Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Editor's Note: This article has been updated since its original publication to reflect new interviews gathered by Curbside staff.
As the state-wide lock down of Oregon begins to be lifted, people are still nervous about how to move forward with live performances. Social distancing protocols are still in place, and some concert venues are limiting their crowd sizes and requiring attendees to wear masks.
Governor Kate Brown's administration released details of how the state will begin reopening, which outlines three phases. As of the date of publishing this, the current guidelines limit public and social gatherings to 25.
Up until recently, that limit has made venue shows impossible during the COVID pandemic. The lack of shows means loss of revenue for both the musicians and the venues, but has also impacted many musicians’ ability to directly interact with their fans, which is a vital aspect of any band's success.
Mom and pop venues and performers alike are having to adapt to these changing realities, but it also depends on where in the state you look, as some areas have had an easier time breezing into loosened restriction than others.
In Bend on June 12, for example, the Volcanic Theatre Pub held its first show since the pandemic shut down large gatherings back in March. The two-act show was a "social-distancing concert" -- attendees were instructed to stand at least six feet apart, hand sanitizing stations were set up all over the building and employees all wore masks and gloves.
Despite the capped attendance and spaced-out venue, there was a sense of relief that live shows were coming back, among performers and attendees alike.
Jeshua Marshall, vocalist of local opening band Guardian of the Underdog, described how tough it's been to not be able to perform or attend live art for the past few months.
"For me, music venues all over the country are my church," he said between songs. "It was kind of tough not to be going for two months."
But not all parts of the state have been approved to open such public gatherings back up. Many venues and artists, especially in urban centers like Portland and Salem, are choosing remote performances and promotion over in-person shows.
Livestreaming events and impromptu home sessions are just some of the ways that artists have found ways to fill the gap for fans, and for themselves, during this dry spell of performative art.
“We have livestreamed a number of performances now, to varying degrees of success,” said Camille Perry, member of Portland melodic folk-pop duo Complimentary Colors. "At first the livestreams were received pretty well, with fans helping to support our music readily, now we are seeing a lot of technology burnout when it comes to watching a livestreamed show.”
To combat some of that fatigue, Complimentary Colors chose to start a radio show called The Lunchbox Variety Show to offer more options for their fans.
Complicating things further, one of the members of Complimentary Colors is immuno-compromised, which makes live shows during COVID unsafe for their band.
“It [COVID] has changed most everything,” Perry Explained. “We have always had a web presence, but our main function as a duo has been to perform publicly. We built a community around our music, including a promise of ‘Free Hugs’ at every show. It has now been over 3 months since our last live, in-person performance. That’s a LOT of missed gigs and a LOT of missed hugs.”
Similarly, DJs and EDM (Electronic Dance Music) artists are having to create an energetic environment that draws in views, all without the benefits that a club or dance hall provide.
DJ and electronic producer Niah Klotz, who goes by the stage name Blood Klotz, explained, “COVID has really disconnected me from the crowd, which is hard. I play music because I love to dance and I love to see people having a good time, so it's really hard to maintain that energy when you can't see anyone else.”
At-home shows force DJ's to deal with computer speakers instead of venue sound systems, which Klotz says 'doesn't translate' in the same way as live shows.
There are also the technical issues and learning curve that come from having to change the way to perform.
For Perry and Complimentary Colors, she explained their struggles in learning the best way to get good audio and video quality, as well as managing cables and streaming services.
“It’s also a lot harder to recycle your music in a virtual atmosphere,” said Perry. “Where many musicians tend to stick to a regular set of songs, we’re needing to get much more creative and try to write more songs and learn more covers in order to keep the performance fresh for our more regular viewers.”
She later added, “The tricky part is just making sure to plan and prepare for a livestream in the same way that you would for an in-person show: without promotion, it’s hard to get anywhere.”
It's also hard to cut through the noise of all the other artists who are trying to fill fans' feeds with their content and keep engagement with their audiences.
“Honestly, the hardest part of moving to virtual for me personally is the saturation.” Klotz Said. “Physically I'm pretty lucky to have the equipment I need, but now competing with so many other people doing livestreams has been tough.”
But despite all of the challenges, fans appear to be adjusting to the new style of shows and enjoying the ability to still see music remotely.
“People really enjoy the livestreams, I think it gives them something to do at home when they wish they could be out,” explained Klotz. “Oftentimes, people will put them up on their TV, get dressed up as if they were going out, and make their own club at home.”
Moving forward, the future is unclear.
Complimentary Colors plans on continuing slowly, “As a band featuring an immuno-compromised person, we have to take precautions that many bands do not. We have no idea when we will get to perform in a venue again, but we know it won’t be any time soon.”
Klotz expressed similar feelings, “I've thought about the re-opening, but honestly it's not going to be safe in that environment for a long time, in my opinion. The second wave is coming. There have been some really interesting drive-in shows going on in secret locations in Seattle, maybe I'll try setting something like that up. But normal live events are unfortunately still a long way off for me.”
Curbside Press is working to find new ways to share local artists and livestreams during the COVID pandemic. If you are a musician or artist who does livestreams or know of artists who are livestreaming, send us their streams so we can share them with our audience. For more new Oregon music content, check out other features and articles on our website.
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