Five production teams, four local music venues, three hosts, 12 bands and solo artists, countless supporters…we all came together to put on the Virtual Venue Love Fest 2021: a day-long virtual music festival that would raise money for independent local venues that are struggling through the Covid-19 shut-downs.
The day was a complete blur at the time. Monday morning brought a whirlwind of emotions when I sat with my coffee and starting watching through the epic 8-hour live stream, reflecting on the epic thing the we somehow pulled off…
We spent weeks and weeks preparing for this massive endeavor. Even still though, as with many things that involve organizing something like this, we definitely had our glitches. Without going into any individual sagas of the hows-n-whys, the general things I remember going “wrong” were: we had an artist drop out due to illness and had to try and fill the slot last-minute, we started 50 minutes late, we couldn’t get it to YouTube, the first set from the Bur Oak stage had a terrible noise gating issue which made the audio super rough, some of the sound was a bit distorted from our Communication stream, and the bitly link that was supposed to connect folks to the PayPal donation center wasn’t working.
Ya know what though? As stressful as it felt at the time, everything sorted itself out as we went along. We had a terrific artist swoop in and save the day by filling the vacant time slot. No one seemed to mind the late start, the musicians and crews and hosts adapted to make up for time. The couple of stages that had glitchy sound eventually got it together to come through well enough, and I was able to stay relatively on top of communication with folks about the donation link.
By the end of the day, we felt overall like it was indeed a success! Things that went “right” were: we mostly figured out our glitches, I think the bands and crews all had good fun, the viewers and listeners at home seemed to really enjoy the show, AND we raised around $4,000 to go toward supporting our local venues! There was indeed SO much that felt so right!
Even still though…for me, on a deeply personal level…there’s one thing about the whole damn day that felt… I don’t know, really good AND really really fucking hard to deal with emotionally…
My day had started at 8:30 AM at the coffee shop. As a sponsor of the event, Cargo Coffee East had generously decided to donate coffee, cookies, wraps, and chips to each of the production crews stationed at the venues. The staff helped throw together the coffee and fixins, and I threw my game face on and made over a dozen wraps for the crews, spelling out “thank you” in mustard and drawing little hearts of mayo as I went, spreading hummus as a warm think blanket of Gratitude. I stashed the wraps in the cooler to keep them fresh for later, gathered the coffee stuffs, thanked my fellow coffee-slingers for their help, then made the rounds to each of the venues to drop off caffeine-and-cookie drugs to fuel the morning. For most of the venues, I arrived before the production crews got there, so I got to feel like a wee lil coffee fairy.
When I was settled back at Communication, I just tried my best to take it all as it came, put out the vibes for a good festival. Even as we were struggling with the late start and the glitches and such, I just took it as all part of the experience when it comes to doing things like this. All you can do is troubleshoot the problems as they appear and move on to the next thing! Haha! So even though there were random stresses throughout the day, it wasn’t really weighing on me that much.
After we had gotten started and settled into the flow of things by the afternoon, I went back to Cargo to get the wraps and start delivering lunch to the crews.
When I dropped at Cafe Coda, the musicians there were just wrapping up their set. It felt so good to walk into a venue again and see musicians on the stage, a sound and video crew set up, lights on and frequencies pumping. As I dropped the wraps and chips, I felt it for a split second. That familiar feeling from the Before time, when used to do this every weekend…
I went to the Bur Oak stage and dropped wraps to the crew as they were sound-checking my friend Beth. The stage there is beautiful, and even more beautiful was seeing my dear friend standing on it with her guitar, ready to play in honor of our local venues. Much like the Coda stage, the crew at the Bur Oak was all set up and kicking, setting cameras and checking sound. As I dropped the wraps and wished everyone a good show, I felt it again. For just a tiny second, I felt that familiar feeling wash over me again. It gradually left me though, as I turned to walk through the rest of the venue, empty and void of sweaty bodies that used to gather…
As I made my way to the Bos Meadery stage, I had the live stream playing on my phone in the background. The Bur Oak stage had started with Beth’s set, but the audio glitches were plentiful. As I listened and tried not to worry, I sent some you-GOT-dis vibes to my friends at the venue, and told myself they’d figure it out, cause they’re fuckin’ awesome at what they do. When I got to Bos Meadery, I felt it again. That feeling, a little harder this time. My friends Kat & The Hurricane were sound-checking, the crew and I greeted each other with warmth and hugs, and it felt…normal for a minute. Like nothing ever happened. Like we were just here doing the things we love doing, gathering in the name of music, celebrating what we are and sharing our heArt. I threw Love & Gratitude at the venue and the musicians and crew, then left to drop food to our master control crew.
When I walked into the station, I was reminded immediately how very little I know in the land of television and broadcast, and what it takes to pull something like this off. There was a cool set with my sharpie-ed “Virtual Venue Love Fest” logo all done up with animated hearts and on digital display. There were multiple cameras, fancy lights, a space-age-looking control room filled with gadgets I know nothing about, and a guy running the whole thing whose brain I’d like to walk around in, to see how he’s pulling all this off….also secretly hoping he’s not totally regretting involving himself in this…haha! The best part of stopping by the master control, aside from nourishing bellies with wraps and chips, was seeing my friend Jimmy K in tv-host mode, totally out of his element as a radio show host. Just seeing his furry face again, and the awesome shape his beard had taken from mask-wearing, melted my heart a bit. I thought of all the summertime gigs and events we’ve shared over the last 8 years, and I felt it again. For a small second, I felt that familiar feeling again. Just…normal…
I went back to Communication, and the rest of the festival was kinda blurry. I remember feeling nourished by my friend Kelly’s music. Only thing I remember from my own set was the sound issues at the beginning, and also how difficult it was to take off the festival organizer hat and put on the gig hat. It did feel really damn good to play with Jenna again, and Kelly came back to sing harmonies with me…and for a minute…once again, I felt that completeness. With no in-person audience, I found Home in that moment through the friends I was playing with.
After we wrapped up our gear, we went back to the master control studio, and I did an on-camera interview for the last talk segment. Truth be told, I’m quite uncomfortable on camera, so this part was a bit of a blur for me too. After it was done, I threw some Love & Gratitude to the geniuses behind the operation, and we left the studio. Before going home, we decided to take advantage of our “festival organizers” title, and go to Bos Meadery in person for the last band.
As with the other venues, there wasn’t an “audience” in the traditional sense, more like a small assortment of bodies involved with the show. Old Soul Society was on stage as a trio for their set, small sound/video crew with all their gear set up, venue staff; and Derek’s daughter and her partner, who had also played the festival earlier in the evening. I spied my friend Sarah, a hardcore local music supporter and show-goer, sitting off to the side and watching the show. “Well hey there, how’s it going cheater?!”, giggling and smiling at her ability to get into literally any show, even when it’s not open to the public. “Derek’s daughter needed a ride!” I rubbed literal elbows with her and told her I was really happy to see her there.
As I looked around, that familiar feeling took over me again, and got gradually more and more potent. I took in the whole scene. My friends on stage making absolutely astounding noises, my friends in the sound/video crew, just nailing the mix and the tones and filling the room, amplifying this magical music medicine, helping it radiate throughout the hardwood flooring, vibrating my bones once again, permeating my skin once again like a warm hug from an old friend. Walking from one end of the room to the other and getting stopped to chat about music and projects and what we’re all working on, my head moving to the music involuntarily….smiling over at Sarah, loving seeing her in her element again…feeling like there was just enough of my music community present with me in that room…it just felt like home. I was Home again. My heart felt full again. I let the feeling take over me, and it stayed. I didn’t care, I wanted to hang onto that feeling for as longs as I could. I let it linger, let the sounds take over, let Old Soul Society render me unconsciously Conscious again…
At the end of it all I hugged those who consented, and I hugged them hard. Then I went home and passed…the fuck…out.
Reflecting the next morning brought a flood of emotions. Watching through the footage was terrific, and it was so great to see so many people throw themselves into such an endeavor, so fun to watch through and see all the stuff I missed while I was running around! People Brothers Band set looked like they had a lot of fun, Wurk seemed to have a great time, all the comments in the feed showing the bands love was great, everyone seemed to really have a good time! Even still though, something felt…just not right…
The sound through Skype…watching and listening through technology…through virtual reality…through digital viewing devices…no matter how good your video and/or audio is, no matter how “clean” the feed goes out, event if it’s done by the “top” minds in broadcasting with the most top-notch gear…it will NEVER be the same as literally going to the venue and being in the room itself.
No amount of fancy tech can re-create the magic I feel at a live show, whether playing or listening. The crew and everyone involved did an absolutely outstanding job making this festival a wonderful virtual experience, make no mistake about that. And we DID raise a decent lil chunk of money for local venues. But no virtual festival will ever feel the same as the real thing.
No one watching at home got to experience what I felt at Bos that night. They couldn’t hear just how awesome Dustin nailed the sound, how crystal clear and cool Tony’s video setup was. They couldn’t feel the frequencies flying through the air like I could, couldn’t feel the vibrations of the vocal harmonies on their skin like I could, couldn’t feel Kenny’s passionate violin solos fill the room and bounce off the walls and back like I could, couldn’t hug friends like I could…for as magnificent as it all was, it still felt all wrong at the same time.
We need our music scenes back.
It’s not an optional thing, not “recreational” or “unessential”. Trust me, it’s very fucking essential. We can do whatever we can think of to help. Donate money. Give time and resources. Show support however we can, but most importantly: when it comes time for the venues to re-open, we need to LET THEM OPEN. I know it’s scary, but if we want our music scene to come back, we have to let it come back. This means supporting the idea that it is ok to gather for music.
To some of us this just doesn’t feel good, there’s a fear still very much present. And yet, so many others are becoming desperate for this. How are we to agree on what it the best move? Maybe we won’t, and that’s just how it’ll have to be? I don’t know the answers. I DO know that we need to hold space for everyone if we can, have empathy for each other. Because the truth is there is no clear answer that everyone is going to agree on, because what makes people feel safe and comfortable seems to be a giant spectrum.
The truth is, MOST people seem to lie somewhere within this spectrum. There is a full array of things that people consider ok and not ok, a full spectrum of opinion on what is “safe” and “reckless”. Far on one side of the spectrum is the opinion that this whole thing is ridiculous and everything is as “safe” as it’s gonna get and we need to get back to our lives right this moment. Way down on the other side of the spectrum is the thinking that nothing is ever going to feel “safe” or “normal” ever again, and no one should be leaving their houses until the numbers are down to zero and everyone has been tested and vaccinated.
For SO many more though, we lie somewhere in that in-between land, where a super wide array of feelings exist. I’ve learned that what makes someone feel “safe” and ready to go “back to normal” differs from person to person.
Some feel safe as long as they’re wearing a mask, or as long as others are wearing a mask too. Some feel safe as long as they’ve been vaccinated, or if they know the person they’re with has been tested. Some don’t like the thought of gathering in the hundreds at a large venue, but would feel comfortable going to an outdoor show at a smaller venue with a limited amount of people there, space to spread out. Some people don’t feel super comfortable going to shows regularly, but would maybe catch one every other month or so, to get out of the house for a minute, as long as the seating was reserved and the tables are distanced. It seems like so many people only feel “safe” if their own personal set of conditions has been met, and everyone seems to have a different set of conditions. And how the hell can we adhere to everyone’s individual conditions when they exist on such a detailed spectrum, ya know? It just feels so impossible.
My hope for the re-opening of our music scene is to see everyone hold space, hold empathy in their hearts, for this wide and vast spectrum of what makes a person feel safe enough to gather for music. No one knows the “right” way to go about getting our music scenes started again, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t support it and start to at least try breathing life back into it. I want us to all hold space and empathy for everyone along the full spectrum. It starts with us as individuals. It starts with me.
I am going to book shows for myself and continue to curate live music, because I truly believe in the power of music to guide us and provide healing. If I invite someone to a show and they don’t feel comfortable attending, I will honor their decision with Love and respect to their feelings and where they are at on their Journey; and it is my hope that they will respect and honor my decision to play music in-person.
I’m going to continue to visualize our music scene pulling through this, close my eyes and see our venues slowly starting to bloom again…if we want it, we gotta actually FEEL it, likes it’s real and shit. Feel it…smell it…taste it…touch it…literally close the eyelids and SEE people slowly starting to step toes outside again, and into our local music spots…people wondering where those heavenly sounds are radiating from, being drawn and drifting to our smaller independent venues for some musical healing, feeling safe and comfortable to do so…
I’m grateful to the festival for all that the experiences taught me; but mostly I’m grateful for the cocktail of pain and joy I felt, because it fueled me even more to continue the work. Holding onto this vision gives little bits of hope, and so I remain steadfast and vigilant.