The crisis COVID-19 has caused is being felt by nearly everyone. Thousands have been laid off and all of us are uncertain of our future.
With all the music venues, bars and restaurants in Rhode Island being ordered to close their doors, some of the hardest hit folks during this have been musicians and bands. Their income –sometimes all, and in all cases at least a portion – comes from performing, and adapting to the current environment has been a tough.
In Cranston, the members of pop punk act Letters To Jenny have been using this time to work together in virtual ways to maintain social distancing. They’re also focusing on staying safe while also being productive.
“We’re absolutely hanging in there,” vocalist Alyssa Martineau said. “We’ve kept in constant contact and we’re working on new music through virtual interactions, and I’ve been spending time on new merch designs. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a couple of gigs due to venues temporarily shutting down, but we’re doing our best while trying to stay safe. Going low key crazy, though.”
Johnston native Steve DelMonico from the Providence rock ‘n’ roll act The Quahogs has been utilizing his free time to do live streaming performances on Facebook. He’s recently performed renditions of two Tom Waits songs, “Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)” and “Ol’ 55,” with the latter featuring Jesse Smith and Seamus Weeden from fellow Providence band Smith & Weeden.
“I just really like Tom Waits and playing music with my friends,” DelMonico said about streaming to an audience on social media. “I’ve been so bored that I felt like maybe someone would like to hear some songs that aren’t mine, done how I’ve always played them.”
Following a similar path is Warwick’s Mike Giammarco. People have probably seen him strum covers and originals with his acoustic guitar at various bars and restaurants in the area. Due to the closings, he’s lost his main source of income and he’s figuring out ways to still earn a living with his craft.
“I try very much to be a positive person and to have a glass-half-filled approach to life, but these days it’s tougher and tougher,” he said. “Every day that goes by we gain very little knowledge and are given a whole lot of fear and uncertainty. Like many other artists who play and write music for a living, I started losing shows before people even had to stop gathering in groups. Now I’ve had my schedule wiped out for the foreseeable future, and again, it’s the uncertainty that gets you. I don’t know how this bill or that bill will get paid. You really can’t get too far ahead of yourself or you’ll paralyze yourself with fear.”
He added: “I know we have to stop the spread and I know why this must be done, but it certainly makes the local entertainers, bartenders and small venue owners some of the hardest hit financially. One of the coolest things to come out of this is all the musicians live streaming their sets. It’s like turning on cable and having great music on every channel. Not only do I still get to interact with the beautiful people who support me always, but also a bunch of new folks are getting to listen and hopefully become regulars at my shows when this is over. The feedback has been incredible, being able to have ‘virtual tip jars’ via PayPal and Venmo has helped me literally live day to day.”
The donations via live streaming have helped Giammarco out immensely. The positive feedback has inspired him to think of different themes to include in future performances.
“People have been very generous so far in donating,” he said. “It’s a tough time for everyone financially, and for them to value my music enough to give some of their hard-earned money, it’s truly humbling. There’s no sick pay or unemployment for musicians, so we are out there just trying to navigate a very uncertain world by doing what we do best, playing music and giving folks an escape from the negativity and stress for a while. I have some ideas for some fun themed shows I’m going to do in the week ahead, so stay tuned.”
Nate Jones, another Warwick-based musician, has been selling his art and teaching music lessons to make up for the canceled gigs. He finds being able to give back as a good way to deal with the crisis when there’s so much uncertainty.
“This quarantine is a time to practice gratitude and realize how much we take live music and other events for granted,” he said. “Personally, I’ve been staying busy by selling my art and teaching music lessons at the Fall River Arts Academy. Giving my gift back to the kids has been rewarding and helps me stay mindful in times of uncertainty like this.”
Other than donating to live streams or paying for virtual music lessons, another great way to support local music is to buy it. Your favorite musician or band from around the area most likely has their music on Bandcamp, so log on and do a search so you can make a purchase. The money goes directly to them and it’ll help them thrive in a climate that is currently limiting their ability to do so.