All Alone, Altogether: Connecting to Music in an Era of Social Distancing
May 8, 2020 @ 10:14am
There’s something to be said about the energy a live concert carries that no other form of live event can quite capture. The joy of being packed in with anywhere from dozens to thousands of other fans in anticipation of experiencing a favorite artist live, and the shared communal experience it creates, is one that’s particularly missed in our current era of social distancing and nonessential business closures. At the time of writing this, it’s been well over a month since said shutdown, enacted in the hopes of quelling Covid-19’s looming threat. While it’s obvious why this had to happen, many people reel in its wake, for personal and professional reasons. And while the nation eagerly awaits safely attending shows again, we spoke to three DMV residents who are all lifelong devotees of music and involved in the local scene about how they’re coping, what their relationship with music looks like right now and recommendations to tide us over until we’re all packed in at a show together again.
Jake Ramirez, Freelance Music Writer
This D.C.-based freelance writer was set to cover SXSW this spring, before it became one of the first festival casualties of Covid-19.
“I was set to travel to my hometown of Austin to cover SXSW in March,” Ramirez says. “I had been going to a lot of shows to ease back into writing and drinking and being awake past 11 p.m. As it turns out, I was training for quarantine – not SXSW.”
All this prep did still come in handy, as Ramirez kept writing anyway. A contributor to the late, great DC Music Download and more recently Capitol Sound DC and Blisspop, he also runs a music blog and listening club podcast – both named “Critically Acclaimed.”
“The weight of being labeled a podcaster is a heavy cross to bear, so it’s more of an on-again off-again thing,” he notes.
Still, you can surf through archives of guests deep diving into their favorite albums alongside Ramirez for thoughtful analysis via his podcast website. [Full disclosure: I was a guest on an episode about Beach House’s Bloom late last year]. And in a period of self-isolation, Ramirez now puts together journals centering on what he’s watching and listening to right now.
“I’m a critic by nature, but I’ve needed to turn off that analytical part of my brain for music,” he says. “I think I’m interacting with music like many people are right now. I’m listening to feel like my stress or restlessness is shared and understood. I’m not as interested in listening to music as some intellectual thing at the moment.”
“[AuxParty] lets you and friends take turns playing songs for each other.”
“Buy music and merch on Bandcamp, a ticket for a livestream show, gift cards for bars and venues – whatever makes sense.”
“I watched Cool Hand Luke recently, and besides feeling like the quintessential American movie, it has an amazing soundtrack.”
Ramirez hopes that outside of self-reflection and music serving as an even bigger connector right now, that there is also a change in the way we talk about music and its monetization, as the lid has been blown off the problems of financial insecurity that many creatives are currently facing.
“This is an important moment for music journalism to challenge the status quo. If our society gains so much value from artists, why do we let artists struggle to make a living? Wealth is highly concentrated with a few, and everyone else is struggling. I hope we see more journalism that connects those dots to show that when we let artists struggle, we’re only stealing from ourselves. That’s what I want to read, at least.”
While the industry and those who write about it grapple with the fallout of social distancing on such a social medium, Ramirez admires the way artists have adapted and fans have shown up in digital scores to support them.
“It’s really cool to see musicians recalibrate so nimbly. The idea of the live streamed concert became a household concept overnight. Instagram battles between hip-hop producers and musicians are must-see events. Fiona Apple. There’s a lot to celebrate.”
Read Ramirez’s quarantine journals and listened to “Critically Acclaimed” on www.acclaimedpod.com.
Shantel Mitchell Breen, Live Music Photographer
If you’ve been to a show in the DMV anytime between 2008 and before the Covid-19 crisis, you were probably in the presence of Breen (pictured in header image), who has shot for many local outlets including District Fray for 12 years now.
“I attend concerts like some people watch TV,” Breen says. “It is definitely my favorite hobby or way to spend my free time.”
Naturally, as someone who attends one to two, or sometimes even more, shows a week and captures them through photography, social distancing has provided a huge challenge for Breen in her personal and professional endeavors.
“I miss the energy for sure. I love the livestream concerts, but it’s just not the same as being in a club with hundreds or thousands of other fans singing and dancing along to the music. I also miss the volume. You just can’t get that bass drum thump from a livestream. The people are truly missed as well. I loved photographing shows with my fellow photographers. They are truly some of my favorite people.”
Breen says she’s turned to exercise as an outlet in the meantime, but “it doesn’t even come close to being at a live show with friends.” She’s also been participating in virtual dance parties like FYM Production’s annual Cryfest and Depeche Mode events, hosted at the Black Cat before moving to a virtual affair. She’s even joined Quarantunes Listening Collective on Facebook (organized by I.M.P.’s Jordan Grobe, more on the next page) to further connect virtually. As a photographer, though, she’s struggled with the adjustment to virtual events.
“D.C.’s Cathy DiToro and Chris Kamesh put on a delightful livestream on their Facebook page, Sugar Highway (@sugarhwyy), which has been fun and lighthearted. It definitely lifts my mood.”
Beastie Boys Story on Apple TV
“Striped: The Story of The White Stripes” on Apple Podcasts
The National’s 2010 “High Violet” Live From Brooklyn Academy of Music concert film
“This has been a bit hard for me. The first week of shutdown, I was overwhelmed with the number of my musician friends who suddenly found themselves without gigs. I have done my best to promote their livestream events and feature different local artists on my blog or on social media. Around weeks two to three, I definitely hit some low points for sure. I am adjusting to this slower pace and lack of social life, but it is not how I prefer to live.”
But Breen is hopeful, and still finds new ways to enjoy and participate in this new iteration of the music world. Her daughter takes after her love of music and shares new songs and artists to check out, and she’s been spending more time diving deep into the work of local musicians. She’s also taken a digging into the music of the ‘90s alongside her husband, starting a blog called Steady Diet of 90s.
“While this is a challenging time, we will get through this,” she says. “It is comforting to know that we are all in this together: musicians, photographers, bar tenders, sound engineers, venue workers. We just need to support each other as we work through this and remind ourselves that it won’t be like this forever.”
Check out Breen’s photography at www.thesesubtlesounds.com and her ‘90s music blog at www.steadydietof90s.com.
Jordan Grobe, Communications Coordinator for I.M.P.
“I’ve loved music since day one and figured out fairly early on that I wouldn’t be the guy onstage,” Jordan Grobe says. “I distinctly remember being 10 years old or so watching Paul McCartney on TV singing ‘Hey Jude’ for 150,000 people at Glastonbury – 150,000 people gathered together, singing along to every word and forgetting about any of the things that typically divided them. It was the most incredible thing I ever could’ve imagined.”
Grobe’s relationship with music grew with experiences throughout high school and college in his hometown of White Plains, New York and eventually in the District, where he attended George Washington University. There, he “dove headfirst” into involvement with the school’s radio station WRGW, serving as general manager, and also helped start house venue Above the Bayou.
Before Covid-19 hit, you could find Grobe at any given show hosted by I.M.P. – the concert promotion and production company behind 9:30 Club, The Anthem, Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion – during a regular week serving in his role as communications coordinator.
“To go from spending 175 nights [per] year in a sea of ecstatic fans to being stuck on my couch is definitely a big change,” he notes. “My inner extrovert misses all of my coworkers and the raw energy that buzzes through an audience at any concert. When I was working door staff, the main job was to observe everything other than the show itself. I learned pretty early on how to enjoy myself based on the reaction of the crowd rather than just the performance.”
Golden Repair by #1 Dads
3.15.20 by Childish Gambino
La vita nuova by Christine and the Queens
Earth by EOB
Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
The Caretaker by Half Waif
Song For Our Daughter by Laura Marling
grae: Part 1 by Moses Sumney
It Is What It Is by Thundercat
Either Light by Vundabar
As a way to cope and connect even further with music, Grobe decided to start a digital listening club on Facebook, called Quarantunes Listening Collective. It was inspired by the concept of deep listening, where one truly focuses on the music while listening to an album, free of distractions from phones, roommates and the like.
“When I thought about that loss of connection to the music itself, I thought about our current loss of connection to each other too. I figured a great way to bridge that gap would be to create something like a book club, but for albums. I started the Facebook group, invited everybody I knew that I thought would be interested and left it open to everyone else. We’re currently up to 150 members. It’s been amazing to meet some new people, reconnect with old friends from college, and bond over some of our favorite albums (or albums we’d never heard before and are just now discovering). We’ve had people join from Michigan to Mumbai, and that’s not an exaggeration.”
So if you crave a deeper way to connect with music in the era of social distancing, Quarantunes Listening Collective is a great option. And when this too has passed, join Grobe at an I.M.P. show.
You can search “Quarantunes Listening Collective” on Facebook to access the group’s page and join in on their conversations.
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