PICTURED: Kelly’s Lot performs for a live broadcast from Ojai Underground Exchange. Photo courtesy of Kelly Zirbes
by Alex Wilson
When the coronavirus caused the sudden shutdown of the live music industry, music industry professionals were profoundly impacted. Even so, some musicians are finding a silver lining; a chance to stop and reset, and discover new ways to stay connected to fans.
“We’re right there with you. We can’t wait to get back out and play.”
One local band that had hopes dashed for a planned East Coast tour is Yächtley Crëw. The self-described “Titans of Soft Rock” play catchy hits from the 1970s and 1980s and members dress as though they are captains of their own vessels. An enthusiastic audience is a big part of the show. The “Batten Down the Hatches” tour included Miami, Baltimore and Atlantic City.
“It’s a bummer but it’s happening to everybody,” said drummer Rob Jones about the canceled tour.
Instead, Yächtley Crëw has started streaming videos of past shows on social media for free, providing a platform for fans to chat about the show and interact.
“The response to those has been great. I mean, we’ve had anywhere between 4,000 and over 7,000 viewers per show. So it’s been doing very well for us, I think,” said Jones.
The band also launched a music video series called “Landlocked Sessions.” One was shot with each member performing individually outside famous Los Angeles landmarks strangely devoid of other people, including the Hollywood Bowl and downtown skyscrapers. It features the Billy Joel song “Just the Way You Are” and feels like a tribute and love letter to Southern California.
Jones says they’re looking forward to the day when they can return to their high-energy live concerts. “Once we get this whole thing stopped, I hope that people are ready to get out and have fun by that time,” said Jones. “We’re right there with you. We can’t wait to get back out and play.”
A range of emotions
Pam Baumgardner runs a website promoting local artists called Venturarocks.com and also hosts a local music show called “The Pam Baumgardner Music Hour” on nonprofit radio station KPPQ.
“I started a website encouraging people to go out and do what I love most, which is music, and support the venues that provided music,” said Baumgardner.
Her website features concert listings, and she was a bit shocked to see them all canceled indefinitely. “It’s been traumatic,” says Baumgardner. Baumgardner says there’s never been a time when people need music as much as now.
“It uplifts people. It makes them feel better if it’s only for an hour. And it puts a smile on their face. And that is so important period! But it’s super important right now because people are suffering,” said Baumgardner.
Musicians she’s talked to have had a range of emotions, but she thinks the situation has the potential to spur creativity.
“The last program I produced for the radio show, I asked for new music, and I got a bunch of people who were producing music on the fly having to do with the shutdown and the coronavirus and how it’s affecting them. And some of them are funny and others were just a little sad. So it all really depends on the spirit of the artist and where they’re coming from,” said Baumgardner.
Adventures in streaming
Kelly Zirbes sings in the Oxnard-based rock and blues band Kelly’s Lot. It’s been known for performances benefiting charities over the years, and now is taking steps to help music industry professionals whose income suddenly disappeared.
“I was very worried about all my full-time musician friends,” said Zirbes. “Luckily the majority of the people in my band have another job and those jobs have continued, so they are able to survive this. So we all together as a band have been trying to raise money for other musicians who’ve completely lost their livelihood.”
Kelly’s Lot performed a recent live stream concert at Ojai Underground Exchange where a specially designed music streaming studio was quickly assembled. Zirbes says she appreciates founder Bernie Larsen’s efforts to support musicians and music lovers.
“When this thing hit he got creative,” says Zirbes. “His video recording of these concerts is the best. Just high quality.”
Larsen is a veteran record producer and musician who has worked with world famous artists including Jackson Browne, Melissa Etheridge and Public Enemy. He and his wife, Cassidy Linder, started Ojai Underground Exchange almost four years ago where Linder teaches dance by day, with concerts staged in an intimate 50-seat listening room by night. He had limited experience with live streaming.
“I had live streamed, but not dialed in,” said Larsen. “All of our shows got canceled in an instant. Almost three months’ worth. So I just started broadcasting shows.”
He said it was a shock when the live music industry was stopped in its tracks.
“We’re not really the kind of people who really freak out about that kind of stuff,” siad Larsen. “We just flow with things . . . I said, ‘This is an opportunity for something else. We just have to figure out what that is.’ So we went to the streaming broadcasting thing and it’s been a cool adventure, too.”
Larsen previously mixed sound for about 350 live shows with an audience at the venue, but mastering live streaming for an online audience involved a whole new type of artistry, with cutting-edge streaming technology and three cameras. He was out in front of the pack when he started several weeks ago, but now artists and producers everywhere are giving it a whirl.
“It’s the Kentucky Derby of live streaming,” said Larsen. “It went from us and a handful of other people, doing it on a kind of real level, to everybody jumping on to kind of keep their fan base alive.”
People who want to stream the shows can choose to pay $5, $10 or $15. Performing artists generally take 50 percent of the sales, but some (including Kelly’s Lot) have declined in order to support the venue.
Larsen said that people who enjoy the venue have been generous and supportive. “Some people who have been regulars at our shows buy ten tickets for a show just so they can kind of help us stay afloat. And that’s kind of beautiful and humbling.”
He hopes the pandemic will actually bring people in the music business together even though there are no live shows. “When something like this comes up, all of a sudden you realize you’re a little more in touch with the brotherhood of your tribe. You do have kind of a personal relation to that struggle,” said Larsen.
“We make lemonade, man”
Another local artist whose busy concert calendar was wiped clean is Shawn Jones. He’s played guitar professionally for about 40 years, and has put out seven of his own blues and Americana albums while touring the world.He bought a house in Ventura 12 years ago, after previously living in Los Angeles and Nashville.
Jones has a big international following and was forced to cancel shows in Europe, Hawaii and Costa Rica. He also planned the official release of a new vinyl record in Liechtenstein where he shot a music video last year. Jones said international audiences appreciate his style so it’s disappointing that he can’t travel and perform.
“It’s roots music. It’s got elements of country and blues, R&B and rock. And that kind of music is very popular over there,” said Jones.
He said it was strange to find his professional life suddenly put on pause.
“It’s given me some time for reflection. I just was such a workaholic as a musician, driving and traveling and flying and singing and playing and writing and going and going and going for 200 to 250 dates a year for years and years. I’ve never taken this much time off in my life,” said Jones. “On the one hand, I needed the physical break from it. But I don’t spend this much time at home, ever. So it was quite an adjustment for me to make.”
He’s played at Ojai Underground Exchange twice, and fans have been supportive. “I did some streaming gigs, and people have been so generous. Reaching out and supporting financially, picking up product and donating to my shows. It’s been a really wonderful experience in regard to stepping away from the actual club gigs, and just getting an outpouring of love from people who appreciate your music from all over the world.”
Jones is hopeful that there will be some kind of silver lining to the live music shutdown. “We make lemonade, man. We make our own sunshine. We find a way to rise above it all,” he said. “With every given day is an opportunity to give somebody a smile or help somebody out.”
Ojai Underground Exchange