Local Musicians Talk About Surviving the COVID Shutdown and Returning To Playing Live

click to enlarge Local indie rockers Arms & Armour. - Courtesy of Arms & Armour
Courtesy of Arms & Armour
Local indie rockers Arms & Armour.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut things down some 17 months ago, no one knew what to expect. As the days, weeks and months began to add up, the isolation became acute for many, not least of all musicians, for whom live shows are lifeblood, an exchange of energy with the audience.

“I missed the rehearsals and the road,” says local producer Javier Davis, echoing the sentiment of many gigging musicians, who killed the engines in their vans, not sure when they might need them again.

Drummer Anthony Taddeo performs with Italian folk group Alla Boara, jazz group AlbaTrio, Appalachian revivalists Hey Mavis and vocalist Helen Welch.
“The last show I played was in Alabama with Helen Welch,” he says. “I felt like the last gigging musician in the world that day.”

Lauren Hillary Voss’s last show before lockdown was on March 9, 2020, at the Beachland with post-industrial doomgazers Arms & Armour.
“I remember we were all nervous ‘cause the other bands were from Europe and everyone was like, ‘Should we be shaking hands and stuff?’” she says. “It was pretty weird, though we had no idea how surreal everything was about to get.”

Then, things then got quiet. As venues scrambled to stay afloat, musicians had to redirect their creativity to find new ways of connecting with other players and fans. Online experimentation flourished, and the desire musicians had to connect with audiences was palpable.

“I found a lot of inspiration in the Instagram community that deals with electronics and synthesizers,” says Taddeo. “It was such a great sounding board for my many experiments.”

“There were a lot of online musical fests and forums,” says Voss. “It gave my project more opportunities to play ‘out of town’ than I would have had since I had just had a baby.”

Ed Sotelo, bassist with Hello!3D, Jack Fords, Brent Kirby and the New Lou Reeds, kept his nose to the grindstone. “There were demos and some remote recording during the early part of the pandemic, but barring that, my teaching work forced me to exercise some degree of creativity,” he says. “I missed meeting old friends, making new ones.”

The sigh of relief as venues began to reopen was like the Shot Heard Round the World. Musicians and fans alike will tell you nothing beats a live show.

Last month, Arms & Armor performed an unofficial EP release with Oregon Space Trail of Doom at the Happy Dog.

“That happened to be one of the most well-attended shows we have played to date,” says Voss. “It sold out and was relatively packed. The vibe was incredible — a fully engaged audience of people who all wanted to be there at that particular show to see that particular line up, and it was awesome.”

In May, Sotelo plugged back in with Brent Kirby at Forest City Brewery.
“Me and the guys in the group — it's a quartet — all had our shots,” he says. “It was an outdoor setup, and since Forest City's back patio is quite large, social distancing was relatively easy. To purchase a beer from the indoor bar, one had to wear a mask . . . serious music fans are willing to undergo restrictions to insure the safety of all involved in the performances.”

“It feels a little weird still,” says Taddeo. “You can still feel a slight hesitancy or uneasiness in the room, but once things get going everyone loosens up and then you feel the overwhelming amount of joy that the audience has to be witnessing music in person again.”

Davis performed on July 1 at the Winchester and cherished the moment. “It was very well-attended,” he says. “The vibe was up-tempo, dancy, bright and dark, loud and beautiful.”

Has the pandemic offered musicians a new perspective moving forward?
“In ways it was maddening, but I feel that it has given us a much-needed pause to reflect about what we are doing and why we are doing it,” says Taddeo.

Voss is more succinct. “Um, it sucked. Let's not do that again. Get your vaccine.”

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