curve as far as not being face-to-face with people and having that crowd to feed off of,” she said.
Logistically, they need to deal with bandwidth issues, and to ensure they are situated close enough to their devices to engage with viewers through comments.
With increased demand for services, platforms for livestreaming are improving day to day.
“They are adapting to the climate,” Leigh said.
She is happy to have virtual performances as an option to generate income.
“We have the virtual tip jars. If people can give, that's great, but obviously we want people to enjoy the music regardless,” she said. “We just want to lift their spirits.”
livestream performances provide a symbiotic interaction during quarantine.
“We were telling people on livestream today, we definitely need this as much as you do. We want to be performing. We want to keep singing. It's nice to be able to share that with people,” Leigh said. “People tell us how much they need to hear from us because it lifts their spirits. It's a good combination of both.”
Top photo: Jazz artist Kerensa Gray says her personal demographic tends to hang on Facebook, so she is meeting them there for performances during quarantine until she can play live at venues again. (Submitted photo)