For local musician Mahlon Aldridge, there’s always something special about volunteering at the Hearts and Hands Post Acute Care Rehab Center in Santa Cruz, where he’s been performing for 23 years with his ensemble of musician friends. Residents at Hearts and Hands suffer from a range of ailments—dementia, stroke, head injury—but they cherish Aldridge and his crew, as they gather people in the dining area to play songs by Led Zeppelin, Billy Preston, and Johnny Cash.
“It’s tough for them. They have a very small social world. Many never have visitors,” Aldridge says. “By the time we leave, people are lit up. They’ve been moving their bodies, singing, interacting with each other. You leave with a bit more crackling energy in the room.”
But these performances came to a sudden halt when the COVID-19 pandemic brought a statewide shelter-in-place order. With many of the residents at Hearts and Hands in the high-risk category for coronavirus, they’ve been mostly confined to their rooms.
On Friday, March 27, Aldridge performed for residents again, but this time online. With community-donated, Zoom-loaded iPads, he and his friends gave the residents music and social interaction at a time they most needed it. They’re hoping with some financial support they can expand their efforts.
This is the new, uncharted reality musicians face. With no public gatherings allowed, live music is effectively off the table for the foreseeable future. But that hasn’t stopped musicians from bringing music to the world. At a national level, it has ironically been an older and supposedly less-tech-savvy generation of artists like Willie Nelson, Patti Smith and Paul Simon who have led the way to a new norm over the last month.
Closer to home, musician Ben Morrison’s bluegrass group Brothers Comatose were scheduled to play Felton Music Hall on March 26. This show, along with an East Coast solo tour, was canceled. As a full-time musician, Morrison makes 95% of his income through live gigs. Now he lives with financial uncertainty.
“We fall outside the norms of society. We don’t have normal unemployment. We don’t have big savings accounts,” Morrison says. “We’re basically working paycheck to paycheck, completely funded by live shows.”
Fans have stepped up, purchasing more merchandise. And he’s done what nearly all musicians are now doing, performing Facebook Live concerts for tips. He’s made Fridays at 4pm his regular livestream timeslot.
“People are really coming through and supporting in whatever ways they know how,” Morrison says.
Local musician Dan Frechette had to cancel his upcoming Canadian tour. Not only was he strapped for cash, but he had more time on his hands, and he’s been livestreaming concerts on Facebook nearly every 12 hours. He’s made this month’s income through livestream tips, Bandcamp sales, Patreon subscribers and by selling a package of his entire discography—a whopping 61 albums—digitally and physically. In April, he starts over.
“I have nothing in my calendar ’til May or June. I don’t know if that’ll happen,” Frechette says. “It’s good for creatives because we’re able to share music with people that are needing it. If I can cheer people up with my banjo, I’m happy to do it.”
Like most other musicians, Frechette is just beginning to figure out the technical aspects of this—how to improve the audio and video quality and treat it like an actual gig.
Tim Brady from local group Cement Ship has been considering livestreaming shows. Since he’s not a full-time musician yet, he plans to donate the proceeds to non-profit H2O Malawi, dedicated to releasing the prisoners in the city of Mzuzu.
“It’s a new thing for everybody. You have to be your own broadcast system, as opposed to just playing music,” Brady says. “It’s an uncertain time, but everybody’s in the same boat right now.”
All of Santa Cruz’s music community is finding ways to adapt to this new reality. At Be Natural Music, where Music Director Matthew D Pinck has music lessons for 175 kids, he switched them all over to Zoom lessons on March 17.
“The kids are just screaming for normality,” Pinck says. “Some didn’t like it at first. Then a couple days later, they want their music lessons [back].”
No one is quite sure what the world will be like when live music returns. But when we get there, we will suddenly have a lot of people normalized to livestreaming and Zoom technology.
“There’s going to be some kind of phoenix from the fire that will rise out of this,” Morrison says. “Touring is hard. If there’s an option to replace some of that with this alternate method, then I think that’s going to happen.”
For continuing in-depth coverage of the new coronavirus and its effects locally, visit goodtimes.sc/category/santa-cruz-news/coronavirus.
To learn about action you can take now, whether you’re seeking assistance or want to find ways of supporting the community, visit goodtimes.sc/santa-cruz-coronavirus-resources.