“As an innovator, I say that it’s very un-punk rock to sit and wait for others to tell you when, where, and how you can make art. There is so much talent and creativity here in the Boston music scene.”
We’re approaching around two months since COVID-19 crisis shut everything down, even though it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date when this all started. Being quarantined and getting used to new routines can do that to you.
On the bright side, livestream performances are happening and they’re getting more inventive with each passing week. The longing for live music gracing the stage of our venues is real, but at least we have these online shows to get us through the fog of uncertainty.
This edition of COVID-19 Streams focuses on an alt-rock ripper getting used to this “new normal,” a local indie rock stalwart who has been keeping herself busy, and a legit legend who has been spending her Sundays performing covers to help people out.
During the mid-to-late ’90s, Orbit was rocking the Boston scene while on the roster for the major label A&M Records. These days, frontman and guitarist Jeff Robbins has relocated to the quaint Rhode Island town of East Greenwich while fronting the Providence power trio 123 Astronaut. He did his first livestream show this past Tuesday via 123 Astronaut’s Facebook page and plans on making it a regular thing.
“I loved it,” Robbins said of the experience. “I was expecting sort of a disconnected feeling and definitely when a song ends and you’re back to silence, it’s a little jarring. At the same time, there’s a lot of meaningful heartfelt comments coming in through the stream. That’s a really good feeling. Applause is nice, it’s visceral but it’s abstract. The comments on a livestream are more specific, more intentional, more cerebral, and more actionable.”
“Whether people are saying, This is my favorite song, Your voice sounds great, or just Love it!, it connected way more than I was expecting,” Robbins added. “That abstract applause can be fleeting, but the comments I can go back to and read them the next day.” There hasn’t been any further announcements on when Robbins’ next livestream will be, but you can follow 123 Astronaut on Facebook to keep tabs.
Linnea Herzog, who has been fronting the Somerville dance punk act Linnea’s Garden, has been keeping herself busy with numerous livestreams. She’s been involved in a few Social Shutdown Shows to benefit ONCE, as well as the Somerville Couchfest that took place on May 9 and was streamed via her band’s Facebook page.
“Not being able to play shows, at least in the traditional format, is devastating,” Herzog said about livestreaming. “Nothing can replace the greatest feeling in the world: knowing that you’ve won over a room with your performance. As a scientist, I appreciate that health and safety come first, even when rock & roll, by definition, was never about playing it safe. As an innovator, I say that it’s very un-punk rock to sit and wait for others to tell you when, where, and how you can make art. There is so much talent and creativity here in the Boston music scene.”
“I believe that we will find new ways to perform safely, in ways that are profitable and enjoyable for venues, artists, and audiences,” Herzog said. “They will be different, scary, and uncomfortable, but then again, so is being a musician. For now, the safest realistic option is live streaming performances and us musicians need to brainstorm best practices to work with the existing technology. Also, let’s not be judgy towards people who are clearly trying. Some people only have access to a phone to make videos—that doesn’t mean their videos are automatically garbage.”
Regarding the income coming in from livestreaming, Herzog wants to support the musicians who need it the most. She also encourages those who don’t principally need money from music to do shows that benefit the venues which can use the funds.
“Some artists need the money from lost gigs,” she added. “Please make this known so I can find ways to support you, like buying your music or merch on Bandcamp. Some artists don’t need the gig money because they have another source of income. This is also OK and doesn’t mean your art is automatically of less value, but if you must play for free, please encourage donation to local independent venues like ONCE in Somerville. You may not need the money, but local venues do.”
Herzog also has some words for the haters and trolls among us.
“If you’re finding the energy to shame people on the internet or criticize people who are trying their best to make art with the resources they have, but you yourself are not making art, then maybe you should shut your mouth and get out of people’s way. This is weird for everyone and many artists are struggling with their mental health, even if it looks like they’re being productive.”
Those who know the history of New England music knows about Tanya Donelly. She got her start during the early ’80s as the vocalist and guitarist for the Newport alternative rock band Throwing Muses before becoming a Boston rock icon while co-founding The Breeders with Kim Deal and becoming the focal point of Belly. Lately she’s been doing a Sunday Series through her Bandcamp page at tanyadonelly.bandcamp.com to benefit venue employees and full-time musicians. It’s a bunch of covers with her latest one being a rendition of the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”.
“I started doing the Sunday Series of covers to raise a little money to help out local venue staff and full-time musicians whose livelihoods are being hit hard by lockdown,” Donelly explained. “There are many people in the Boston community doing the same, each in our own way. It’s also been good for me in that I get to keep playing with friends and sharing on Bandcamp. The series is based on a virtual tip jar system, so anyone unable to donate can still listen and download.”
Finally, it’s not right to pen this weekly column without talking about what Club Passim has in store for this weekend with its Passim Streams series. Isa Burke will perform on Friday, May 15; Bruce Molsky on Saturday, May 16; and Shyam Nepali on Sunday, May 17. Each stream is at 7pm and will be available via Passim’s Facebook page. As always, donations are split between the performer and the Cambridge arts nonprofit and venue. Also, ONCE has virtual shows with Dave Derby at 7:30pm on May 15, a talk show hosted by Bethany Van Delft and Carolyn Castiglia at 9pm on May 16, and Broadcast Bingo hosted by Boopsie Commons at 6pm on May 17.
Like Herzog said, if you see a musician livestreaming with a PayPal or Venmo link, then please donate some money to support them. If you’re a musician looking to get into the livestreaming game who doesn’t necessarily need the donations, please consider doing one to benefit a business or charity. A lot of them could use the help these days.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Pandemic Democracy Project.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.