What it’s Like Being in a Band During a Pandemic
Shortly before the pandemic hit San Francisco, in March of 2020, my bandmates and I had showed up early to a gig we were playing. We loaded our equipment into The Knockout, one of our favorite local hang outs, and met up with a couple of staff members for the sound check. We were playing a show with a few other bands for a St. Patrick’s Day event. The mayor had just announced that the ICU’s were quickly filling up due to an increased number of patients with Covid-19. She had recommended that people stay home and not gather in groups. The mood at the bar that late afternoon, was somber, to say the least. This was pre masks and pre shut down but it was just a matter of time and we knew it. A member from one of the headlining bands came up to us to explain that a couple of bands had dropped off the bill due to the uncertainty of gathering in bars. The headliner’s drummer refused to come out and play. The remaining band members asked another drummer to jump in and my band, Tight Pants and the Dynamite, decided the show must go on.
We didn’t realize then, the danger of being in close quarters. We also didn’t realize that this would be the last live show, to an audience that we would be playing for the remainder of 2020…and beyond, as we still don’t know when it is safe to do so. Immediately after this, the city went into lock down and bars, like The KnockOut, shuttered their doors. Shows we had previously booked for the year were cancelled or rescheduled in the hopes that the lock down wouldn’t last. That Covid wouldn’t last and that the lock down would take care of the concerns of multiple cases. We were wrong. The bars and restaurants in the city shut down and started Go Fund me pages to help support the workers now out of a job. Lots fellow musicians were immediately panicking too, as many of them supported themselves with their music and playing gigs was their bread and butter.
Luckily my bandmates and I all had regular jobs that we were now doing from home, but the question lingered: How would we play, record, write and create, and could we do it together, and would we ever be able to play live again? As days turned into weeks which turned into months, we chose to break the bubble and practice weekly in our rented studio space. We sanitized everything in the studio and wore masks and were careful. We decided to write more songs, record and practice, but still no shows, no outlet. The lock down eventually lifted and bars were allowed to open parklets and could have to-go drinks outside with food service, and for a while we were all cheerful and hopeful that the worst of the quarantine was over.
Unfortunately, many concerts and rescheduled shows were just flat out cancelled with no end in sight and no guarantee a future date would be safe. Local and national bands started live streaming their music. Within a few months, a local band and friends of ours got permission to play in a friend’s driveway, across from a park. A couple of us, masked up , grabbed our portable camping chairs and sat out to watch them play…live! It was amazing. The energy of the small crowd at the park was infectious.
As a musician, I have used music – playing drums, singing, writing and performing – as my creative outlet ever since my first piano lessons. Even though I was lucky enough to have a full time job I could do at home, the lack of musical creativity, especially playing live for an audience, was harder than we had anticipated. Playing was our soul, music was our heart.
We started looking into parklets to play outside at, parks, live online streaming services and platforms. In the fall, our good friend mentioned that she was hosting a live streaming show with bands at a local studio. They were safely masking up and having a band and an opener, play 2 separate stages that they recorded and streamed on a live platform. The studio, The Complex SF, is a recording and art production space in the heart of San Francisco, and they were using Twitch TV as a platform for live performances done safely without an onsite audience. I jumped at the chance and emailed them and was lucky enough to book us a Sunday evening slot before Thanksgiving.
When we arrived the night of the show, the staff was limited and had us do a temperature check and keep masks on while we used mostly their equipment, which had been sanitized and kept to a small stage they had set up. We performed live with a rad hostess chatting in between songs and a great light technician and camera operator. We played about 40 minutes and it was the most fun we had had in months. You can watch it right here.
Afterwards I thought “this is the new wave of performing”. It can be done safely and creatively. All of the arts have been suffering but here is a way to get live music out to an audience who desperately needs all the fun and good energy we can get right now. When we were playing, people watching had the ability to use the chat feature to submit comments to us and, when we watched the show later and read the comment, it was so uplifting and supportive.
The Pandemic is still in full swing, shows are still not safely scheduled to resume, but with the vaccine rolling out, hopes are high that in person gatherings may begin again. That said, we don’t know when and or how it will look in the future. In the meantime music will go on, with the help of creative platforms like The Complex SF, Twitch TV, Youtube live, Lightrail Studios and others. Musicians will continue to be creative and share their art with whomever needs it. We will continue to fight this virus together and continue to stay positive and express our love and passion through our music. The world isn’t the same without music. It’s what unites us.