It’s been almost a month since the city of Philadelphia ordered all “non-essential” businesses closed until further notice. Grocery stores, daycares, and pharmacies remain open, but restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are shut down, deeply impacting the city’s nightlife and creative economy. Long-running staples like The Gathering, Philly’s longest-running monthly hip-hop event, have been postponed. Philly’s nightlife is at a standstill.
Music in jeopardy
The shutdown is sweeping at the livelihoods of servers, bartenders, venue owners, and sound techs alike. Musicians from all walks of life and genres have lost gigs, canceled tours, and pushed back residencies. Despite this, there’s hope.
The music community is strumming creative ways to share their gifts with the world. DJs like Cosmo Baker, Rebel Foster, and Matthew Law host high-energy Internet dance parties from the safety of their own homes. Trumpeter Koof Ibi Umoren and guitarist Corey Duncan (of Strange Parts) hold live concerts on Instagram to stay engaged with their audiences.
From Instagram to telegram
Facing loss of their live gigs and income from music instruction, West Philly singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dot Rose Levine has launched Dottie’s Serenade Service, a singing telegram business that allows people to hire Dot to visit their loved ones' homes and sing them a song of their choice, from a quarantine-safe distance, of course. Not surprisingly, the reception to this novel business has been overwhelmingly positive. Speaking with BSR, Dot explained the ways in which their service has helped them cope with the loss of their more traditional performing income.
“I was listening to a podcast that I really love, and three people that I respect a lot were talking about how shitty of a thing it is to send somebody a singing telegram,” Dot said. “I’m that person who thinks that music should be a community thing, it should be an accessible thing. Play it poorly or play it recklessly. I wasn’t really here for them dogging singing telegrams, but it did give me the idea to do them!”
Rapper/father Randy Green (aka R-SON The Voice Of Reason) is a member of Gangstagrass, a wildly popular bluegrass/hip-hop ensemble. He spoke about how the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted his work in music and highlighted the pandemic’s local and global implications.
“We were booked to go with the State Department's American Music Abroad program to go to three cities in Morocco and two on Baffin Island in the Arctic Circle. It was about 18 days between the two countries. Then we had two pretty big bluegrass festivals right after in North Carolina and Baltimore plus two other club gigs.”
In an attempt to stay engaged with their fanbase, Green and the Gangstagrass crew have been active online, reminding fans that they can still support the band by purchasing music and merch online. When asked about how the band is managing to remain afloat during these trying times, Green is optimistic, explaining how the band’s Internet presence helps them to remain connected with fans and supporters. “We're dealing. Lots of Bandcamp and Gangstagrass website reminder posts. We've got our Twitch channel up and running and are creating a new song for our Patreon subscribers. I'm doing most of the work getting that out on our social media. As much as I can with just a phone. Most of the shows are definitely going to get rescheduled; it's a matter of the whens and the hows.”
Building and rebuilding
Singer/songwriter/producer Jacqueline Constance has established herself as a top-tier performer and musician in the city of Philadelphia and beyond. With her penchant for singing emotionally revelatory songs and self-looping her own dense layers of vocal harmonies into instrumentals, Constance’s live performances are truly a unique experience. She's a passionate performer, but the inability to appear live has taken a toll on her both financially and emotionally.
“I’ve lost about five gigs now and I’m expecting the rest of them to cancel by the end of the month. Mostly performance gigs, but I’ve also lost some music curating and composing gigs as well. It’s been hitting me heavy. I’m an introvert but performing is one of the few times where social interaction empowers and drives me.”
Creatives are succeeding in finding alternative ways to express themselves, make money, and stay connected with fans. It’s a testament to their own talent, quick thinking, and resilience. None of us are certain when the doors of our favorite clubs will reopen, but until then, all we can do is wait, watch our favorite musicians on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch, and hope that our city’s live music industry can rebound and rebuild soon.