The Year in Music & the Arts • 2020

Cultivating Isolation and Making Connections in the Matrix

    icon Dec 10, 2020
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“Well, #&*%”

What else do you say if you are a musician in 2020?

In a matter of a few hours last Spring, independent music as we knew it ceased to exist.  While a sputtering live music scene limped along gamely under tents and temporary bandstands this summer, it's fair to say most things came to a screeching halt with the onset of the pandemic and the ensuing restrictions to activities we previously took for granted.

2020 was certainly a tough year to release new music. If you put out an album this year, you most likely spent the last couple recording it.  Scrimping and saving to pay for its production and release was something you didn't mind doing, because you had a vision of how you were going to be able to market it and how much fun it was going to be to finally play these tunes live. 

Um … oops?

But, as they say, adapt or die.  And adapt we have.

If there is one big innovation in music that comes from 2020, it is probably that online live music seems to finally be coming of age.

Musicians adapted almost immediately, with primitive phone videos marking the early attempts at reaching now isolated music fans.  Suddenly everyone was online, warts and all.  (And left handed!)

Over the ensuing months the performances have improved and we are all getting an idea of how this might be useful both now and going forward.

If you look online tonight, there is a good chance you are going to find many of our own local practitioners giving it a go online.

Facebook Live and Bandcamp are now developing functions that will allow for artists to present private, ticketed events or sell subscriptions to their live streams. 

On any given evening you might find Carrie Westbay or Kris Pride-Helm on Sessions Live.  Andy Dalton, Andrew Kitzman, Michelle O'Neil and others are now regular faces on Facebook Live with polished solo performances that are at least reminiscent of their entertaining “in-person” live shows.

Area churches, a growing force in live music due to the growing popularity of praise bands, have also weighed in on this front.  Many churches now present a weekly music program online, as in-person worship has not always been possible.  Some, like Hopevale Church of Saginaw, have produced some very polished “Zoom-style” videos.  Performers recorded their parts separately, to be edited together later as into a final “performance.”

One other note worth watching.  Many musicians will be able to tell you that it became (and remains) difficult to source many of the kinds of gear that you use to produce home recordings.  Mics, interfaces, USB mixers and the like became scarce over the Spring and Summer months.

The main reason behind this wasn't just the disruption to global supply chains.  As white-collar America was sent to work from home, they bought this same stuff up in an effort to connect to Zoom meetings and to be heard by clients and co-workers who were now at a distance.  Add in a new wave of podcasters and you had what appeared to be a shortage, even though the market was actually swamped with every bit of inventory in stock in the category.

One thing to watch will be when those workers go back to work in person, leaving this gear behind for their kids to play with. 

My guess is, in the wake of both Billy Eilish and public health crisis that reinforced that you may just have to go it alone, this equipment will allow for a new wave of creativity.  It may take some time to pay off, but it may be one of many long term positive changes that have their roots in the doldrums of 2020.

Having said this, here are a few highlights that occurred in the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2020:

January started with great promise as Jeff Poirier brought his 4th annual Band Roulette to the State Theater, which featured nine returning musicians and 24 new faces, raising thousands of dollars for the admirable efforts of the D-Street Music Foundation. The long-standing musical showcase & restaurant known as The Hamilton Street Pub underwent a complete renovation from top-to-bottom, and Pit & Balcony Theater staged the everlasting poignancy, glitter, and hubris of the Jazz Age with their stunning re-creation of The Great Gatsby.

The powerful and awe-inspiring creativity of vocalist & songwriter Amy Petty came into full-flourish in February with the release of her beautiful original collection of material on The Darkness of Birds; while Rick Gellise released some soul-shaking originals and covers on Nightshift Blues, and the one-many musical army known as Andy Dalton dropped his two-disc opus The Fireside Wake.

As February edged into March, we witnessed Scott Baker’s impressive Hallowed Sighs, only to have the COVID-19 lockdowns kick-in forcing the Saginaw Art Museum to suspend their much-anticipated exhibition by interior designer John Kaloustian. Fortunately, Pit & Balcony was able to stage one weekend of performances for their regional premier of Steve Martin’s timely existential comedy Meteor Shower, which forced people to ask the question of why people do the things they do.

Late March & April witnessed the Nobel prize winning artistry of Bob Dylan return with his 16-minute opus Murder Most Foul - a powerful and sobering elegy to generational indifference and the dark truths simmering underneath the casket of the American soul. April also brought with it two of the year’s best new releases by regional artists - Audrey Burne’s full length debut release along with Andy Reed’s Tribute album Echoes: Remembering the Music of Tom Petty, which featured numerous local musical treasures recording their takes on some of Petty’s memorable material.

The month of May saw Todd Michael Hall battle for the top slate on the national talent show The Voice, while June set the stage for this new platform of streaming performances, as The REVIEW presented its 34th Annual Music Awards on June 15th as a two-and-a-half hour streaming performance, which was deftly edited by James Cooke of Cooke Productions. Some of the top winners included Here After Six (Best Metal Band); Barbarossa Brothers (Best Alternative Band); Andy Dalton (Most Innovative Artist & Best CD Release); Konebra Kai (Best Rock Band); Rebel Line (Best Country Band); and The Blue OG’s (Best Blues Band).

The summer witnessed Queen of the Blues Sharrie Williams releasing her long-anticipated album titled Walls; along with the much lauded debut release from Marsupial Creampie; and October gave us a sneak-peak at the D.A.B. (David Asher Band’s) debut release, which is slated for full national release on January 1st of this year.




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