When COVID-19 Lockdown began, I was worried. My biggest stream of revenue for the last few summers has been from playing guitar on my favorite street corner. As I realized the breadth of the pandemic, it became clear that it may be impossible for me to busk this summer, and that even if I did, there might not be anyone to play to. Disappointed, I started looking for new ways to play.
That’s when my friend Meg Stepka (who I wrote a feature on last month) started her ‘(Not Just Another) Manic Monday’ virtual open mic night. Meg had been hosting the Monday night gig at Kelley’s Pub in Lakewood for a long time before lockdown, and she didn’t want to lose any momentum. Quickly, she found the means to host her group online. She introduced me to Zoom, and to possibilities I hadn’t imagined before.
I went to the first event, and the dynamic was something special. I likened it more to a Nashville listening room than a regular open mic night. Between acts, all of the participants would unmute and discuss. And during the show, we could chat freely by text.
I heard another friend from that group had been inspired to continue his songwriting group by using Zoom. I thought it was on Wednesday, but as it turned out, it was actually Thursday. I had set up my whole rig, with no show to play. With an itch to scratch, I started looking for a gig.
I searched Facebook for ‘virtual open mic’ and had to search deeply- but ended up finding one with a similar setup to Meg’s. I grabbed the Zoom link, and joined immediately. The show was already under way.
I quickly discovered that this group was based in Wisconsin, and Allen, our host, had been hosting open mic in real life with this crew for a while. I asked if I could play, and I was welcomed. It went over very well- I was likened “the new David Bowie” in the chat, and covered “Changes” in response. And the other talent was astute, as well, including Allen’s daughter playing her ukulele, which was moving. I had so much fun.
And then, I decided to attempt to find the logical limit of this virtual open mic idea. I figured I could find events happening in every time zone, and jump from one to the next all the way around the world. I headed toward the West Coast.
As soon as Allen’s show ended, I jumped into another group. This one was lead by Jared Michael from Phoenix, AZ, a pianist I have now become good friends with, and introduced to my own circle of friends. Outside lockdown, he plays in Chrome Rhino, and inside he and singer/guitarist/bassist Rachel Bachman are A Casual Divorce (golden band name), and together they compose theatrically dramatic songs.
Later in the next two weeks, I would return to their gigs, plus play shows in Virginia, Colorado, and most excitingly, London. After much fun and success, I decided to begin hosting my own virtual open mic night on Tuesday nights at 8 PM EST, to bring together all of the talent and kinship I was discovering.
The ability for us to develop relationships through music, despite the distance, is something I have never experienced before. Moving things have happened because of my curiosity.
Perhaps my favorite example: Jared and Rachel came to Meg’s Manic Monday, where they played a killer set. I played immediately after them. My buddy Cole Yurkiewicz, who I had recently sent some demos to, asked to hear one of my new songs, “In A Rookery”. I delivered his request, and afterwards, Rachel asked to have the demos as well. I sent them right away.
Tuesday night rolled around, and I hosted my own show. Jared and Rachel were there, and Jared had mentioned to me that they had a special surprise planned. Special, to me, it certainly was: for their third song, they covered “In A Rookery,” in a new key, with harmonies, on piano and guitar. I sat in my RV singing along, impressed that they had been able to learn and arrange it in less than 24 hours, and thankful for the show of respect for my songwriting.
Just two weeks before, I hadn’t know A Casual Divorce or either of its members. I hadn’t know what Zoom software was. I hadn’t known anyone in Phoenix.
And suddenly, I was friends with not only them, but a squad of their friends, who invited me to play Quiplash with them via Zoom after the end of open mic night. Now we have inside jokes together. They’ve even offered me to couchsurf with them when my real-life world tour takes me through Phoenix.
COVID-19 Lockdown has taken away my greatest passion, busking on my favorite street corner; but in its place, it has given me a new medium to play, and helped me meet a bunch of really cool people from all over the world. Where it looked like loneliness unbound lurked, instead I have uncovered compassion and companionship in unexpected places.
Join the party at Postman’s Virtual Open Mic, presented by Postman Press.
Every Tuesday at 8 PM EST.