The Music Never Stopped…Despite the Best Efforts of a Global Pandemic
By: Kyle DiRaddo
I didn’t really take this whole Coronavirus thing seriously in the weeks leading up to the entire nation coming to a pandemic induced standstill. I, like a lot of my countrymen, looked at the pictures and videos of those poor people on the quarantined cruise ships and thought to myself “Well that sucks.” Even as the first reported cases made landfall, I continued to look at it as no big deal and that life, like the show, must go on. And then the shows started to get cancelled.
All across the country, bands who make their living on the road decided not to risk it and pulled the plug on all shows for the foreseeable future. I found this to be particularly distressing considering that for the first time since my son was born just over a year ago, the stars had aligned and Mars was in Jupiter’s house or whatever and I was going to a three-night run here in Philadelphia hosted by a little local act who had made good known as The Disco Biscuits.
They were going on and the consequences be damned. Friends who had flown in from Denver and who are friendly with Team Bisco kept assuring me that the party was going down. As it got closer to show time, my confidence and excitement grew to a fever pitch because this was going to be the last party for a while. And let’s face it: this is the damn dirty Biscuits we’re talking about. It’s entirely possible that patient zero of the Wook Flu crisis manifested at a Biscuits show some time in the early 2000’s, so there was no way an as yet not-so-bad sniffle was going to shut this boogie train down.
And then they cancelled too. Shit had just got real.
It goes without saying that nothing like this has ever happened in any of our lifetimes. Schools only had to close for inclement weather or when asbestos was found in the old ass drop ceilings. Nothing shy of the Second Coming was going to shut down multi-billion-dollar corporations. Even bartending, the profession safe from recession and all other manner of social collapses, was no longer a viable option. People are scrambling for a sense of normalcy in the most abnormal of times while being cooped up in their homes trying to be teachers and activity coordinators for their children and trying to figure out how to not brutally murder their spouses, live-in boy or girlfriends, or roommates.
Normalcy means something different to everyone. For a lot of people, myself included, it means springtime baseball. It means going out with friends and kicking back a few adult beverages. It means going out…period. For those of us who call ourselves fans of the jams, it means going to shows. It means getting in your car for a few days or weeks or months with your pals and hitting the road to go see whatever band or bands are floating your boat. It means standing next to complete strangers (oftentimes so close that if social distancing were a person it would likely fall into a deep psychiatric episode) and shaking our collective booties to the rhythm of the boogity beats. And then all of a sudden, Coronavirus shows up and takes that all away.
That is until the music community stood up and said, “Hold my beer.”
Seemingly overnight we went from having no live music at all to a plethora of options to help this stay at home time suck a little less. Musicians from every genre imaginable have been putting their time to good use and putting out content to help keep folks entertained during this time of isolation and uncertainty. No, it isn’t sweating buckets in a field in the middle of God-Knows-Where Indiana, but with online meeting spots like Zoom, Skype and FaceTime making it easy to stream shows “with” your crew, you can still achieve some semblance of normalcy with your people and your crew mom can still remind Trevor to have some water in between beers.
The jam community has shown up in a big way. Practically every day of the week can be capped with a banger of a live stream from a number of great bands. Phish, Umphrey’s McGee, The Disco Biscuits,and The Grateful Dead among many others are all putting up free live shows from their archives for us to consume. Andy Frasco enlisted the help of an all-star cast of jam band elites to put together a lip sync gem of the classic Pointer Sisters tune “I’m So Excited” to the tune of several thousand views on YouTube. My brother and I, guilty of needing to get the wubs out from time to time, spent three hours on FaceTime a few weeks ago while we streamed the Digital Mirage Online Music Festival which featured a slew of DJ’s dropping hot fire live from their homes.
My friends and I have been virtually getting together for Phish on Tuesday’s with “Dinner and a Movie”. We’ve had as many as 15 people on the chat from Philly, Puerto Rico, Maryland, Detroit, Denver, Vietnam, Costa Rica, and all points in between. The second installment was 7/27/14 from Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. I had been chasing “Fee” for 50 some-odd shows at that point. The boys opened with “Fee”. I was supposed to be at that show, but I wasn’t because I had to work. It would take me another three years and 20-ish shows before I got my “Fee” at The Baker’s Dozen, a fact which my friends enjoyed reminding me of. This really doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m talking about, but I’m still salty pretzels about it.
For the vast majority of my adult life, summer meant getting together with friends and seeing Phish. For a couple of days or weeks every summer, this wonderful group of people would become our own little family band of gypsies and enjoy the time we had together. Those of us who live in close proximity to one another kept up all year, but unfortunately a lot of us were only in real contact with each other when tour was announced and when we were out on the road. I don’t mean to make light of this awful situation, but if there is a silver lining in all of this it is that we have the opportunity to bridge those lapses in time together via virtual raging.
As we enter week five or six of quarantine, it has become painfully evident that as life happens and we get married and have children and become susceptible to the pressures of a career and all that jazz, we unwittingly allow meaningful relationships to fall by the wayside. The music and the experience of the shows might be the catalyst that brought us all together in the first place, but those relationships run deep and we should make more of an effort to fan their flames when the world isn’t in the middle of a bad B-movie plot. Every show is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will never be replicated and that bonds us to the folks we shared it with in a very real way. Music brought us together, but it wouldn’t mean nearly as much as it does if it wasn’t for the merry pranksters that helped make it memorable.
There is no practical end in sight for quarantining and social distance. There is no light at the end of the tunnel as I’m writing this. There is no music, no festivals, no three-night runs, and no road trips. What there is is the opportunity to relive experiences with people who have helped vibrantly color our past whether those memories are clear, hazy, or non-existent. Technology and a passion for groovy tunes gives us the chance to reconnect, laugh, love, and rekindle with the cast of characters that have given our lives flavor and NSFW stories that we will carry with us for the rest of our days. I, for one, will continue to make the best of this bad situation with my friends and hope against hope that virtual hugs turn into real ones sooner rather than later.
Stay safe and healthy, my friends and I’ll see you when this is all over!