I Miss Live

I can’t tell you how much I miss the physical impact of sound waves against my body in a shared environment – from small, intimate nightclubs to massive public events – with like-minded people who sought out the physical and emotional vibrations of live entertainment! At this time of year my family, friends and I would usually be attending an average of 2-3 shows per week. Usually! Nope. No rock, no jazz, no folks or blues, no funk, no R&B or hip hop, no classical or opera, no comedy, no stadiums, no festivals Not this season. Not around here, anyway! Admittedly, I’m going through withdrawal.

Here in the Bay Area, venues small & large are (were?) plentiful, with lots of smart folks booking quality and variety in all genres, there has never been a shortage of entertainment choices. I hope when all the casualties of the pandemic are realized that most of these music and performance spaces are able to survive!

I feel awful for all the people who make their livings in live entertainment. Not just the singers, musicians and the comics, but every electrical, lighting, rigging, sound, recording, telecommunication, instrument technician; every venue owner/operator, concert producer, box office person, ticket seller, vendor, talent buyer, manager, agent, stage hand, roadie, driver, and anyone else I might have left off; I have deep respect for all of these hardworking people because without them, live entertainment as we know it wouldn’t exist.

I also love the acoustic, non-amplified, back porch esthetic. Americana, roots, country, it’s all great music. Small P.A.’s and strong, projecting voices of musicians playing from driveways, lawns and porches, spread out socially distant. At the present moment, that and video performances are the best we’ve got. But me, I really miss going to see live music and comedy. A Lot! Soon! Let’s hope!

But yes, all those intimate videos of performances by an insanely diverse array of talented singers and musicians are providing a release for the performers. Making the videos has become a common mode of artistic articulation for many entertainers, not just for self-expression, but to share and convey their talents along with their desires to play for their audiences.

Current online technologies allow for artists to monetize their performances through virtual tip jars that enable fans and viewers to contribute and thank the performers. Are these tip jars bringing in as much cash as a paying in-person gig? Maybe, maybe not. But you can be assured the performers are appreciative of any monetary consideration distant audience members care to provide. Some performers have even taken to selling tickets to online performances, where they frequently have “attendees” from outside their regular spheres of influence. Whether these folks are playing for tips or paid admissions, as audience members we must recognize that there are costs involved with the production of such events, usually paid directly from the pockets of the performers themselves. Some players might have underwriters who cover some of the expenses of putting on a show, but the majority of artists going this route may barely be breaking even.

Were this a “normal” year, the first weekend of October would be the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite annual events for the opportunities it presents to see a wide range of music and styles by performers whom I greatly admire, as well as getting turned on to new artists, some of whom are totally new to me. The other event I’m really missing this year was Comedy Celebration Day, also in San Francisco. For the last 40 years this annual yuk fest has brought together some of the country’s leading standup performers and newcomers for an afternoon of laughter for the masses.

Yup, I really miss sitting in the park with a large crowd of friends and strangers, there to share a communal laugh or melody. Even when the fog blows in and things cool off as they sometimes do unexpectedly, that shared experience is not diminished. When you share an experience with a few thousand like-minded people, the energy is powerful and invigorating; it is undeniable even if a joke or a note falls flat. These are experiences I miss greatly, and I imagine I’m not alone.

There are signs of hope. Around the country, with safety protocols in place, a few venues are slowly reopening, sadly with attendance restrictions. But it’s a start. While the weather stays warm, there are still some opportunities for outside events. Bands will be playing in parking lots, open fields, and stages at drive-in movie theaters, all in efforts to keep audiences safe and socially distant, though I’m absolutely certain, they’d all rather be performing to packed venues with audience members shoulder to shoulder, table to table with close adjacent seating. It may be a while before we are able to comfortably return to these familiar settings. Hopefully, sooner than later! But until then, I miss live.