Performing in a Pandemic

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I lost months of gigs during the pandemic. Stuck at home I did what many artists did – I created. No nasty virus was going to keep me from making music. I got busy setting up concerts on Facebook and Zoom. And I wrote songs.

Because you can only spend so much time inside in sweatpants talking to your cat, I took frequent walks.  On a gorgeous spring day I saw this spray painted in bright colors on a concrete barrier: “You’re still beautiful from six feet way.” Right then I swear glittery light broke through the clouds as a choir of angels sang. I wrote “Six Feet Away” a few days after that. I recorded it on my phone and posted it on YouTube where it got a thousand hits. It was really satisfying to know that my message connected with others who felt the same. My inner diva was desperate to record it in a Real Studio. But. Pandemic. So, I waited several weeks until early June when I couldn’t stand it any longer and called James Stephens, the engineer and one of the musicians from my last album. I asked if his studio was open and he replied that he hadn’t recorded anything since March but he was willing to give it a try. As I found out later, it’s possible to sanitize a microphone. I recorded this:

While I was there, I asked about recording another song. And another one. And another one. Over several recording sessions I ended up with six songs including one I’d written only two days prior. Since it wasn’t safe to bring in a band, James and I played all the instruments in separate rooms. Fortunately, he’s a great fiddle, mandolin, tenor guitar, and bass player. I played guitar, ukulele, and shaker – instruments I know how to play – plus a couple I didn’t – banjo and drums. I own a banjo. Does that count? And I was once married to a drummer. I sang all the vocals. One of the advantages of writing your own songs is that you can put them in a key somewhere below Mariah Carey and above Barry White, making the lead vocals fun. Backing vocals were another kettle of fish. (Do fish sing? Never mind.) I ended up with something that didn’t make dogs howl. Good enough.

Songs from Home 2I thought I’d slap something up really quick on Bandcamp and only sell downloads. James said the EP would sound better if it was mastered. He was right. It was another step. I designed a cover from Snappa.com with a free photo I found on Upsplash.com.

Suddenly, I had an album, even though I released one just last year. Who am I, Prince? I can play a decent version of “Little Red Corvette.” But I digress.

Songs from Home is available at Bandcamp and Goldenrod.com. Earlier this week I uploaded it to CD Baby which means it’ll be available at 3,994 download sites (including iTunes) because, apparently, I have a Real Release now.

Yesterday I copyrighted it and registered it at BMI. I sent it to a hundred radio programmers. Stuff’s getting real now.

As I mention above, I’m doing concerts too. After a variety of fails with different mikes, a laptop last sold during the Ice Age and a bottom-of-the-line Galaxy phone, I figured out what worked best. Amazing when you realize that my technical talents used to end with posting photos on Facebook. Mostly I do concerts with my phone. I put it across the room to get most of me in the frame, hit the live button and go for it. The little screen is too far away for me to see who’s tuned in but I know they’re there when I see those tiny hearts flying across the screen. When I go back to concerts in person, I still want the tiny hearts.

I’m teaching online. The virus changed that too. I already had students on Skype — it’d be a long drive from the UK where one of my students resides — and I moved my local students to Skype. I continued to teach on YouTube. It’s fun and I can pet my cat between students. Mostly he sleeps in the cat tree next to my desk. He has no desire to learn the guitar, ukulele or mandolin although he does appear in one of my YouTube videos:

As for a live audience seated in front of me? That’s not quite a reality yet. However, when I heard about a DJ setting up in my neighbourhood for a dance party – safe distance apart, please – I thought, I could something like that. So, in mid March, with the temps in the 30’s and snow still on the ground, I set up an amp and mikes in my driveway.  I started with “Brown Eyed Girl.” A few doors opened and puzzled looking neighbours stepped out. The ones across the street brought out lawn chairs and sat in their front yard, warm smiles on their faces, one of them shouting “We love you Jamie!” A few people strolling by stopped to listen. A couple more walked quickly and looked away as if I was the resident crazy lady. Maybe I was but I got to play for people who sang along and afterwards, clapped. Mostly I did covers like “Wagon Wheel,” “The Hokey Pokey” and “YMCA.” Turns out, my neighbours are pretty good at dancing even if the band is just me and a ukulele. I played until my fingers were so stiff with cold, I didn’t know if I was still touching the strings. Those mini-concerts happened every Saturday at noon for 3 ½ months through snow, sleet, wind, and if I was lucky, a sunny spring day. I had regulars like the folks across the street and a lady who came by on her bicycle every week. I had dog walkers, the construction crew three houses down, and the roofers from next door.

As of this writing I have no in-person shows scheduled but I have new songs, a new album and I can do a concert using only a phone. I got to play the drums on my album, this virus won’t last forever, and you’re all beautiful from six feet away.

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
This entry was posted in Folk music, music, Playing the guitar, Playing the ukulele and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Performing in a Pandemic

  1. joellenarnold says:

    Such a wonderful post!!! And I haven’t even listened to the song yet! Congratulations on all you have accomplished in this weird, weird time. 😍

  2. Larry Fenske says:

    Right after your words “that didn’t make dogs howl”, the “random” WordPress ad was “How dogs cry for help”! 🙂

    And, I love this album (too).

  3. Jon Ofjord says:

    That sounds amazing! Wish you lived in my neighborhood. How does one (me, in particular) get over the stage fright part so that I can stand out in the yard and do my version of what you have been doing?

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Maybe before you do your first one, invite friends and family who you know will be supportive? Practice a lot and only plan for 15 minutes or so. When things open up again, try open mikes.

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