Normally, there would be a packed house for the weekly hootenanny. But, due to the recent Coronavirus Pandemic, all live music gatherings have been canceled until further notice in the state and around the country.
Standing in front of the microphones onstage, The Gem Rats gazed out onto an empty room. And situated in the middle of that desolate space was a webcam, with numerous viewers from Western North Carolina and beyond tuning in through Facebook Live.
“I’ve never played a live show like this before. It’s weird because we know people are watching online, but the energy on the stage still felt pretty good,” said singer/guitarist Jerad Davis (aka: J. Rex). “When I play with my eyes closed, it feels like a normal gig. But, I open them and it’s this empty room — it’s a strange feeling.”
Though The Gem Rats performance was free to view, there was also a suggested donation. Proceeds from the live stream went to employees of Boojum Brewing who may have fallen on hard times due to the coronavirus’ effects on the business.
“Our thoughts right now are with everyone who works full-time in the music and craft beer industry — all these people who are now struggling,” Davis said.
With The Gem Rats being a one-time ensemble of local musicians put together for the online concert, Davis and two others onstage (bassist Adam Bigelow and dobroist Carter Giegerich) are part of Ol’ Dirty Bathtub, a popular Western North Carolina string act.
“We’ve been on cusp of this technology being viable to musicians for a while now,” Giegerich said. “And with everybody now staying home due to the coronavirus, you’re going to wind up seeing more people buying into it.”
And buying into it is something music freaks and the general public have done in recent days and weeks. While seeking out new and innovative avenues to entertain themselves during the pandemic, musicians and fans are finding new ways to connect.
“The coronavirus crisis that has gutted the arts and music industry has now created the potential to explore these new ways to share music — making people more receptive to things like live streaming,” Giegerich said.
With any and all live music canceled for the foreseeable future, seemingly every touring musician and band has set up live music streams (with suggested donations or ticket purchases to online performances) — from private homes, studios, venue stages or outside in some bucolic setting.
Even ODB has had to eliminate many well-paying shows, of which the band members had looked forward to — artistically and financially.
“We have a really great gig down in Atlanta at the end of May with the Rumpke Mountain Boys, this national touring band. And we’ll be pretty bummed if it gets canceled,” Davis said. “But, this is happening to all of our musician friends, many of which are professionals whose entire income has just vanished.”
Luckily, like the rest of the ODB members, Davis has a day job, which for him is being a private attorney who also does court appointed work for Haywood and Jackson counties.
“Even though the courts are closed for the next 30 days, I still have a bit of work to do for other clients,” Davis said. “And I think all of us in the band are thankful that we have these other sources of income.”
Boojum Brewing co-owner Ben Baker, who was running sound and lights for The Gem Rats show, said the venue will be open for other local acts looking to do live streams. He welcomes those musicians to contact the business about putting something together.
“Live music is a big part of who we are and what we’re all about here,” Baker said. “We’re ready to host and help out in any way we can to all of these incredible bands who have been part of the Boojum family since we opened [five years ago].”