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CoronaVirtual concert a dream deferred; where's your show?

Mar 25, 2020
Originally published on March 27, 2020 9:48 am

For this moment, a dramatic response was called for. It was time to come up big. Matt Ramerman had what he calls a local "power roster" of musicians lined up and ready to go this weekend. He had sponsors. He had a venue, the biggest club in town, Anthology. The technology needed to stream the show live on the internet was ready. The message: We're down, but not out …

But now, for the moment, the more immediate moment, the coronavirus pandemic is winning. This past weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the state to shut down, banning people from congregating in groups. And with that, the organizers of this weekend's event -- kind of a CoronaVirtual concert -- scrapped their plans. Musicians, even ones playing to an empty room, are still a congregation.

Nevertheless, they persist. The muse can be a real pest. The internet is downloaded with new shows every day, musicians performing live, in their living rooms. Watch parties. The soul singer and songwriter Danielle Ponder did one last week on Facebook Live, accompanied by Avis Reese on keyboards. "You know what?" Reese exclaimed before they started, "I should have made some tea!" 

They played for an hour and a half as the real-time comments rolled in: "Best version of Creep ever," someone wrote of the Radiohead song. Ponder and Reese shoved aside the microphone stand to open the dance floor for a karaoke "Proud Mary." 

Ponder's April show dates have been canceled, but more than 25,000 people tuned in for this performance. And it came with a PayPal link. Other musicians are going that route as well. We've gotta keep these folks fed.

Murphy. John Dady. Jed Curran. Rob Smith and Gladstone of JunkYardFieldTrip. They've all gone internet. In fact, there's Gladstone and his old Uncle Plum bandmate, Elvio Fernandes, dueting on a cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." Fernandes is playing keyboards; over his shoulder is a video screen with Gladstone on guitar and vocals. Fernandes, who tours as Daughtry's keyboardist and guitarist, calls it "Uninvited Duets." This was immediately followed by his songwriting challenge, "QuaranTUNE," urging kids 18 and younger to write a song with the word "quarantine" in it, and post it on Instagram.

Nationally, songwriters are infesting the internet as well. Austin City Limits, the popular live-music show on PBS, is streaming for free its last two seasons and portions of the new season. There's an event called "Shut In & Sing," subtitled, "A Festival to Stay Connected." A series, actually, of internet performances with dozens of people like Grant-Lee Phillips, and Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of The Indigo Girls.

See? This is what happens when musicians get stuck at home. They start creating stuff.

The Golden Link Folk Singing has moved its Tuesday-night sing-arounds to the internet platform Zoom. Rochester's electro-pop band Joywave was to have opened its summer tour next month. But now it has shoved the entire tour back a few months, and it will start in July, with its date at Anthology moved to Aug. 22. In the meantime, the band's social media presence is simply amazing: A series of posts explaining the songs on its new album, Possession. And some really weird animations.

It's not just music. Natalie Rogers-Cropper, principal dancer with Garth Fagan Dance, has just started free, live, online dance lessons every day. Beginning technique at 4:30 p.m., intermediate technique at 6 p.m. You'll find her on Facebook Live and Instagram Live.

This CoronaVirtual thing is a work in progress. Two years ago, Ramerman bought the former ACME Recording Co. on Humboldt Street and gutted the place. Then began rebuilding it slowly. Piece by piece. Until last week, as the coronavirus developments became more urgent. "This is just accelerating my plans," he said with a laugh.

The new plan was to invite local musicians to perform at Ramerman's studio, called The Green Room, in a series called Greenstream. Keep it to solo or duo performances, he said, "to kind of mitigate the contact." And stream the shows on multiple internet platforms. Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo and Instagram. High-end videos, with multiple camera angles.

"It's been a challenge, too, as stores close, to get a hold of gear," Ramerman said. "Shipping is taking longer and longer. I've had a lot of stuff that I've paid for overnight shipping last week that some boxes have just disappeared completely. UPS doesn't even know where they are. There's no, like, guaranteed shipping times."

Yet even that cautious effort had fallen apart by Monday. "Typical logistical challenges, and new logistical challenges," Ramerman said. And the musicians, he added, are worried about the public perception of going out, to a studio, in a state where only people providing essential services are allowed out of their homes.

Music. Not an essential service.

That was Monday. By Tuesday – and this stuff seems to change every hour – local musicians will be playing a real-time festival the weekend of April 3, 4 and 5. Thirty-minute sets for everyone, on Facebook Live, playing from the safety of their own homes. Alan Murphy and Teagan Ward were among the first to confirm. "Oh," a multitasking Ramerman said as he was talking by phone about it Tuesday afternoon, while watching his texts. "Mike Gladstone just got on."

And once the all-clear klaxon blows, and musicians emerge from their quarantines and gather in relative safety, it may be that the coronavirus pandemic has created a CoronaVirtual reality.

"I don't think this streaming thing is going away," Ramerman was saying earlier this week. And this probably hasn't changed. "I don't think it's something that's just a quick fad while it's happening. Even after this crisis, we're going to have that really be a factor in entertainment."

Where's your show?

We don't know what Rochester will look like when it emerges from the coronavirus desert. Nationwide, there are estimates that as many as 75 percent of existing restaurants may not survive. The club scene will likely take a big hit as well.

Here at WXXI, and our media partner CITY Newspaper, we've been throwing around thoughts on how to step up and help Rochester find where its local musicians are performing on the internet. It's time to move on from the cancellations, and look ahead.

The most immediately implementable idea is to create an events calendar, to appear every day on the WXXI News and CITY websites. So email us at calendar@rochester-citynews.com. We'll take the dates, times, what internet platform you'll be using and use our public reach and social-media engine to spread the word.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI's Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org.