The Coronavirus pandemic affects musicians in a lot of ways, and certainly more than many other careers. Major festivals, such as Coachella in Southern California, Treefort in Boise, Ultra in Miami and SXSW in Austin have been postponed. These have affected the plans of thousands of musicians, including airfare, hotel rooms and other relatable expenses they may have already spent. Of course, unlike many jobs, there is no such thing as unemployment insurance for musicians. In addition, promoters of events, from large arenas to small intimate clubs are faced with show cancellations, affecting not only the promoter and venue owners but also the sound technicians, security staff, innumerable vendors and other jobs related to the shows. Even though the coronavirus pandemic affects musicians, it affects everyone in the music and entertainment field also.
Blues and indie musicians as a group tend to keep a rigorous schedule of touring. The Los Angeles Beat spoke with many great musical artists throughout the world to see how the Coronavirus pandemic affects musicians and what plans they’ve made during this unplanned hiatus. Will the COVID-19 pandemic supply fodder for increased creative output, or just frustrate them as well as cutting off their needed income?
Deltaphonic hails from New Orleans. They’ve recently released the single and video Liars from their upcoming third album, The Funk The Soul and The Holy Groove that will be released April 10. Deltaphonic blends New Orleans influenced funk, hill country rock and blues and soul into a delicious gritty sound. Andrew T. Weekes, guitarist and vocalist, has a positive outlook on the timing of things, saying “Right now we’re in the middle of an album release campaign promoting our third album, The Funk, the Soul & the Holy Groove. That’s our main priority, but I’m also looking forward to working on a handful of half finished songs that I haven’t had time to focus on. No better way to make peace with something bad than to take that same nastiness and use it in a good way. That’s where stank face comes from.”
Andrew has unique plans for the album release, and said “We’re planning to live stream some sort of performance/talk show in place of our album release show on April 10th- something ridiculous and fun to help people lose the quarantine blues. It depends on the health of everyone in the band, and whether we still think it’s an appropriate move in a few weeks.” As far as if the pandemic will provide inspiration for his songs, he said “Yes. Maybe not the disease itself, but what it shows us about ourselves and the world we’ve created and take for granted. A lot of our songs are multi layered jokes fueled by irony and raw emotion, and there is no shortage of irony and raw emotion in this crisis.”
Singer/songwriter Fred Hostetler was the guitarist for many years for the seminal blues/rock band Blue By Nature. Working with musicians such as Jeff Beck, Johnny Winters, Billy Squiers, the Knack, Aerosmith, Buddy Guy and Mick Taylor, he has not only been a consummate performer but also has become a successful producer too. His new album, Heart Radio, is based on his experiences in an ashram in India and his own self-examination.
Fred is looking at plans for the immediate future. He said, “I’m formulating plans. I was going to play live again after releasing my new CD, but I have stopped since that is not going to happen now. I’m trying to discover and evaluate the settings where I can learn, practice, play, write, and record music.” He looks at this as an opening, saying that “It is an opportunity to focus on introspection, expectation, and contemplation. It is a chance to learn the new tech skills I have put off, to learn a new instrument or new recording skills and software. There is so much to learn, it is exhausting! Being an indie artist is totally exhausting. The work never seems to end… until self promotion turns on you and you become a brand whose creativity has dried up in a formula. This is time to reevaluate priorities. Should I practice or not practice? My basketball coach in high school would insist we shouldn’t touch a basketball for two months. Maybe it is the time to refresh and take a break from the discipline of it.”
Fred has a positive attitude on making it economically through this difficult period, nothing that “How to survive is one of my greatest concerns, especially for indie musicians, bands, and artists. All of us are already suffering in one way or the other. My advice is to start looking for alternatives ASAP. We all have the ‘Survivor Blues’ (Walter Trout’s award winning album) right now and they aren’t going away anytime soon. Living hand to mouth is a way of life for most creative people who try to make their living with their art. Like others, I did it for years and years because my love for music made it worth it. So do what you have to do to keep contributing to your own happiness and to those who need to be uplifted with music.”
Jimmy Carpenter is a Blues Music Award nominee. His latest album, Soul Doctor, has received some great reviews. Starting out as a musician in New Orleans, he eventually relocated to make his residence in Las Vegas. The renowned blues saxophonist, singer, songwriter and arranger is doubly affected by the current social distancing and live concert restrictions as he is also Assistant Booker for the Big Blues Bender, the annual festival in Las Vegas in September that is one of the the premier showcases for blues music. Jimmy had a heartfelt response to how the coronavirus affects musicians and how they have reacted to it. He said, “In this completely unprecedented situation I have once again been blown away by the response of the musical community. Musicians always step up, always help, adapt and innovate, because we have always lived on the edge, with no guarantees and little-to-no safety net. We survive by hard work and creativity, both artistic and otherwise, and this time is no exception. Personally, I am fantastically blessed to have my little family around me, and we are adapting to everyone being home, all the time. I am the chef around here, and so far we are eating very well, (maybe too well) and my fabulous girl Carrie is putting the kids through their paces with studies and projects around the house. I’m very much enjoying the sudden surge of live-streaming shows. As a sax player I don’t have a ton of music I can do alone. I canceled plans to do a live stream from a shuttered local club out of concern for my bandmates and the staff. But I’m hard at work getting a solo set together, and will be announcing plans for my own live stream very soon.”
Jimmy continued, “I am very fortunate to be a part of the Big Blues Bender team, which continues work on the festival, taking place in September. And let me say that now is s great time to support your favorite artists by buying their music and merchandise, directly from them when possible. Uncertainty is the most difficult aspect of this, not knowing when we can begin to get back to doing what we do. I lived in New Orleans during Katrina, and in some ways this is similar, not having enough information to know what to do, especially in the big picture. My heart goes out to all the artists and service people, club owners, agents, managers…the musical community will survive, will do what it can to help the community now and when things get back to normal. Until then we will continue to take this very seriously, and let our sense of humanity overcome our instinct to play the gig, no matter what.”
Mike Zito also wears several hats in the music business. Born in St. Louis and now based in Texas, he has been a top guitarist and singer for many years, including as one of the founding members and former guitarist for the Royal Southern Brotherhood, along with Derek Allman and Cyril Neville. Pearl River, the title track of his 2009 album, won Song of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. Expanding his horizons, he became a record producer for top artists such as Samantha Fish. Mike followed up by not only creating his own recording studio, Marz Studio, but also building a stable of many of the top contemporary blues artists on his Gulf Coast Records label.
Mike is painfully aware of how the Coronavirus pandemic affects musicians. Recently starting a 30 date European tour with his band, they were forced to return home only a few days after with the majority of shows unplayed. As Mike said, “Like many musicians, our tour has been shattered.” Returning to the US, they were put into a 14 day quarantine on March 16. Undaunted, he began his current project, the Quarantine Blues Tour Rescue Recording. Mike is writing the songs and recording the demo parts while he is under home quarantine. He will be sending them to the members of his band who will record their individual instruments while under quarantine in their own homes. They in turn will return them to Mike who will mix the final recording and master the album in his studio.
Mike Zito described his own reason for the Quarantine Blues Tour Rescue Recording, saying “Our goal is to be as creative as possible and complete a timely, entertaining blues album to offer to you in fourteen days, the full quarantine term. This recording will not be available via distribution, on iTunes or Amazon. It will only be available through my website for download or CD purchase. Every dollar you give to this project will go directly to myself and my band members: Matt Johnson, Doug Byrkit and Lewis Stephens. It is solely to offset the loss of our current tour and make creative use of our quarantine. This process will begin Monday March 16 and be completed on March 30 for your listening pleasure. I will post live videos of the process and let you share in the experience. We will offer some very special opportunities for those who can give more and give this music to the world in return.
We know it’s crazy right now and we don’t feel right begging for your assistance when those in more need may require help. So, we wanted to offer you something special for your support. Something that is real and immediate. We are musicians and that’s what we do — we create and perform music, so we will make music for you and anything in return will be much appreciated. God bless and please be safe!”
Albert Castiglia comes from Miami, one of the first cities hit by the COVID-19 virus and subsequent quarantines and regulations. A renowned guitarist who started his career backing legendary blues musician Junior Wells, Albert has received two Blues Music Award nominations for the 2020 Blues Music Awards. He is up for Best Rock Blues Artist and Blues Rock Album of the Year for his album Masterpiece. Albert is releasing his newest album on April 3, Wild and Free. Recorded live at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, Florida, Wild and Free comes at a time when going to hear a live show is no longer an option for most people and allows fans to enjoy a masterful live experience in the safety of their own home.
Albert has really been hurt by the timing of the pandemic and how the coronavirus affects musicians, explaining that “I will make the best of it but it there’s not a lot of benefit to this. I lost out on a three week tour that was going to have my bills covered for the month. My band is being impacted negatively from this as well.” He will at least gather inspiration for new songs from this, adding that it will inspire his songs “Absolutely. How can it not? It’s going to consume our lives for a long time. If you can’t create after going through something like this, you need to find another line of work. LOL.” He does plan to use electronic and social media, adding that “It’s a new way of gigging. Electronic media and virtual tip jars. It’s the way to do it now. We have no choice but to do it that way.” He also noted that “I cannot in good conscience put in a mandatory cover charge. Everybody’s hurting. However, I will encourage people to donate if they like what they heard and they are able to. It’s new age busking.”
Very few bands have influenced blues rock as well as survived personal and group disasters for over a half century as much as the Allman Brothers Band has. David ‘Rook’ Goldflies, one of the former bass players for the Allman Brothers Band and current member of A Brothers Revival, carries on the rich tradition of one of the kingpins of Southern Blues Rock. He also has been involved in bringing some of the music of both the Allman Brothers and his own compositions to symphonic orchestra. Asked about his current plans during the pandemic, David said “I think ‘plans’ is a strong word. No one expected what is happening, so I’m just making it up as I go along. I have been spending time in the studio, practicing, writing, and getting back to projects that I didn’t have time to work on when I had a busy gigging schedule.” He does see an upside to how the coronvirus affects musicians in the current situation, adding that “There are benefits – time to rest and rejuvenate, learn new techniques and basically get a chance to regroup and regain a new perspective on what it means to be a musician in the world today. The press of the next gig can really dominate day to day life. For now, that is all gone. So yes, it could be seen as a benefit in spite of the reason.”
David is another one to see the advantages of electronic media for today’s musicians. When asked if he plans to use them, he said, “Good question. Possibly. My recent projects have been an Allman Brothers Tribute band (A Brothers Revival) and a premiere of my piece for symphony orchestra, Web Dance, which is about the history and growth of the internet. Since I am taking social distancing seriously, I don’t see this as a time for a group to come together and perform. Still, online performance is certainly possible and if it makes some folks deal a little better with the isolation that is occurring, that would be a good thing.”. As far as renumeration, he said “If I were to stream a performance, I would offer it for free. I don’t believe these times should be about business and profit. It should be about sharing, giving, and strengthening the bonds of the human community to better deal with the pandemic.”
Head Honchos guitarist Rocco Calipari Sr. also sees electronic media as a way to work through the current time. Asked about how the Coronavirus pandemic affects musicians, he answered that “Like many other artists we plan on doing some live streamed concerts. We will be playing live on our Facebook and YouTube pages Sat March 28th, from a cool bar in Porter, IN named Leroy’s. We’re bringing in full pa and lights.” He echoes the sentiments of many other musicians, adding that “The show will be free but tips are appreciated.”
Rocco does have income currently besides his performance fees. “Rocco Jr and I have been teaching in the same city Valparaiso, IN for the past 25 years. We are still doing private and online lessons.” He keeps his positivity going, saying that “It will give us all more time for listening to music and writing songs.” He added that the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic and inspiration on his writing is down the road, saying “It hasn’t yet but if I do it will be on a positive note. Negative energy does not work. We can all get through this together.”
Brad Heller, from Wilmington NC, summed things up succinctly. Brad Heller and the Fustics play music that hits on folk rock, indie rock and blues, plus an eclectic blend of other influences, from The Clash to Cash. When asked how the Coronavirus pandemic affects musicians, Brad said, “I am going to try and take advantage of the off time, and get some video and studio editing done, and also flesh out some new songs I have been working on. Any time I am afforded some additional free time I attempt to seize on the opportunity, and increase my creative output. I have actually lost two jobs. When I am not on the road playing live shows I manage a restaurant in my town. With the new restrictions in place I now have more free time than I have in years. I assume the pandemic will have some sort of conscious, or subconscious impact on my current writing. I hope I can create something positive from such a destructive moment in time.”
Also from North Carolina, Paul Edelman and The Jangling Sparrows have embraced Americana as as their primary musical influence. Paul was a veteran of several top Philadelphia groups before making the move to Asheville in 2008. Believing in the power of the singer/songwriter to get the message across as well as composing well crafted songs, Paul’s most recent album, Bootstraps and Other American Fables demonstrates that music still has the ability to create social commentary and not just studio fakery. Looking at whether the coronavirus pandemic will inspire his writing, he replied, “Doubtful, well maybe a little. A lot of my writing is very socially driven. I can see this providing some fodder for my musings on society at large. It wouldn’t be about the virus or pandemic per se but more about social behavior. For example, social media. I think facebook is doing more to tear away at the fabric of our society than any other modern phenomena. The way we talk to each other is insane. the political climate has ramped that up for sure and this pandemic has made it worse. People are arrogant, dismissive and disrespectful as a baseline.”
Many musicians don’t have the benefit of decades in the music business to give them experience in how to handle down times. Thomas Wilson, a Boise based guitarist, songwriter and bassist, is 18 years old. He plays with popular Boise blues group Blind Harpdog Wilson’s All Star Band, high energy blues and rock group SUDA (where he is not the youngest member of the group), and has just started playing shows, writing for and recording with his own group, The Scenic Route. Facing not only the potential cancellation of his group’s summer tour and recording time, Thomas has had to face the reality that there are many bumps in life. When asked how Coronavirus pandemic affects musicians and himself personally, he said, “I was working until 12:30 last night. Basically since all the gigs are drying up due to the coronavirus pandemic I was lucky enough to get a job doing pizza delivery just before the call for quarantine. It’s already hard for local musicians to keep a steady flow of income as is. I don’t think it should be a complete time of panic because right now is the perfect time to hone in on our craft and record, create, and just be there for each other since everyone regardless of being a musician is having difficulties. Regardless of income nothing is stopping us from playing to others in whether it’s posting a video or going live. The most important thing is staying positive and knowing that we have a community we can fall back on.”
With this being a global concern, the coronavirus pandemic affects musicians in virtually every country. Growing up in Chicago, Will Jacobs was backing up top Chicago blues artists starting when he was 12 years old. His first band, Dirty Deal, won the youth division of the Windy City Blues Challenge. After studying at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston and a touring with top Zydeco performer CJ Chenier, Will moved to Germany in 2016 and began a successful career playing clubs and festivals, doing composing and collaborating on sessions and gigs with top musicians. He often works with his own group, the Will Jacobs Band. Will also feels that “Like so many other artists, I’ve lost a lot of shows but I’ll use the extra time to hone my craft, practice my instrument and spend time writing music – both on guitar and piano. Having the extra time to devote to these basics is actually a great gift.” Also like others, he’s utilizing electronic media more now, adding that “Since I just returned to Berlin early from a tour in Ukraine, I’m planning a Facebook live stream solo show, offering online lessons and brainstorming other creative ideas.” He also realizes that he may need some other source of work too, saying “Unfortunately I think it may come to that. Being a self-employed musician, I know I’m not alone being suddenly out of a lot of work and income. While there are some online performing opportunities, it’s unlikely that donations alone will cover the next couple of months. As a musician, it’s not the first time I have weathered tough times, so I’ll be creative as I can to get through this time.”
Diana Rein, blues guitarist and singer, is also positive about using the time that she can’t tour. Winning much acclaim and positive reviews for her recent album Queen of My Castle, produced by longtime drummer for Walter Trout’s band, Michael Leasure, she says that “Most of my music life has been off the road. It wasn’t until my latest tour that I can now call myself a National Touring Artist. But before that happened, most of my time wasn’t on the road and I accomplished so much. I gained fans online, I made three albums, I got signed to Gulf Coast Records. Recently getting to go on the road was so much fun and I can’t wait to do it again under better circumstances. We were really kicking butt out there and meeting so many wonderful people. But I am very excited now to have the time to write new material and explore the new music that I want to make.”
Diana, who is scheduled as one of the headliners of the 2020 New Blues Festival in Long Beach, CA, along with Keb Mo’ and Robert Cray, plans to use social media during this off-time. She said, “I plan on doing some FB live shows for my fans. Maybe Instagram as well. This is the perfect opportunity to give people entertainment and joy through their phones since people are confined to their homes now. We can still engage with one another even if we can’t be near each other right now.” She added that “It will be free to view on FB. Maybe I will have a link for a virtual tip jar like I have done in the past. If anything I would encourage people to buy albums or merch from artist’s that they like at this time because most of us had to cut our tours very short. But I know that money is lacking for everyone right now as well with the uncertainty of how this will all play out. So what I would encourage most is for people to share my live streams with their friends and that way I can at least grow my fan base if nothing else.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding now in a way that no one currently living has ever really experienced. Looking at how the Coronavirus pandemic affects musicians we can see how it also affects society as a whole. This is a whole new reality for all of us and a major change for everyone’s lifestyle. How we grow and survive this is now anyone’s guess. Be safe everyone!
Photos courtesy of Doug Deutsch PR. Photo of Treefort 2019 and Thomas Wilson by Ed Simon. Photo of Diana Rein by Steve Polacek. Photo of Paul Edelman by Scott Craig. Photo of Deltaphonic by Patrick Niddre. Photo of Albert Castiglia by Norma Hinojosa. Photo of Jimmy Carpenter by Paul Citone. Brad Heller photo by Flux Audio and Video.