A look at some of the challenges for our roots musicians during 2020’s shifting pandemic landscape.

To get some context on creative life and challenges during the pandemic, I reached out to a few local and national folks.

I started with Scott Scholz, who is the librarian at the Polley Music Library in Lincoln. Polley is a public music library on the second floor of the Bennett Martin Public Library in downtown Lincoln, with an extensive collection of music histories, biographies, sheet music, and instrumental learning methods for all kinds of musical styles. Omahans can borrow from Polley if they have an Omaha library card. Books must be picked up and returned at the Lincoln library.    

“The most popular home music format in 1918 was still sheet music,” Scholz said of how people passed the time during the past pandemic. “And Tin Pan Alley was largely writing original music that went straight to music stores and into peoples’ homes to be played. So musicians in 1918 didn’t have a lot of options when performance venues were shut down. Now, musicians are living in a golden age options,” he said. “Perhaps this can be a wake-up call where artists don’t have to accept the touring-for-money paradigm as the final answer where recordings are concerned.”

Here are some observations that conversations with artists brought into focus.

“Financially it’s been devastating,” Davina Lozier, bandleader of Minneapolis’ Davina & The Vagabonds said. “Being an income [source] for my household and also four other musicians has been placed on a complete halt.”

“We all had to get extra creative,” Omaha’s Aly Peeler noted, “Many of us could not get extra assistance or unemployment during this pandemic. I couldn’t prove loss of income,” she said, despite postponements and cancellations of bookings, a fall tour and a planned studio project. Peeler has used the internet to teach online ukulele lessons for Arts for All.

California-based blues harmonica player Dennis Gruenling already had an online presence selling vintage mics, amplifiers and related merch. He has focused on further developing his online income stream with regular webinars. Gruenling’s biggest challenge has been “to allow myself some (or any) time for creative outlets such as writing and jamming while I need to completely shift focus on supplementing my income and being creative in THAT way during this time.”

Boston-based Kit Holliday echoed what many of us feel, “There’s a sense of grief, for sure. I keenly feel the loss of musical kinship to the disparate musicians and bands with whom I’ve played. I’m also burned out from a thousand (okay, seven) screens glaring at me all day, every day, [while working my corporate job]. I don’t even want to try to make online connection / performance a thing.”

“This whole ordeal has made me realize how truly wonderful it is to play live music for a living. I will never take it for granted,” Lincoln’s Josh Hoyer shared. “The economic systems we have don’t seem to really value the creative class…you’d be hard-pressed to find a creative that was helped through PPP loans or other disaster grants. Spotify ain’t paying the bills.” But he added that fan purchases of music and merch during this year have certainly helped him and his band members.

Former Omahan Heather Newman, now living in K.C., saw her first European tour cancelled along with most area shows. “Once shows are able to happen again, because many venues I know and have relationships with have been shut down, that means that I will have to work harder to make new connections with people and venues who have never worked with me before,” she said. “This may mean a reduction in the amount of money venue bookers think I am worth.”

Omaha’s Kris Lager also saw his very active touring schedule halted. He’s recently built a green-screen video studio in his basement to enhance his weekly livestream shows. He’s also started working on Patreon to develop a new income stream. “I’m still optimistic,” Lager noted. “I’m enjoying being more stationary than I ever have been in over 20 years and being home so much has its perks.” 

Livestreaming music seems to be a better fit for some artists than others.  Some, like Austin’s Bonnie Whitmore, quickly committed to regular online performances. “My weekly residency that was at the Continental Gallery in Austin was put onto a Zoom platform,” Whitmore said. “Which has helped me have some consistency. That’s allowed me some access to my music community. But there hasn’t been any relief from it and the fatigue is wearing on me,” Whitmore said. “I was able to release my latest record and have written a lot over the past nine months.” She’s also finally had time to work on a “sisters” record with her sister Eleanor Whitmore (from The Mastersons and Steve Earle & the Dukes). 

Many expressed hope.

Omaha’s Virginia Kathryn wrote and recorded two albums so far during the pandemic.
“Live music is a collective ritual experience that brings us together in a shared physical space.” Kathryn said. “We can try to replicate it in the virtual realm, but that sense of community is not the same. I have hope that live music will return with a bang. People crave that sense of community.”

“I remind myself of how lucky I am to still have music, my voice, my fans, my Vagabonds, and my family,” Lozier observed. “My heart is full even though my wallet isn’t.”

 “We are in the business of creating space for healing and joy,” Hoyer said.

In addition to the above artists, Live from Mars House and Lincoln’s Basement Creators Network provided thoughts on the livestreaming opportunities they have developed. You can read the full text of their comments and the full responses of all the artists below.

Minneapolis-based Davina Lozier is one of the artists who shared thoughts with us on the pandemic’s dramatic impact on the roots music industry as 2020 came to a close.

FULL COMMENTS FROM OUR PANEL



Scott Scholz
Librarian, Polley Music Library, Bennett Martin Public Library, Lincoln

lincolnlibraries.org/polley-music-library
facebook.com/LNKLibrariesMusic

In digging through our archives of program files and news clippings at Polley, it appears that we unfortunately don’t have much from 1918. I find one note of a measles outbreak causing some students to quarantine in February 1918 in music program notes from weekly students’ recitals at Temple Theatre, but that’s about it locally.

You’ve probably already seen this, as the OWH made reference to it in an article published in May (https://omaha.com/news/local/in-1918-flu-pandemic-omaha-had-second-surge-of-cases-after-lifting-restrictions/article_18d225a4-d89d-5184-9aa1-ba2b9b67c4e5.html), but Gary Gernhart’s ’98 masters thesis for UNO is probably the best research that’s been done toward a Nebraska-focused look at the impact of the 1918 influenza pandemic, and it can be found here: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3551&context=studentwork

From Gary’s thesis, it seems like the impact on Nebraska was generally shorter, affecting the October ’18 through February ’19 range, and then things were more or less back to normal. In between there, November was largely a “business as usual” month, too, which of course resulted in a bad December for the pandemic. But comparing impacts then and now is somewhat difficult at the local level, of course: at that time, so much of the impact was under-reported because of WWI, lest our adversaries think that we’re in a vulnerable position.

On a national scale, Billboard did an excellent comparison between then and now, using their own reporting at the time: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/9365515/billboard-1918-pandemic-coverage

From that, we see similar broad trends: performance venues are struggling, and also become the sources of superspreader events sometimes when they reopen prematurely.

We have a sizeable collection of sheet music here at Polley, much of which I can search by year of publication. There doesn’t seem to be an influenza impact on Tin Pan Alley tunes–the subjects of 1918 and 1919 songs we have copies of  are overwhelmingly about war, patriotism, separation, etc. That trend seems to be borne out more generally by this article: https://artsfuse.org/199545/cultural-commentary-songs-of-forgetting-from-the-cultural-quarantine-of-the-1918-flu-pandemic/. The New York Times had an article in May that came to similar conclusions, too: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/06/arts/music/1918-flu-pandemic-coronavirus-classical-music.html

The only tunes I’m aware of that make reference to the 1918/1919 pandemic era are both blues numbers: “Jesus is Coming Soon” by Blind Willie Johnson, and “1919 Influenza Blues” by Essie Jenkins.

So toward making some broad comparisons: I think that venues (music clubs, bars, theaters, concert halls) are in a similar situation now as in 1918/19. Shows have had to be cancelled between local/state mandates and the cancellation of the tours that would have visited them. That aspect of the music business hasn’t changed dramatically in the last century, which makes sense, considering it’s tied to brick and mortar spaces and getting crowds through doors. If you can’t have large public gatherings, you’re going to have some serious problems, no doubt about it.

Where musicians are concerned, I think that this pandemic can be viewed somewhat differently. This last century between pandemics happens to track rather perfectly with the birth and development of the commercial recorded music industry. In 1918, commercial radio had yet to be born–the first commercial radio broadcast was on November 2, 1920, from KDKA in Pittsburgh. The record industry was very much in its infancy–player pianos and player piano rolls peaked in popularity in 1924, and were still more popular than the pretty low-fi acoustic recordings happening in 1918. The most popular home music format was still sheet music, and Tin Pan Alley was largely about writing original music that went straight to music stores and into peoples’ homes to be played. So musicians in 1918 didn’t have a lot of options when performance venues were shut down.

Now, musicians are living in a golden age of other options: you can connect with fans directly through a wide range of social media platforms, sell your own merch and recordings, physically or digitally, and at least keep your name in front of your audience while you can’t tour. What I hope may happen as a result of this pandemic is looking at the recording industry in different ways: in the last couple of decades, particularly since file sharing first became possible and now streaming services, musicians as a whole have been sold this notion that your recordings aren’t necessarily an income stream. They’re more like a business card for filling seats when you tour. But recordings have continued to generate lots of income during the pandemic. Digital sales are up, record sales are up, streaming is up–but most of that revenue has been going into the pockets of content providers. Perhaps this can be a wake-up call where artists don’t have to accept the touring-for-money paradigm as the final answer where recordings are concerned.

I did a series of radio interviews with musicians during the summer for my Polley Music Library program on KZUM, to see what kinds of strategies people were using to keep their music work going during the pandemic. I talked with music teachers, performers, label operators, studio owners/producers, and show promoters. All of them were finding alternative ways to work, even when they couldn’t continue with their professional lives using the same means they normally follow. They were all very enthusiastic, optimistic, and were using the same creative and expressive skills they’ve honed as musicians to innovate. I’ve had to do the same kinds of professional pivots here at Polley: since the library isn’t hosting events right now, and a lot of patrons are staying home, I’m producing videos now, and communicating more through the radio show and through social media. Musicians are creative. Musicians are social. Musicians are resilent. Musicians care. We’re going to get through this. As an aside that might be a little too ancient/arcane for your article, when the pandemic first started to spread across America, I found myself looking even further back in music history, to the self-flagellants in Germany who traveled from city to city offering penance during the spread of the Plague in 1348-9. They had a set of songs, the Geisslerlieder, or “whip songs,” they sang as they were in procession, and as they gathered around churches. And the century before them, there were the Disciplinati in the Tuscany and Umbria areas of Italy, who sang monophonic lauda as the plague spread there. Of course, in traveling from town to town begging forgiveness, they were also likely accelerating the spread of the plague. Oops!


Davina Lozier
Bandleader, Songwriter, Davina & The Vagabonds, Minneapolis

davinaandthevagabonds.com

It’s been a process of many emotions during this trying time. Worry and uncertainty while filled with hope in my community and newly prioritized changes of self-care and family.

Financially it’s been devastating. Being an income [source] for my household and also four other musicians has been placed on a complete halt. This month I’m scrambling just to pay my mortgage, but I’m finding enthusiasm while learning new ways to bring our music to the masses. That’s why I’m on this earth and I’ll continue to try to spread joy regardless.

The band and I raised $10,000, as well, during the civil unrest here in our city of Minneapolis. We spent all of that money on food, emergency supplies, diapers and more to give to families that were affected by the unrest, taking these supplies to many different drop-off locations in the city. I live three block from ground zero here in the third precinct. We lost our post office, grocery store, doctor’s office, Target, and mechanic’s building in a matter of three days. Lower income families and BIPOC community were hit the hardest in so many ways.

When I stress about my career and my finances, I remind myself of how lucky I am to still have music, my voice, my fans, my Vagabonds, and my family. Those are my always forever priorities. My heart is full even though my wallet isn’t.


Aly Peeler
Musican, Omaha

youtube.com/user/uketreehugger

We all had to get extra creative this year as many of us could not get extra assistance or unemployment during this pandemic. I couldn’t prove loss of income (I had three weddings get postponed, months of shows cancelled, plans of a fall tour come to a halt, and studio plans coming crashing down) so I couldn’t get unemployment.  During the summer it was much easier playing outdoor gigs, as they felt more safe and easier to keep social distances. As the weather has changed, I have found it harder to feel safe playing gigs, even when many venues are doing everything they can to facilitate a safe environment. The hardest part for me is balancing the need to protect myself
(I have asthma and literally just last week finally got approved for health insurance through the Medicaid expansion we voted on! Horray!) and my family, there is an important need for us to make sure our creative outlets are supported and stay open. There has always been a struggle present since the beginning: the desire to protect my health and my communities, and also the very institutions and venues that allow us to share our craft. Our local and national governments have not made it an apparent priority to make sure we aren’t losing our cultural outlets and venues. It’s up to the community to rally and support in creative ways. I stopped my weekly open mics for quite some time, only coming back a few months in, in a very limited way. I have since stopped them for the past month and a half, having my venue, the down under lounge, still running a smaller version without me. I just couldn’t in good conscience ask people to come out to my shows or events while our hospitals are at full capacity and our industry workers and disproportionately people of color are being affected by this pandemic. This has greatly affected my family’s finances, as I normally play many holiday events and parties and I have had zero income for the past almost two months. I have done very limited Livestreams and a limited show here or there to be honest, to pay the bills. I also teach beginner ukulele for Arts for All which has been my only source of income. We switched early on to zoom lessons which has gone well.  I have had to explore the world of virtual learning with my two children, Asher 6 and Otto 4 as well. My focus has definitely been on my children and I have actually had a really great time seeing them power on through this like champs. I was also lucky early on to join Andrew Bailie and David Hawkins up the street for our weekly Saturday porch livestream. It was a way for us to get together, play, mourn, celebrate, call to action and rally our community to help those in need. We ended up raising quite a bit of money that we got to circulate throughout our extended community.

Like I mentioned earlier, many of our creative community is uninsured or underinsured and that has always frustrated me. We provide a service to this town. It’s time our city appreciated it’s industry and gig workers who risk everything to entertain and serve our community. I am extremely thankful we voted to expand Medicaid, because for the first time in almost 4 years, I have health insurance. I worry for our favorite local venues. We’ve already lost a few. We are on the brink of losing more. We must protect our creative outlets and we need to make it a priority to support local producers. I’ve been active with the “we make events Omaha” group where we pressure our representatives to extend the PUA and pass meaningful legislation to help our industry gig workers, creative community, and venues. I have always been active in our local political scene, however this pandemic has brought out an urgency to change up our decision makers. We need more creative voices in spaces and places where decisions are being made. (we will always find solutions, and  boy can we budget.) I have been extremely disappointed by our representatives, namely our mayor, Jean Stothert, our governor Pete Ricketts, and our entire City Council which needs replaced. I am just concerned enough and my calendar has opened up enough to consider running for City Council District 1 myself. 

I am not sure when I will feel safe enough to step back into hosting the open mic. It’s hard because I would love to see everyone and provide that space for people to gather and share their gifts, talents, and dreams. That’s just not possible to do safely just yet. But in the same breath, I urge people to continue to support local venues in creative ways. Buy gift cards, to go drinks, and support artists by donating to their venmos, buy their merchandise, and stream their music. We have to prioritize keeping the arts alive during these times. Our children need and deserve these outlets. The decisions and priorities we make today affect our future tomorrow. 




Dennis Gruenling
Musican, Los Angeles,

also harmonica player for Chicago’s Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling
dennisgruenling.com
badassharmonica.com

What’s been the biggest challenge of the pandemic for you as an artist?
To allow myself some (or any) time for creative outlets such as writing and jamming while I need to completely shift focus on supplementing my income and being creative in THAT way during this time.

And personally?
Loss of almost all of my income, especially being an artist (single and not a home owner) who has made performing his biggest source of income for the past two decades. Personally I have lost a family member as have others close to me, and dealing with all of that while under the stress of hustling 24/7 for some sort of income has not been the easiest. Missing my friends, family and fans on the road and not being able to perform is sad and a bit depressing, but a luxury problem compared to this other stuff (and the stress/anxieties that go along with it).

I basically started working immediately on trying to work more online because I felt this was going to be serious and affect my income right away.

Did the civil rights protests and social unrest impact your creativity, how you view community or energize or engage your art or creativity in a new way?
It open-end my eyes a bit to the sad state of affairs in this country, and helped me connect more (or in some cases, less) with other artists and friends. It has influenced me a little creatively, but not in a way that is immediately recognized, aside from me being clear where I stand on the issues at hand.

Have the last 9 months revealed something about your art or your creative process that has surprised or pleased you? 
It’s shown me how resourceful I can be in such a small living space, haha!

What’s next? How do you see music and live music moving forward?
Perhaps in small doses at first, and safely. Honestly I have no clear idea and have not been focusing on that.

Have you had successful experiences with live-streaming and would you continue to do any digital events whenever live, in-person performing becomes possible again? 
Not live streaming performances (I do not have the space for that) but webinars have been successful. I have been teaching online for over 15 years already, and have no thought to stop doing so. I’m sure it will be more of the new “norm” for everyone now. However it’s not new to me and plan to continue it some capacity likely for the duration of my career. However, nothing really replaces live performing.

Why is live music important? 
There is nothing quite like the magical energy that happens when you have a live performance of artists who are genuinely good at their craft, love what they do, and have an appreciative audience. Every night is full of unique wonderful moments that will never happen the same way again. Plus, the positive energy exchange is not like anything else during a live performance. 





Kit Holliday
Musican, Boston

facebook.com/kithollidaysings
Photo by Caroline Alden

What’s been the biggest challenge of the pandemic for you as an artist? 
With travel not recommended, and breathing indoors near others being outright reckless, losing the live show has been devastating. I’ve done three concerts and three recordings since March, and all of them felt immensely stressful, even with outdoor performances or no-live-audience streaming shows, and strict precautions in the studio. 

And personally?
There’s a sense of grief, for sure. I keenly feel the loss of musical kinship to the disparate musicians and bands with whom I’ve played in the last few years. I’m also burned out from a thousand (okay, seven) screens glaring at me all day every day, I don’t even want to try to make online connection / performance a thing. 

Did you have a new or different reaction during the early days of the pandemic vs where we are at now in thinking about creativity and community?
I began with enthusiasm about different kinds of collaboration, but it took about a month before I was totally overwhelmed. So many of my compatriots were at loose ends; the invitations to projects and creative works were never-ending. But because I keep part of my life in the corporate world, I did not wind up with any free time at all to get into that kind of groove. 

Did the civil rights protests and social unrest impact your creativity, how you view community or energize or engage your art or creativity in a new way?
Whew. There’s a lot to this question. First off, I feel like I never shut up about racism, but I also feel like I never should. Currently there is so much violence against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, and these are very dangerous times as well for our LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. The civil rights gains we’ve struggled to achieve over the past few decades are being pummeled by a lot of people with intent to harm. On the one hand, I really want to use my creative efforts to illuminate all of this… but I also believe that right now is a good time to have a seat, and amplify and support under-represented voices and artists instead of myself. 

Especially with the kind of music that I love and perform the most, I always say, “If you love black music then you damned sure better love black people.” You can’t just claim, “Oh, yeah, I love that artist!” Love is a verb, and in these times, you have to be ready to act in a loving manner. That may mean a radical shift in how you think about what you do on a daily basis. Right now, my definition of “love” means fighting for the people whose lives and livelihoods are most at risk. That’s more important than my own art on the subject, if that makes sense. 

Have the last 9 months revealed something about your art or your creative process that has surprised or pleased you? What’s next? 
For the last 9 years, I’ve doing too much; being in 5-9 bands concurrently, balancing tours, local work, band financial work, while still holding down the corporate thing, ouch. Now I’m writing more, and I’m shuffling musical thoughts around in interesting directions and hoping that early 2021 gives me a little more down time for musical output. Hopefully I’ll get time to do some recording by summer. I’d like to get my dad to play guitar on some tracks once it’s safe to be in the same place with him. 

How do you see music and live music moving forward? Have you had successful experiences with live-streaming and would you continue to do any digital events whenever live, in-person performing becomes possible again? 
Live Streaming is actually awesome, in my opinion, if there’s a band situation and cameras run by other people. I’d be interested in doing that kind of work in the future, but it would not replace performing for and with an audience, Streaming shows can be lucrative, too, but not the same way live shows are, because the competition for an audience’s online screen time is INTENSE. Live music is great in person, but not as awesome on our devices, and musicians are not going to win week after week against Disney+ or HBOMax. They have that super-hero action locked down, and we can’t compete. 🙂 

Why is live music important?
Live music is important because it can transport us out of the here and now. It can make us FEEL, and it can make us MOVE. It can uplift our spirits, pacify our angers, assuage our guilts, and release our sorrows.
I believe that live music is essential for us to… remain human. 





Josh Hoyer
Bandleader, Songwriter, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, Lincoln

joshhoyer.com
Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, Josh Hoyer, far right, photo by James Dean

This whole ordeal has made me realize how truly wonderful it is to play live music for a living. I will never take it for granted. That being said, the economic systems we have don’t seem to really value the creative class. Although cities across America pride themselves on their music and arts cultures, you’d be hard pressed to find a creative that was helped through PPP loans or other disaster grants. Spotify ain’t paying the bills. And people mostly get their music for free nowadays anyway. One can only play live streams before too long before the magic runs out.

We aren’t in the business of exchanging goods for dollars, we are in the business of creating space for healing and joy.

Hard to make that truth fit into a present day economic model. In the end, I’ve learned that mother nature doesn’t give a damn about our systems, needs and desires. If we don’t learn to live harmoniously within her generous confines, everything we’ve come to think is normal will be lost. This was supposed to be a wake-up call. Sadly, I don’t think enough people saw it for what it is. The damage caused by our tepid response to a global pandemic will pale in comparison to our continuing self-destruction via climate change and irresponsible capitalism. There seems to be no us, just me, me, me. Merry Christmas, right?

Important: I am extremely thankful to all the friends and fans of our music that have supported me through donations and merch sales. Without them, there would be no way to continue forward. And I hope and pray the venues will survive. The music community as a whole is a beautiful thing. We are all we’ve got. 




Heather Newman
Bandleader, Songwriter, Heather Newman Band, Kansas City

heathernewmanband.com

The biggest challenge for me as an artist was the conflicting thoughts on wanting to help local venues by booking shows to try to encourage business for both them and myself, and wanting to protect myself and bandmates by laying low and not allowing many chances for exposure. It also will prove to be a problem once shows are able to happen again as many venues I know and have relationships with have been shut down which means that I will have to work harder to make new connections with people and venues who have never worked with me before. This may mean a reduction in the amount of money venue bookers think I am worth. Personally, this has meant a huge financial problem for me and unfortunately has reduced my travel funds to nothing. Which means that even when tours are able to start back up, the money that was designated for gas, food, and hotel accommodations has been used for basic living expenses.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I thought it would be around six months or so before things started to get back to normal. I still had hopes that I would be able to take my band to Europe for the first time in Aug 2020, unfortunately now, with the pandemic having skyrocketed, I don’t think we will be able to do our European tour that has been rescheduled for Aug. 2021 either. 

During the civil unrest that spread across our country, I really wasn’t focused on my art at all. I was trying to do what I could to participate and show my support for the movement. With the few shows that were still booked during that time, I always played one song in particular, “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” by Charles Bradley. During this song I would take time to talk to the crowd about love, discrimination, the unfairness of our political climate, and encouraged people to spread love in the world however they can, but in particular, I would ask every person at my show to make a stranger smile. I also donated all merchandise proceeds made between June 19th and July 4th to local nonprofits that helped local POC youth by providing opportunities to create art (music, acting, art, etc).

I haven’t really had any breakthroughs in my art during the last 9 months. I’ve actually devoted my time and energy to other things such as painting, creative writing, and becoming a botanist (who now owns over 150 plants). Thanks to that I have found more things that I am just as passionate about.

To be honest, I have a feeling that social distancing and masks will be around for a lot longer than any of us are willing to admit. That being said, I don’t think live music will be something that will be able to come back to the caliber that it once was. I think a lot of “live” music will end up being streamed shows which doesn’t really interest me. As an artist, I thrive off of the energy I pick up from my crowds, playing to a screen doesn’t give me the same satisfaction and is even more draining for me than anything else.  Live music is important to me because of the inspiration it strikes within me. I can watch a video of someone performing and be impressed, but the inspiration never strikes like it does when it’s live and in person. The energy of the room, the crowd, and the band is tangible for me, and when I don’t have access to that energy I find myself bored and uninspired which is not conducive for me in my own creativity. 





Kris Lager
Bandleader, Songwriter, Kris Lager Band, Omaha

krislagerband.com
Photo: Kris Lager shows off his basement green screen video studio

I’m taking this whole thing in stride and I’m trying to learn and adapt.

I’m enjoying being more stationary than I ever have been in over 20 years and being home so much has its perks.

For the first time in my life I know where the sweet spot on my shower nozzle is. I know what dresser drawers are which, and We got a family dog.

This whole lockdown has opened up a whole new perspective and batch of opportunities for me. Since I’ve been off of the road and not traveling I’ve started watching the kids during the day, and my wife started to work for Omaha Public Schools. Then when she gets home I work most nights practicing, recording, doing computer work, and live streaming.

I’ve turned my basement into a green screen studio so I can have fun visuals for our live streams that I’m doing Mondays, Wednesdays, and the occasional Saturday.

I am planning on streaming even after the lockdown. I’m looking to take all of the gear I’ve collected and learned how to use during this time and take it on the road when we open back up.

Last month I’ve started a Patreon Page to help with some of the lost income (which has been substantial).

The streams don’t even come close to what we make on the road. But hopefully with increased content, Patreon, and merch we can start to generate more.

I’m still optimistic.




Bonnie Whitmore
Musician, Songwriter, Austin

bonniewhitmore.com
photo courtesy Eryn Brooke

Most of all, I miss collaboration. My last live show was on Leap Day, opening for Neal Francis at The Waiting Room, with my band. They were already starting to talk about the coronavirus in the news, but as a distant thing, not something that would change our lives forever. I remember going to see Kamasi Washington at Slowdown the following week. It felt like the last party before the end of the world.

What’s been the biggest challenge of the pandemic for you as an artist?
Not being able to go out and play to folk. To be able to resonate with them in the way that playing a show only allows.

And personally?
Financially it’s been a struggle, not that this is anything new to me, but my usual backups for income were also compromised by the pandemic. Not being able to play music and sing with people. Missing the physical touch of other people. It’s been a mental gambit.

Did you have a new or different reaction during the early days of the pandemic vs where we are at now in thinking about creativity and community?
I was able to pivot to virtual shows. My weekly residency that was at the Continental Gallery in Austin was put onto a zoom platform, which has helped me have some consistency. That’s allowed me some access to my music community. I was able to adapt to what this is, but there hasn’t been any relief from it and the fatigue is wearing on me.

Did the civil rights protests and social unrest impact your creativity, how you view community or energize or engage your art or creativity in a new way?
I think having to slow down and paying attention to what is going on has been good for a lot of people. I’ve been involved in activism before this happened, but it’s been refreshing to see so many people acknowledging that there are problems and it’s gonna take a lot of work to make it better. I do have hope that things will be getting better, but we got to keep on our representatives and use our voices to make the change we need.

Have the last 9 months revealed something about your art or your creative process that has surprised or pleased you?
I was able to release my latest record and written a lot over the past 9 months.

What’s next?
Currently working on a sisters record with my sis Eleanor Whitmore from The Mastersons and Steve Earle and the Dukes. This is one of the silver linings. We have been talking about doing this project for a couple of decades now, but we finally have the time to make it happen.

How do you see music and live music moving forward?
It’s hard to say. We were one of the first to lose our jobs, and will probably be the last ones to get it back. Depends on if which clubs survives and when folks can congregate safely again. Even with a vaccine we have to have enough people participating in it before it can be managed.

I know you’ve done some consistent streaming shows… has that worked well for you?
It has worked as well as could be hoped.

Have you had successful experiences with live-streaming and would you continue to do any digital events whenever live, in-person performing becomes possible again?
I think if people are willing and wanting to do digital events, then they will be available. It’s all about the participation. There was an incredible service called Concert Window before all this that went bellow up before the pandemic. They would have been our knight in shining armor through this, but that how the cookie crumbled.

Why is live music important?
Music is healing. It’s a conduit to our emotions, to join voices together, gets us to move our bodies and dance. Music is life. My hope is when we get through this time period, that we remember the importance of music in our lives and will do more to support its livelihood. Regardless of that outcome, I know my job is not done and am more solidified in my pursuit of it.





Virginia Kathryn
Musician, Songwriter, Omaha

virginiakathryn.com
photo courtesy facebook.com/virginiakathryngallner

What’s been the biggest challenge of the pandemic for you as an artist? And personally?
For me as an artist, the stage has always been a workshop for new material, an opportunity to test new songs. More than that, it’s a conversation with the audience, every word and every note. That’s very hard to replicate in a digital space.

Did you have a new or different reaction during the early days of the pandemic vs where we are at now in being creative and in thinking about creativity and community?
During the early days of the pandemic, I threw myself into creative work. Recorded my entire second album from home, and then when I finished that, I wrote and recorded the third. It was a very solitary process. That third album was born out of desperation and loneliness. Listening back, I can feel the fear and panic and uncertainty, with background vocals that sound like sirens and synthesizers that sound like earthquakes. 

After I finished that initial recording process, I reached out to some friends I had made from Global Musician Workshop and Folk Alliance International, and I hired a cellist from LA and a fiddler from Memphis. It felt so great to collaborate again, even virtually.

We have a unique opportunity to connect and collaborate across geographic boundaries as a result of digitizing the live experience. 

Did the civil rights protests and social unrest impact your creativity, how you view community or energize or engage your art or creativity in a new way?
The civil rights protests, especially here in Omaha, were a reminder of the impact a community can make when we come together with a collective message. We demanded Justice for James, and they convened a Grand Jury. If we can keep that momentum going with grassroots collective action, we can continue to fight systemic racism. 

Have you had successful experiences with live-streaming and would you still continue to do any digital events whenever live, in-person performing becomes possible again? If you’ve done digital, what has worked best for you, that my column might share ideas with other musicians?
Over the past nine months, I’ve done a handful of livestream events. The Joslyn Castle Art and Literary Festival was a wonderful experience. We filmed my set in a single take, on a gorgeous wooden staircase with stained glass and gold wallpaper. Another highlight was Live from Mars House, a concert series with top-notch sound and visual quality. The City Sprouts Annual Gala was a fun time as well — and my first foray into live sound! 

In the future, I might try to offer ticketed livestreams as an alternative for my fans outside the Omaha area. It’s been great connecting with folks on the coasts, as well as in the UK and Australia. Hybridizing events would also be a great way to improve equity and accessibility to musical performances. 

Why is live music important? 
Live music is a collective ritual experience that brings us together in a shared physical space. We can try to replicate it in the virtual realm, but that sense of community is not the same in a chat room on the side of a livestream. I think about running into old friends and making new ones between songs. 

Moving forward, I have hope that live music will return with a bang. People crave that sense of community

What are you doing to keep your spirits up or stay hopeful?
Gradually working toward the release of my second album, titled Restless Young Thing. Over the next six months, I hope to finish recording all instruments, and move toward the mastering process. Just trying to keep that creative momentum going.




Live from Mars House, Omaha
facebook.com/LiveFromMarsHouse

During the time we operated Growler/Mars Bar we always were in awe of the talented musicians in this region. It was sort of a mission to have the area’s great musical performers on our intimate stage.

When we closed, we really missed that aspect of our venue and decided to do a streaming show as our way of continuing to connect people to Omaha’s vibrant musical scene.

Then the pandemic hit. Performers who had been cloistered in their homes could come into our basement, reunite with their band mates, and actually perform together, albeit in separate rooms. It’s been as thrilling for us to have them as it’s been for them to perform together once again, not to mention chronicling performances from some of best bands in our lifetime, including Charlie Burton and the Linoma Mashers, who were around in our era—The ‘80s!

We’ve been careful about it. People who know us know we’re germaphobes and keep our space disinfected. If a band member isn’t up to it, doesn’t feel well, or has a concern about performing on a certain night, it’s no big deal. We just don’t have a show and get a night off.

We don’t charge for Live From Mars House shows. We hope viewers will generously fill the performers’ tip jars as a sort of cover charge for great entertainment they’re getting in the comfort of their own homes.

Although we cringe at the term “new normal,” we feel there is a permanent place for our streaming show as people’s entertainment habits have changed. Social distancing has made bars less social. Some people would rather stay home than risk going out to a club.

Another sign of change to permanence in streaming shows is gaming industry’s expansion into music. Our primary platform, Twitch a well-known gaming platform, hired Sara Clemens, who was the previous COO of Pandora. Also hired was Athena Koumis, who has joined Twitch as Music Partnership Manager. Twitch also hired Spotify’s Tracy Chan as head of product and engineering for music. Twitch is desirable because of its higher frame rate and resolution. As time goes on, streaming will become easier to do and more sophisticated.

Our typical shows last an hour and a half with an interview break in the middle. This format gives the performer a chance to talk about their music, upcoming projects, and tell great stories one would never hear from a regular venue’s stage.

To keep things fresh, we have some new ideas in the works including streaming remote performers in to play with players in our studio in real time, theme nights where artists play songs from a selected songwriter, such as Sting or Paul Simon, and nights where we unveil video and a mix from a recording session with a local act. We just had our first such episode with The Mudpuddles.





Basement Creators Network, Lincoln
Vince Ruhl, Executive Producer
basementcreators.network
facebook.com/basementcreators

A quick background of me… I have been working with audio for about 15 years. I have a passion for production, and enjoy the creative process. I like thinking of ways I can work with the community, specifically the our local musicians (being a musician myself, who has played in bands throughout the years).

Basement Creators Network (BCN) was formed from the idea that we could use our knowledge of streaming and passion to help local musicians reach fans new and old by giving them an online platform to preform with HD Video and studio quality audio. From the start, we wanted to make sure the fans could interact with us while we were streaming, so during the shows we actually read comments and accepted tips that we split with the bands. We started the show in my basement, hence the name. We then started streaming out of StudioPH here in Lincoln, and eventually ended up at The Storm Cellar, a local venue that allowed us to also interact with people who attended the show in person.

Fast forward to today, we are excited to announce that we have formed a partnership with Lincoln Calling to produce Lincoln Calling TV (LCTV). We are building a platform that will host weekly livestream concerts (produced by BCN) and we will be able to add other livestreamed and pre-recorded content to the platform, details on that will come later. We are opening up our Patreon soon and hope to have the help of our community to help us grow. While we will be streaming on Facebook and YouTube, the real experience will be directly on our site (which is mobile friendly), where the experience will be much more interactive, and even give you the opportunity to have “watch parties” and invite friends to watch the shows with you. We are excited to launch, and are working to start at the beginning of next year.

With all that said, I think that while the pandemic has obviously been rough for musicians (and the bars/venues) – it’s also lead to an explosion of exciting and interesting creativity, especially in live streaming. I think when things “get back to normal”, there will still be a place for livestreaming and online engagement.

The BCN team:
Vince Ruhl – Executive Producer
Chris Steffen – Lead Audio Engineer, owner at StudioPH
Charley Morris – Lead Video Engineer
Bryan Daize – Assistant Producer





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