Local musicians are coming to you via live-streamed concerts
D.C.-based singer-songwriter Justin Trawick was scheduled to play a show at Hill Country Live in Chinatown. Like almost all concerts for the foreseeable future, it was canceled that morning, leaving Trawick, a full-time musician, suddenly out of work.

“For that to just immediately go away is so incredibly disheartening,” Trawick says.

Trawick and his girlfriend quickly decided that if he couldn’t play a show in-person, he could do one on Facebook, from the comfort of their Arlington apartment. The Americana singer posted that he would be going live that night and nearly 2,000 people tuned in, requesting songs as they staged an impromptu concert and solicited tips via Venmo and PayPal if viewers were so inclined.

“I didn’t want people to be giving us any kind of money out of charity,” Trawick says. “I wanted there to be a trade, like with busking.” The tips from his first two streams covered the income lost from five canceled gigs, he says, and he’ll continue to do them regularly on Thursdays and Sundays at 8 p.m.

As the ripple effects of the novel coronavirus spread throughout society, musicians who rely on income from ticket sales have been hit especially hard, and local artists are getting creative. Many are turning to the Internet to stage virtual concerts from their homes or empty venues.

Will Urquhart, a freelance audio/visual specialist who often live-streams concerts and festivals for the website DC Music Review, saw the rash of cancellations and postponements earlier this month and put up a post on Facebook offering to help local musicians with streams.

“I was thinking about all the fans who don’t have entertainment for a while, but also all the bands and how this impacts them not being able to sell concert tickets,” Urquhart says. “That was the impetus: Let’s give people stuck at home something to watch and do it in a way that we think can help the bands and help the community in general.”

DC Music Review launched the Virtual Aid streaming concert series on March 17 with D.C. power-punk band Ménage À Garage from 7DrumCity’s the Pocket in Northwest, where the band was supposed to play last weekend. In keeping with the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing and large gatherings, the band members were stationed as far apart as possible, extra sanitation measures were taken, there was no microphone sharing and the only people in the venue were the ones who needed to be there.

DC Music Review’s webcasts are free (through Facebook, YouTube and Periscope) and the site is encouraging bands to choose a local charity for viewers to direct their support toward. The acts can also solicit virtual tips or send people to their Bandcamp, merchandise or social media pages.

Ménage À Garage bassist Jenny Thomas, who is also the director of marketing and communications at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, sees this uncertain time as a challenge for bands, as well as other performing arts institutions that rely on live audiences, to think outside the box.

“Longer term, I think we’re all going to be looking at being more inventive, because that’s what artists do,” Thomas says. “This is going to force the question of the online aspect of the performing arts because people are going to be immediately having to fast track figuring out how to present things online.”

Live-streaming concerts isn’t a new phenomenon. But for now, it may be a new normal. In the jam band community, fans regularly stream shows (affectionately calling it couch tour) through services like Nugs.tv, which regularly offers pay-per-view concerts from Phish and the John Mayer-led Grateful Dead offshoot Dead & Company.

Baltimore-based funk band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong had been webcasting shows of late, so when the group’s tour behind new album “Presto” was cut short two weeks ago, the quartet quickly made plans to stream an audience-less performance from a Charm City warehouse. The March 14 $10 stream was part of a newly created Live From Out There series of webcasts, spearheaded by the band’s management company 11 E1even Group, which aims to raise money for bands; their crews, who often get paid on a per-show basis; and the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

“I think the community element of this is the most promising thing,” says the band’s manager, Dave DiCianni, who adds that nearly 1,600 people paid for the stream. “People are coming together and supporting artists. If we don’t find a way to support these artists, they’re not going to be able to keep doing it beyond this outbreak. It’s going to be a tough time for everybody.”

For a band that’s versed in live improvisation and is used tailoring shows to audience reactions, playing to an empty room left a noticeable void.

“The live stream was definitely bizarre, because there was no crowd there to feed off of,” singer-guitarist Greg Ormont says. “The strangest part of the experience was finishing each song. And then it’s just eerily quiet.”

Some acts are using this situation to break from concert conventions. Stephane Detchou, the singer-guitarist of D.C.-based funk and soul band Aztec Sun, performed a solo set Sunday for a DC Music Review stream at an unusual time: 9 a.m.

“I’m a morning person, and there is just something about the first hour of the day that just kind of makes you feel like you’re stealing a bit of time,” says Detchou, who performed from a backyard that looks onto Rock Creek Park.

Alexandria-based singer-songwriter Casey Cavanagh had planned to celebrate the release of his new Americana single “Father’s Arms” at Hill Country Live on March 27. Instead, he’ll stream a concert that night at 8 p.m. from his basement on YouTube and Instagram.

“It’s an escape from [what’s] going on now,” Cavanagh says. “I’m hoping it’s a nice way to connect people in a moment where we really need it, because everything is so fragmented.”

Virginia-based rock band Pleasure Train, which had a gig at the Pie Shop in Northeast postponed last weekend, streamed a show from their usual rehearsal space, Crescendo Studios in Falls Church, on March 18 with DC Music Review’s help.

“It’s cool to see people getting creative about ways to connect with their audience,” says bassist Will Berger. “Especially in this weird time where so many people have had gigs canceled, or they’re dealing with financial instability or just uncertainty about the future.”

New Zealand native Emma G, who recently released the pop-rock single “Chasing Love Songs,” is staging regular shows and talks nearly everyday on Facebook from her Oglethorpe Street NW living room that she sees as a much needed salve for a trying time.

“Music keeps us sane,” she says. “It keeps our spirits high and tries to bridge that connection gap that we’re getting from social distancing. I want to do whatever I can to help people feel like, as much as the world’s on fire, it’s going to be okay.”


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