Connor Garvey at his home in South Portland on Thursday. Garvey is organizing a Facebook Live concert with musicians from Maine and all around the country. The concert is a virtual version of Cover Your Friends, an event Garvey previously hosted at Blue in Portland. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Singer-songwriter Connor Garvey has hosted communal gigs at the nightclub Blue for several years, inviting other members of Portland’s famously friendly music community on stage to sing the songs of their peers. The coronavirus nixed the Cover Your Friends concert planned for Sunday night, so Garvey moved it online, reframing it as a progressive Facebook Live event where each musician will perform a brief set on their own Facebook page and a link will take viewers to the page of the next performer.

The coronavirus has shut down wide swaths of the American economy and society, but culture and creativity continue to thrive. In the last two weeks, musicians and bands have taken advantage of technology to get their music out to fans. They’re recording from remote locations, streaming live and evaluating how to turn what were supposed to be live CD-release parties and national tours into money-making ventures while staying at home.

Garvey, 35, of South Portland would prefer to perform at Blue, but that’s not an option. Instead, he’s got 15 musicians lined up in 20-minute slots between 7 p.m. and midnight for what will be a test of technology, the patience of fans and the ability of musicians to make money online, through Venmo, Paypal and other means. Six musicians from Maine, and others from Pennsylvania, Colorado, Minnesota and as far away as Alaska, will participate.

He sees Facebook Live and other streaming events as the confluence of constraint and possibility, and the next frontier, for now, in live music performance. “This is an opportunity to pivot,” he said. “There are times we need to adapt to stay afloat and there are times, by being invited into a new reality, it expands what is possible. This idea of social distancing, I like to rephrase that to distant socializing. We are finding new and interesting ways to connect.”

The shutdown hit the Falmouth household of Kate Beever and Jeff Beam particularly hard. Beever is a music therapist, and has been able to move some of her therapy work online, though it’s been challenging. But she estimates she’s lost 20 percent of her annual income to band and other gigs that have already been canceled, from here to eternity it seems. Her husband is also reeling. A songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Beam just finished a new CD of original songs and had a national tour planned, also now canceled.

Kate Beever and Jeff Beam outside of their home in Falmouth on Friday. Beever is a music therapist and Beam is a program coordinator for One Longfellow Square. Both have lost a lot of work because of the coronavirus shutdown. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

For the first time, Beam, 32, hired a New York publicist in hopes of a bigger splash, committing to a campaign that was designed to yield reviews and interviews – and putting the cost on a credit card – about a month before the coronavirus hit in Maine. “I’ve been building toward this for a couple of years, with a batch of songs I am really proud of. It’s the most commercial thing I have released,” Beam said. “We were a month into a multiple-month campaign that was going to culminate with the release of the CD, a short tour on the East Coast and longer tour of Canada.”

He will still release the self-titled CD on April 17, but everything else is on hold. Like his wife, Beam also has a day job, as venue manager and program director at One Longfellow Square. While he saw his own tour disintegrate, he was canceling gigs at OLS. “It was hard for me for a day or two, and then I realized it was the whole music industry that was coming down one way or another. I started feeling for the PR people and the music writers who might not have jobs anymore, and certainly all the other artists who stake their whole careers on this.”

Musicians adapted when the recording industry moved to digital streaming, making it harder for bands to make money selling CDs and forcing them out on the road. With the coronavirus closing nightclubs and concert halls, musicians will adapt again, Beam said. He’s promoting and selling his music online as he always does – a new single landed on bandcamp last week – and he’s waiting to see how other musicians fare in capturing the attention of fans through live streaming before he decides to move his CD-release dates online.

Early signs are encouraging. He likes that people are not hung up on sound quality, and so far, fans seem willing to pay to listen. A musician friend in Texas told him he made more money in two weeks of live streaming than two weeks of live gigging. “People are rolling with it. It’s amazing to see how America has adapted so quickly. It really is a radical shift,” he said.

Marooned at home with too many canceled gigs to recount, roots musician and storyteller Samuel James is using this unscheduled downtime to create. “I’m writing and practicing and sharpening. Eventually, I will start recording when I feel good about what I have written,” he said. He’s also doing some live streaming.

He recently hosted a Facebook Live show with D. Gross, with whom he plays occasional gigs at Blue. Gross was in South Portland and James was at home in Portland. They played live, but didn’t play together live. They traded songs back and forth. “It’s very hard to do live streaming from two locations at once,” James said. “It went pretty well, but we’re going to need some better microphones if we keep it up.”

James said they made about the same amount of money in Venmo tips during the streaming event as they would passing the hat at Blue.

The Napper Tandies, an Irish folk band, are accustomed to playing rolling gigs from morning through night on St. Patrick’s Day, but were shut down like everyone else. Matt Smith, who plays banjo, woke up at his home in Amherst feeling sorry for himself that he was not headed to the bar with his mates. “There was a little depression setting in, and I had to take those negative feelings and turn them into something positive. I thought, ‘What can we do to connect with people like we normally would?’ ”

Smith and his bandmates – accordionist Chris Brinn in Searsmont and bassist Randy Billings in North Yarmouth – made a video of “Whiskey in the Jar,” with each recording his own part remotely and sending video files to Smith. An amateur video editor, Smith spent much of his day perfecting his skills, and at 5 p.m., he posted to the band’s Facebook page the first installment of the Napper Tandies’ new Quarantine Sessions series. They’ve recorded one more video since, a cover of “The Gambler” after Kenny Rogers died.

The Napper Tandies, from left, Randy Billings, Chris Brinn and Matt Smith, record “Whiskey in a Jar” for St. Patrick’s Day, when the Irish band typically plays in bars.

Smith said the series has become the band’s most successful social media engagement to date. The lesson: “This thing has legs,” he said.

“We got a lot of really emotional comments and messages sent to us saying, ‘This is the only thing that has made me smile in days,’ and things like that,” Smith said. “It resonated on a deeper level. Our music took their minds off something else for a minute.”

The Napper Tandies have not tried to make money on the videos. They’re all employed – Billings works as a reporter at the Press Herald – and Smith said they agreed not to solicit online tips or donations. A brewery in Brewer offered to sponsor the series, but Smith said he declined. “We’re just not taking money from local businesses right now,” he said. Instead, the band put the brewery’s logo on the video as a way of thanking it for all the gigs over the years.

Dominic Lavoie, a full-time musician living in Portland, has been working to create a video mini-concert featuring him and his four bandmates, each playing in their own homes. It won’t be live; instead, he’ll cobble it together from video and audio each band member has been recording in their homes, ranging in locales from South Portland to Otisfield. The band, which performs under the name Dominic Lavoie, has a psychedelic folk-rock sound.

Lavoie starts the process by recording his parts to each song, guitars and vocals, then sends it digitally to the other members of the band. Then they record themselves – both audio and video – playing their parts. Lavoie hopes to be able to mix the audio and video with equipment in his home and combine them to create the illusion of one performance where all members can be seen and heard. He was hoping to have the first song ready to go online on the band’s YouTube channel this weekend, and add other songs later.

Jacob McCurdy in the music studio of his Kittery home on Thursday. He’s among 15 performers participating in a Facebook Live concert on Sunday that was originally scheduled to be held at Blue in Portland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Lavoie, 39, has been a professional musician for 20 years and works at music full time. He said his band has lost all of its scheduled gigs through May. He’s not sure if he’ll try to monetize the remote performance video he’s trying to create. “At this point I’m just doing this to keep busy, to keep myself from going crazy,” he said.

Jacob McCurdy of Kittery is the among the musicians who will perform on the Sunday’s Cover Your Friend progressive Facebook Live concert, “and I am super excited about it. It should be a lot of fun to do some covers and hang out” with people. He’s lost a dozen shows to the virus, including several lucrative weddings. One of his bands, the Dapper Gents, hosted a successful live streaming concert last week. “We had some technical issues, but we worked out the kinks and will try to do it again soon,” he said.

Jeff Christmas, a teacher and performer from Portland, has moved his teaching online, with some complications. He teaches ensemble performance, and there’s no way to do that remotely, with musicians far flung. “I played on a Zoom call, and they played along with me. They could hear me, but they could not hear each other. It was sad, but also reassuring. Some things you cannot replicate in the digital age.”

Christmas is part of Sunday’s night concert as well. He’s slotted to play from 7:40 to 8 p.m. He’s performed the show for three years at Blue, and will miss the camaraderie of the performers and the audience. “It’s one of my favorite events. Instead of passing around a bucket and asking people to donate, we will be deliberate about how people can use Paypal and Venmo. I have no idea how it will go, but at least it’s an option. I’m excited it is happening.”

Beever has hope, as well, and faith. As disappointed and devastated as she is about losing her gigs and her husband’s lost tour, people still need music and music still brings people together.

“At the very least, we will be OK,” Beever said. “Somehow, I have faith in us as a people.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier contributed to this story.


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