With Concerts Canceled, Kansas City Musicians Play Online, Ponder Big Questions, Promise Hugs
Restaurants and bars have closed and gatherings larger than 10 people have been banned. The entire Kansas City metro is under orders to stay at home. Among many profound changes brought by the coronavirus: The interaction between musicians and their audiences at live shows.
"We're shutdown for the foreseeable future, at least two weeks. Could be a month, could be two months, who knows?" said Steve Tulipana, co-owner of RecordBar in downtown Kansas City. "So we're all just trying to figure out ways to keep doing what we do to keep sane, really."
Tulipana said that on the last Friday night before Kansas City's stay-at-home order went into effect, but Mayor Quinton Lucas had already issued an emergency order banning gatherings of more than ten people. Just a few hours earlier, Tulipana had to let his entire staff go.
Now he was walking on stage to introduce Various Blonde for a concert that was being recorded during a livestream and shared on Facebook.
"It was the same thing I do a lot of days, except completely opposite of what I do," said Paul Malinowski, one of RecordBar's audio engineers. "You know, set up a show, people come and witness in the room. And that was not what happened at all. We're putting it together for people to watch on their phones and their computers so. It's kinda weird but I had a blast doing it."
Various Blonde had planned a CD Release party on March 13, but it was canceled when event planners started getting serious about social distancing. Lead singer Joshua Allen, who plays guitar and keyboards, said in times like these it is important to reach out to friends.
"Just because you can't go and, like, talk to them," he said, "you can still message your friends on Facebook and, you know, check and see how your friends are processing it, too. Because those moments where you’re having trouble processing it your friends are also probably having these moments and would probably love for someone to, you know, ask them how they’re doing."
Another Kansas City musician, violinist and composer Laurel Morgan Parks created The Quarantine Concerts — Kansas City for musicians on Facebook. Morgan was a songwriter and violinist for the folk-rock band In the Pines. More recently, she's been a composer for her violin/cello duo The Wires, which explores unconventional avenues for string sound. She's had to adapt as the situation changes.
"The original plan for the concerts was to create a ticketed online series with a private venue for musicians to perform," says Parks. "Once the lockdown was announced the concerts got canceled so now I am using this page to promote concerts online."
The quartet Opus 76 already had a robust archive of its concerts, as well as documentaries on classical music and educational videos, on its website. Just before the lockdown was announced, the group met to perform "Holy Song of Thanksgiving" by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven composed it after recovering from a near-fatal illness. Violinist Keith Stanfield said it's emotional to play and listen to right now.
"With this pandemic, we are set up to keep on performing and keep on working because we started as an online group," Stanfield said. "But really our first thoughts are with those who are most vulnerable in our society from our fans to our colleagues and we're trying to do everything we can to help them out first."
Each Wednesday the group donates a performance on Facebook to raise money for a different area non-profit. Cellist Sascha Groschang said she's been thinking about the big questions lately.
"We're grappling with these universal issues of: Do I matter? What am I here to do? What comes after us?' Which, you know, in a lot of regular life we are busy ignoring. But I think during times of crisis we're much more aware of those larger questions."
Like many musicians around town, the quartet is trying to figure out how to keep getting paid. They launched a digital subscription service for people who would normally go to concerts but can't. It allows their fans to access their extensive library of recitals and educational material.
"The more that we're stuck in our houses and kind of cooped up, I think the more we're going to be able to really appreciate connecting in any way we can," Groschang said. "In a lot of ways, there's a lot of beauty in this because since we are denied being together, being together is so much more special. And I think music can play such a beautiful part of that."
Tulipana said being in the club to host the online show and listening to music lifted his spirits.
"What really sucks about doing this, and how awesome it turned out, is that there's only like seven of us here but all I want to do is hug everybody," he said. "But we'll get there. Right? Lots of hugs coming. Lots of hugs coming."
Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter @juliedenesha.