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Arts & Life

After Their Escape From Paris And A 34-Day Self-Quarantine, 2 Kansas City Musicians Put On A Show

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Julie Denesha
Bass players Jeff Harshbarger (left) and Johnny Hamil play a Sunday afternoon concert for Hamil's neighbors in Mission, Kansas.

Back in March, flights in Europe were being cancelled and borders were closing due to COVID-19 fears. Two Kansas City musicians were in Paris, France, trying to get home.

A trip to Paris turned harrowing for Kansas City musicians Johnny Hamil and Jeff Harshbarger. Nearly two months later, though, their neighbors were the ones who got to enjoy the end of the experience.

The two musicians had spent 34 days quarantined together by the time Hamil stepped up to a microphone set up on his driveway in Mission, Kansas.

About 40 neighbors in the suburban cul-de-sac pulled out lawn chairs and settled down to watch from their own driveways.

“This is Jeff. I’m Johnny. We’re going to play for you. If it’s too loud, then just go away.”

Hamil and Harshbarger were ready to let off a little steam.

“So we’d like to thank all of you guys for being here," Hamil said to the socially distancing crowd. "I know you didn’t have much to do.”

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Back in early March, Hamil was in Paris with his wife Cara and Harshbarger was preparing to join them. The two prolific bass players, who are stalwarts of the Kansas City music community, had planned to record music and study with their mentor and friend, the bass player Francois Rabbath.

“I was just thinking, ‘Oh Jeff in Paris, this is just going to be a dream.’" remembers Hamil.

But Harshbarger was growing concerned.

"Jeff calls me a day or two before he leaves and was like, ‘Oh I don’t know if I should really go because of this coronavirus thing.’ And I’m like, 'I am in Paris. It’s wonderful, beautiful place.'”

Things were "pretty normal" for about three days, Hamil says, and they did have a chance to have some fun.

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Johnny Hamil
Hamil and Harsbarger celebrate François Rabbath's 89th birthday in Paris, France.

They even recorded a new song together: “Parisian Scooter Death Ride.” Hamil says a thrilling ride on the back of a scooter is a rite of passage on any visit to Paris.

“When you get on the back of a scooter with a real Parisian guy that knows every street and goes probably about as fast as a scooter can go in between cars and ladies pushing little babies in carts," Hamil says, "it’s so terrifying. It’s like a video game.”

They were about to jump on a wild ride of their own.

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Johnny Hamil
Harshbarger had planned to spend several weeks studying with his mentor François Rabbath.

They were having a good time, and then people started saying, "the bars are closed tonight at midnight," Hamil says. "Everybody we were hanging out with were like, ‘Wha?’”

Texts were starting to pour in from family and friends, urging them to get on the next plane home.

Harshbarger decided to change all of his tickets, he says, on a Monday.

"The death toll in Italy that day hit 500. The border for France and Germany closed. And Trudeau said, ‘All Canadian citizens should come home while they can.'”

Facing a two-week lockdown in Paris, they booked their flight back. When their Uber didn’t show up, they had to run for the train station on foot, carrying Hamil’s upright bass.

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Johnny Hamil
Johnny Hamil and his wife Cara take a selfie at the airport as they wait in line for their flight back to the States.

“Got the last train out of Paris to the airport, got the last plane out of Paris to the States," Harshbarger says. "If that plane didn’t take off, we’d just be grounded and stuck there.”

Once they landed in Kansas City, they needed to self-quarantine. And since they traveled together, it made sense that they shelter together. Harshbarger stayed in Hamil’s music studio until he could go home.

They made the most of their time in lockdown, performing a few concerts together online. But when Harshbarger was finally able to head back to his own place, it was time to celebrate.

For Harshbarger, being forced to spend such intense time with his friend reinforced something he'd always known.

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Julie Denesha
Hamil's driveway served as the stage for a recent concert to celebrate the end of self-quarantining after a trip to France.

“That shared language with other musicians, that moment when we’re playing together and communicating, there’s nothing like it," Harshbarger says. "It’s just like having a great conversation with a small group of your closest friends."

Hamil’s a little less philosophical.

“I’m one of those people who’s never going to stop doing what I’m doing and I started doing this in 1985 and it was never going to change," says Hamil. "You’ll just have to roll me in a grave if you told me to stop playing music.”

Fortunately for his neighbors, and Kansas City bands who need bass players, that hasn't happened yet.

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