Michael Gaither wanted to communicate something universal about the pandemic, but he didn’t want it to be too on the nose. He thought the best approach was to be somewhat vague in his wording so that it would still be relatable once life had returned to normal.
He kept hearing a phrase that resonated with him: “See you on the other side,” as in “I’ll see you when things are back to normal.” To him, it was a bittersweet expression that perfectly encapsulated the moment.
“At some point, we’re going to get past this. That’s what I was thinking. Right in the middle of it, it seemed like it was taking forever. It’s like, ‘Yeah, this sucks, but it’ll pass.’ Kind of like the George Harrison song ‘All Things Must Pass,’” says Gaither, who adds that it was intended to be lighthearted. “If you’re heavy-handed, you’re going to bring people down. If I’m serious about something, I tend to be a little lighter about it, because you can deliver the message better.”
He leaned into the specificity of the pandemic experience. In the song, he talks about wearing masks and missing holidays, and other clearly identifying phrases. But he ended up thinking it worked great.
Earlier this year, “See You on the Other Side” won first place in the great American Song Contest in the singer/songwriter category, which surprised and elated Gaither. He even got the ultimate compliment—the song reminded some of John Prine.
However, Gaither had an advantage a lot of other musicians didn’t. Most of last year, he could workshop new material in front of a live audience while most other musicians could not. While live music had been mostly shut down, he had a steady gig at El Vaquero Winery, where “See You On The Other Side” became a crowd favorite.
The steady gig was unexpected. In Feb of 2020, before the pandemic, Gaither and his bass player performed at El Vaquero. During the shelter in place, Gaither live-streamed weekly as a solo musician, but he also stayed in touch with the winery, among other venues. Last summer, when restrictions were easing, owner Bob Prikazsky contacted Gaither and asked if he was comfortable playing on his patio. The show went well, and quickly evolved into a sort of Friday night residency.
“I almost felt guilty about it, because things shut down last year, then I got the steady gig. It was like, ‘Okay. This is nice. Really, really nice,’” Gaither says.
After it got going, Gaither started to bring in bandmates and special guests. Prikazsky even started booking other artists on different days of the week. In early winter, when Covid cases spiked, they stopped doing shows, and then resumed again this year.
For a lot of people, it’s been the only place to go to get out of the house for a while.
“I have a couple of really good friends that come from Gilroy and go to every show there. And they said, ‘You kept us going by having this place to come to during Covid.’ Once people were hip to it, a lot of people became regulars. We’ll get anywhere from 40 to 100 people. It’s given people a chance to go out and be normal again,” Gaither says.
Now as more local venues start to put on shows, El Vaquero Winery has a head start.
“We have some momentum, especially because we’re in South Santa Cruz County. There’s nothing else going on around here. We have this momentum going into 2021 and things open up and become normal again,” Gaither says. “I got to help give people a place to play, which I thought was important. People were venturing out for the first time and they’re doing it. ‘Oh, it’s okay to do this again.’ As long as everyone’s getting their shots and it’s safe. It’s been a wonderful thing.”
Michael Gaither performs with Aireene Espiritu at 6pm on Friday, June 25 at El Vaquero Winery, 2901 Freedom Blvd, Watsonville. Free. 831-607-8118.