Tucson country singer Drew Cooper sang into a mic in a darkened corner of Sentinel Peak’s dining room last Friday afternoon as a handful of customers popped in to pick up to-go orders.
Later Friday evening, Olivia Reardon and her band, Miss Olivia & the Interlopers, played to empty seats at St. Charles Tavern while a couple hundred people tuned in to the band’s virtual concert on YouTube.
And for the last week, pianist Khris Dodge, who curates and coordinates Khris Dodge Entertainment, has accompanied a handful of Tucson vocalists from Crystal Stark to the duo of Chach Snook and Jodi Darling as part of his daily “At Home Concert Series,” one-song performances intended to “make our world a happier place.”
With every theater, club, bar and restaurant closed, Tucson musicians of all genres, from rockers Zero Miles to Empty to cumbia rocker/singer-songwriter Gabriel Sullivan and beyond, are reinventing themselves on Facebook and YouTube as a way to keep connected with their audiences.
“We’re all going to figure out what we’re capable of doing,” said singer-songwriter Brian Lopez, who splits his music career between his solo work and his role in the popular cumbia rock band XIXA with Sullivan.
Many of the artists have set up links for fans to donate tips through PayPal and Venmo to offset some of the income they lost due to canceled gigs. A few are directing donations to the GoFundMe Tucson Musicians Relief Fund, launched on March 15 with a goal of raising $25,000 to help musicians pay rent, utilities, food and other life expenses.
The GoFundMe campaign, spearheaded by Ben Nisbet, Katie Haverly and Hannah Levin, had raised more than $16,000 toward its $25,000 goal as of Monday morning. Nisbet, in a Facebook video, said that musicians have told them through an online survey that they have lost more than $70,000 in wages since the shutdown.
“Everybody is kind of just feeling their way through this,” said Greg Haver, who with his wife Kelly McLear owns Monterey Court, a cafe and concert venue on Miracle Mile.
Even Startup Tucson, which advocates for small businesses and entrepreneurs, has jumped briefly into the concert business. The nonprofit is hosting “Live from Startup Studios,” a weeklong digital concert series. From noon to 1 p.m. daily through Friday, March 27, the nonprofit has invited local artists to perform. Proceeds from donations will benefit the Musicians Relief Fund.
“It was really just born out of wanting to respond to what artists are going through right now and give them the space to play where they could otherwise not play with all the canceled gigs,” said Sophia Gonzalez, Startup Tucson’s community and events coordinator.
The series opened Monday, March 23, with Gabi Montoya and included performances by Andrea and Pete Connolly of Birds and Arrows on Tuesday, March 24; Adam Townsend on Wednesday, March 25; Seanloui Dumas on Thursday, March 26; and Cameron Hood of Ryanhood on Friday.
“It’s not to say that we’re going to get into digital concert streaming by any means, but it’s just to bring a little awareness of what’s happening,” Gonzalez said.
Monterey Court also is hosting concerts on its patio and Haver said he’s turned the speakers up so that the people getting to-go orders can hear the music from the parking lot. What he would love to see is people eating in their cars in the parking lot with their windows down. But Haver said his takeout business so far has been slow, largely because Monterey Court is known as a concert venue that serves food and alcohol, not a restaurant that features music.
“Luckily, we had a very robust January and February so we do have a little bit of money in reserve,” he said. “We’re going to bump along as best as we can as long as we can.”
The Monterey series, which is live-streamed on Facebook, kicked off with Heather Hardy last Friday, The Monty on Saturday and Davey & The Midnights Sunday. This week’s lineup includes the bluegrass band The Titan Valley Warheads at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 26, and Giant Blue at 7 p.m. Friday, March 27.
“Most of the artists are on board,” Haver said. “It’s going to hopefully shake out.”
Just before 2 p.m. last Friday, Jake Sullivan and his Wooden Tooth Records partner Kellen Fortier were testing the waters on a plan to provide performance space for artists to stream live concerts. Their guinea pig: Sullivan’s ethereal voiced brother Gabriel, who has an active career as a solo artist and member of XIXA.
As Gabriel set up, the Sullivans’ younger brother Joe showed up for support and Fortier worked the store’s website, where customers were still buying records from the store at 426 E. Seventh St.
“Even though the store is not open we are still in business,” Jake Sullivan said Friday. “The prospect of closing the doors was super scary, but the community has totally rallied around this.”
They also rallied around Gabriel Sullivan, tuning in to his performance on Wooden Tooth’s Instagram (@woodentoothrecords).
“If we get a good response from the community and a decent amount of people watch it and of course if the artists are interested,” Wooden Tooth would continue, Jake said.
For Gabriel, who last September released his latest solo album “Black Crow,” the performance was his way of making the best of an impossible situation. Sullivan said he and his band XIXA lost one of their biggest career dates when SXSW was canceled in early March. The band was set to be part of the University of Arizona’s big “Wonder House” exhibit designed to be a hub for arts, music, food, immersive drama and talks by some of the UA’s noteworthy faculty. For the first time in all the years Sullivan and Lopez had been part of SXSW, “we were going to make some pretty decent money,” Sullivan said.
Couple that with a string of lost solo and band gigs, he added.
“It’s been total chaos, but today’s kind of the first day that I’ve felt settled in a little and finding creative solutions,” he said not long before his Friday afternoon record store concert. “For me I’ve always very much loved non-traditional means of presenting music. This is fun especially in a time when we are all so isolated. I get to hang with my brothers and be in a record store and hopefully connect with people even if it’s a digital screen.”
Cooper’s Sentinel Peak gig was the second in what he is calling his “Carry Out Concert Series,” which he debuted March 19 with a show at the Cow Pony Bar on East Tanque Verde Road. His idea is to go to bars and restaurants where he has long-time standing gigs and relationships and pay it forward in a way. He’s asking for tips to be sent through PayPal and Venmo, and at the end of the night, he splits the proceeds with employees at the businesses.
In his first two events, Cooper collected $2,000 in tips and sold $300 in T-shirts; $5 from every shirt sold also will be donated to affected bar and restaurant employees, he said.
Cooper, who is a regular at bars and restaurants around Tucson and has played the main stage of Country Thunder several times in recent years, says his Carry Out shows remind him of when he first started his music career about 10 years ago.
“No one was in the bar and no one was tipping me,” he said with a laugh.
But over time, he started building an audience and relationships with the staffs and owners at the venues
“Every time I play somewhere the staff is great to me,” he said, which is why he’s splitting the tips from his Carry Out Concerts with the servers and bartenders. “This is me returning that kind of favor. It’s soul-satisfying.”
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch
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Tucson-area coronavirus coverage from January to March: Nearly 1,300 cases in Arizona, stay-at-home order
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