Garfield County musicians speak to a year where live music was lost
COVID-19 took venues, opportunities but 2021 sings a song of redemption
Musician Kyle Jones is fully committed to his art. Like so many others, March 15 of last year was just the beginning of a series of hits Jones would take as someone who performed for a living because of the pandemic.
“I lost 80% of my work in a day and the most frustrating thing for me is that I did nothing wrong. I’m really good at what I do and I could not go out and find another job,” Jones said.
Jones teaches private lessons, but he also relied on his job at the piano bar in downtown Glenwood Springs, working as an accompanist for Glenwood Springs High School and Coal Ridge High School for student musicals and his performances at the First Presbyterian church. He said that it was almost immediately that the piano bar laid off all their musicians and sold its piano.
“These jobs are not just going to disappear for a little while, they are not coming back,” Jones said.
First Presbyterian would continue to pay Jones even as services weren’t held in person, but he met some significant push back when it came to performing in downtown Glenwood. He compared Basalt to Glenwood and how the city worked with Willits Arts Center to coordinate a way to bring live music to people eating outside or wandering the town and support struggling musicians who had nowhere to play.
“I cannot commend Basalt and that art center at Willits enough for what they did because just the fact that they had the wherewithal to put this together was a huge compliment to me and so many others that were struggling,” Jones said.
In March of last year Jones had less than 10 students taking lessons with him and now he has 20. He said outdoor gigs are beginning to pop up more and he’s played the ice rink in Snowmass, but there is still an urgency and desperation for him to find more ways to play and return to a place of financial stability. Jones said it wasn’t just jobs that musicians lost due to the pandemic, but their passion to play.
“It fosters this environment that continues to feel like we were not cared for,” Jones said.
He said he wanted to express gratitude to community members and organizations which have been supporting him throughout this time, and to put a spotlight on local musicians. While restaurants have been hit hard, Jones said the challenges musicians faced from COVID-19 are stuck in the shadows and continue to go unnoticed to a certain extent by the community.
“And you can still listen to music on Spotify everyday. If your favorite restaurant closes down, you feel that,” Jones said.
Joey Ball and Aundrea Ware both are local musicians who play in several bands, but when they formed The Queen Bees back in spring of 2020 they didn’t think it’d be a long-term project. Before COVID-19 cancelled live music gigs everywhere, the group was already being booked for shows after their debut performance at the Country Outlaw Music Show. The four-piece, all female acoustic bluegrass band consists of Ware who sings, Ball who sings and plays guitar, Portia Rogers who plays the mandolin and guitar, and Suzanne Nadean-Porter, a musician who’s part of the Grand Junction Orchestra and plays the cello and violin.
At the time of the interview, Ware and Ball said it was the first time they had been in the same room together since October.
“We haven’t been able to practice at all since the last wave. It was a really scary wave. But now that some of our members have been vaccinated and are feeling more comfortable about gathering, we’re planning to start practicing at the end of next month and we’re already booked for the end of May,” Ware said.
The Queen Bees had options over the past year to perform live stream concerts, but Ball said it doesn’t compare to having the in-person connection with the audience.
“It’s hard. I don’t know if some people prefer it, I don’t prefer it at all. I enjoy it because I got to be with my bestie here and be with my girls which is why I do music anyway, is to be around people. And I really crave the audience energy and feedback. I like to banter with the people in the audience and the people onstage so I appreciate all the venues that offered live feed to try and keep things going,” Ball said.
For a live stream they had at the Ute Theater, Ware brought in a pseudo-audience prop for her and her bandmates to make eye contact with while playing, instead of staring at the vacant hall in front of them.
“When we did the Ute live stream, Aundrea brought a big teddy bear and stuck it in the audience so that we had something to look at, we’re singing to the teddy bear,” Ball said.
With the vaccine rollout and warm weather, the group is feeling more confident about getting together to practice and perform. Ware performed in the Country Music Show last weekend and said as happy she and the other musicians were to be onstage, she felt a similar energy from the audience members who were able to be there.
“I think the audience was just if not more excited than we were to be there and to be part of a show, like I said is that flag of hope that the world is opening up and we’re gonna start seeing it more. I think everybody misses everybody. We all miss each other,” Ware said.
Oran Mor self identifies as a “creatively Celtic” band and started with just the duo of Tom and Karen Cochran, but since then developed into a 5-piece group. The name translates to great song in Gaelic and includes Brendan Cochran, son of Tom and Karen, who sings and plays percussion, Tom plays guitar and sings, and Karen plays whistles, recorders, the guitar and sings. Bobby Campbell and Jonathan “Jonny McSatz” Satz are the final two members with Satz on the bass and singing a little, and Campbell on the flute, saxophone and percussion with even less singing than Satz.
It was March 15, 2020 when the group had multiple gigs lined up for St. Patrick’s Day and watched them all get cancelled in one fell swoop.
“There are some ways that you could manage to still do some things even with the issues surrounding the covid life. But, certainly compromised. It was much less frequent, our opportunities and more challenging,” Campbell said.
They tried to practice together by sending recordings of each other playing back and forth, but found it hard to recreate the chemistry they had in-person. Satz said when things were beginning to warm up, back in May and June, they found an out-of-the-box solution to practicing.
“We started practicing where Bobby would be in the kitchen and Tom and Karen would be at one end of the dining room, Brendan at the other and I was in the living room … none of us were closer than 10 feet away,” Satz said. “So, we were practicing in their house with all the doors and windows open … wearing masks when we weren’t singing or blowing a horn.”
Tom Cochran said it felt like they were behind, with the turmoil in the world and barriers keeping the band from getting together. This week Oran Mor takes the stage again for St. Patrick’s Day 2021, and continues to book gigs even further down the road.
“It feels like right now we’ve been practicing really hard these last few weeks and it feels like we’re starting to get back to that place of being on top of the music again, instead of feeling like we’re trying to find it,” Tom Cochran said.
A concert this past Saturday was cancelled due to weather but they’ll be playing Carbondale Beer Works on March 28 instead. Campbell said he guaranteed it will be warm, sunny weather – perfect for beer-drinking and a grand time for all.
Oran Mor is feeling ready to safely return to the live music scene and excited to have the opportunities to play again. The band acknowledged the hesitancy from some venues to start hosting bands again, and said they understood the challenges from safety precautions and financial challenges. But, as warmer temperatures are popping up over the horizon the two-way gift of music, particularly of the Scottish and Irish variety, will be gracing the ears of Roaring Fork folks soon enough.
“I think it’s part of the mind shift that’s happened with COVID is people have sort of learned what a gift the arts are, and those opportunities that they have to see people playing out live now they’re sort of this ‘oh my gosh, it’s live music! It’s finally live music again,’ you know?,” Brendan Cochran said.
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